The river Thames runs between Royal Windsor and the village of Eton. Archaeological evidence was found in the late 1990s that there was a bridge close by in the bronze age, around 1400-1300BC. However by the Roman period there was no bridge in the area.
Jumping forward several hundred more years, once William the Conqueror built his castle on Clewer Hill the need for a bridge would have been apparent and sometime in the 1100s a wooden bridge was built.
We know that in 1172 a farmer called Osbert de Bray earned £4.33 from tolls levied on vessels passing beneath the bridge. One of his decendants Reginald de Bray would go on to take a major role in the building of St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle.
The King took tolls from boats going under while the de Brays, and then the Trinity Guild took tolls from those going over the bridge.
The Windsor and Eton bridge was rebuilt in 1242, using local oak trees from Windsor Forest. With much repair and restoration this structure survived until the 1820s. The old bridge got into a bad way on many occasions and was regularly declared unfit, but because the Trinity Guild had taken on the expense of repair at one time, nobody else ever saw the need to take it over from them and so repairs were inevitably always somewhat piecemeal.
In the 1820s A new stone and iron bridge was approved, designed by Charles Hollis and by William Moore. This was the same time when George IV was undertaking major refurbishment of the castle and at least one worker died during the construction; rushed to death while working in the pilings.
in July 1822 the corner stone was laid by the Duke of York and by June 1824, the new Eton bridge was completed at a cost of £15,000. This Iron bridge, with it’s wide central arch of 55 feet is the bridge that still stands today. The stone foundations are made of granite and the bridge itself is the oldest iron arch bridge over the River Thames.
To be properly accurate the correct name of the bridge on official documentation is ‘The Windsor Town Bridge’ but some locals in Windsor refer to it as Eton bridge (to distinguish it from the relief road bridge which was built in the 1970s).
In the 1870s a Mr Joseph Taylor of Eton campaigned for the scrapping of the tolls on crossing the bridge and after a long but ultimately successful struggle the bridge tolls were scrapped in 1897.
Over the next century cracks in the cast iron due to weight of traffic became a major issue and in April 1970 the eton bridge was closed to road vehicles. Thirty years later even the weight of pedestrians was becoming a concern and restorations were planned for was completion in time for the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations.
Work went ahead and Her majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second re-opened the Windsor and Eton bridge at midday on June 3rd 2002. The lights that illuminate the bridge at night were one obvious addition that was made at this time.
On the south bank of the bridge (the Windsor side) you will find Sir Christopher Wren’s house, now a hotel and restaurant, and on the northern side of the bridge, Monty’s restaurant and the village of Eton, with its world famous college.
The small island a little way upstream of the bridge is called “Firework Ait”