Thames Pathway

Journal of a Walk Down the River Thames

by Keith Pauling

Swinford Bridge

Swinford Toll Bridge
Swinford Toll Bridge

Two bridges across the Thames still levy tolls. The first of these is Swinford Bridge, which is also known as Eynsham Bridge. It was commissioned by the Earl of Abingdon in 1769 and is constructed in fine Georgian style with elegant circular arches and fine balustrades.

There has been a crossing here for over 1000 years. The name Swinford is allegedly a diminutive of Swine Ford.

The origins of the bridge are rumoured to date back to a time when King George III became stuck in the surrounding mud during a period of flood, and demanded that the Earl of Abingdon build a bridge for the convenience of travellers, or more truthfully for the benefit of the King if ever he travelled that way again. When the earl of Abingdon protested that such a bridge would be too expensive to build the King replied that he could charge tuppence a time to cross it and so it would pay for itself. This is exactly what followed, and the toll remained at two pennies from the day it was opened until we changed to decimal currency in 1971 when it became two new pence. An Act of Parliament in 1994 was required to change it to the princely (or should that be Kingly?) sum of five new pence which is the tariff that still remains in force today.

In the early days a dozen or so carriages would use the bridge each day and collecting tolls was not exactly arduous. The estimated usage figure today is approximately 3 million vehicles per year so the present toll keeper is definitely kept a lot busier than any of his predecessors.

From Swinford Bridge the river starts its long 180 degree bend that will take it around Wytham Hill and Wytham Woods and eventually to the dreaming spires of Oxford.

The apex of the curve is at Kings Weir Lock, where there is a connection to the Oxford Canal that lays only a couple of fields to the east. This is the farthest north that the Thames ventures during its journey, and we both slowly move southwards from here towards the sea.

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