THIS week, Peebles resident Ronald Ireland writes about the history of the Tweed Bridge...

No one knows with certainty when the Tweed Bridge was first built.

The earliest reference to it is in 1465. The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland have noted that the architectural design is consistent with it being 15th century.

The name of the architect is also unknown, although a certain John of Peebles was the master mason responsible for the building of the Tay Bridge at Perth, built around this time and it may be that he also was responsible for the Tweed Bridge.

For many centuries it was the only bridge across the Tweed up river of Berwick and consequently was a favourite crossing place for cattle and sheep drovers.

The cost of maintaining it was a constant source of concern and in 1608 the town council obtained permission to levy a tax or toll on users.

The proceeds were to be used for repairing the bridge and its approaches. For every load passing over it, burgesses were to be charged 2d, while non burgesses were to be charged 4d.

Every cow, ox or horse crossing the bridge on its way to sale was charged at 1d, while twenty sheep cost 4d. These charges were to apply initially for nine years, but tolls continued to be payable right into the nineteenth century.

In April 1760, it had to be closed to cart traffic because of its poor state. It remained closed to all but foot and ridden horses for some years. Drovers were also complaining that the parapet was too low, with the result that they often lost sheep and lambs which were able to jump over it.

It was decided that not only repair was needed but also that the bridge should be improved by the addition of three arches at the south end. The work was carried out by John Hislop, a local mason in 1799. Sadly he died, when one of the arches collapsed during the course of construction.

The original bridge was very narrow, only just wide enough for a cart and in 1834 it was widened to 21 feet at a cost of £1000. As a result of increased traffic over the rest of the century, further widening became necessary and in 1897 both sides were extended to the present width of 40 feet at a cost of £8000.

This was a major project. By comparison, the Old Parish Church built just ten years earlier cost £9500.