In medieval times when roads were little more than footpaths, crossings over small rivers or streams were no more elaborate, being normally achieved by means of fords combined with stepping stones or footbridges for pedestrians. This is still the case at Hollow Oak, Doddings.
Such a method was not of course practicable over wider and deeper rivers where more elaborate stone or brick bridges were normally necessary, and hence in Dorset we have a number of very fine mediaeval bridges spanning the River Stour, but none of that age over the much smaller rivers such as the Piddle or Bere stream which run through Bere Regis parish.
These fords and footbridges remained in use until the advent of the 18th and 19th century turnpike trusts where higher road standards necessitated the building of vehicular bridges over these smaller streams, so that the older bridges in this parish date from the 18th century, although in almost all cases the parapets have since been rebuilt. More recent road widening schemes in this century have involved complete demolition of some old bridges and replacement with new structures, notably at Chamberlaynes and Southbrook, but fortunately the existence of old drawings and photographs enables the original bridges to be illustrated as below. Even the old bridges have little of interest to be seen from the road side, but viewed from the river side the picture is very different, when the arches may be seen to vary considerably from one bridge to another in both number and form. The older parish bridges are illustrated in the drawings below, and the following descriptions are in the order in which they occur on the Bere stream and river Piddle respectively:
Roke (Bridge A). The Bere stream which rises at Milton Abbas, flows through the valley to Roke by way of Milborne and Ashley Barn, and is reinforced by the effluent from Roke Pond, over which this bridge stands. It is probably of late 18th or early 19th century date and consists of a single segmental arch of alternate stretchers and pairs of headers springing at water level. The parapets are in Flemish garden wall bond with moulded brick copings and buttresses on the river side.
Dorchester Road (Bridge B). Built in 1840 in association with the new section of turnpike road from the top of Dorchester Hill to West Mill. Both its parapets were formerly no higher than road level, and the continuation of the roadside hedges on each side effectively obscured any sign of the existence of a bridge from the road, but a conventional parapet has recently been added on the upstream side. The bridge consists of a single segmental arch of alternate stretchers and pairs of headers springing above water level with brick on edge capped parapets and piers on the river side. As the road crosses the river at an oblique angle the tunnel is very long and the header walls are not opposite each other relative to the road. There was until about 1930 a mill stream branching off the main stream to serve West Mill, with a bridge under the road at that point, also built in 1840, and the remains of the parapet are still just visible among brambles and other growth at the junction with Roke Road.
Shitterton (Bridge C). Again a single segmental arch with springing at or below water level, but in two concentric courses of headers. Each parapet, with splayed ends and brick on edge copings, has four square piers with cement rendered weathered caps, and the brickwork is in a mixture of stretcher, English and Flemish bonds, probably denoting sectional rebuilding at various times.
Southbrook (Bridge D). The present bridge was built in 1956 in reinforced concrete with brick parapets as a result of road widening, but its predecessor, in use until that date was a fine brick bridge having splayed parapets with moulded brick copings and terminal piers, a pair of segmental arches in two concentric courses of headers springing above water level, and triangular plan cutwaters. It was probably built in the 18th century, and is said to have been repaired in 1806. See photographs of the bridge below - Click images to enlarge
Snatford (Bridge E). Apart from a ford at Doddings the next downstream crossing of the Bere stream is at Snatford, where as the name implies a ford crossing formerly existed, and the present bridge probably dates from about 1765 when this section of turnpike road was constructed. It is very similar to the old Southbrook bridge, having a pair of segmental arches in two concentric courses of headers, springing above water level. The splayed parapets with brick on edge copings have been rebuilt on a number of occasions. Tanpits (Fig. 50F). Near this point the Bere stream divides, one section crossing the road under Stockley Bridge, a recently rebuilt reinforced concrete and brick structure, and the other section crossing under Tanpits Bridge. Although the parapets have been recently rebuilt, the arches themselves are older, consisting of a pair of shallow segmental arches, each of a single course of headers, springing at or below water level.
Cicely Bridge (Bridge G). This bridge spans the River Piddle which forms the parish boundary at that point, and appears to have been lengthened northwards at some time. Of its three arches, the two southerly ones are semi-circular, but the northerly one is segmental with springing above water line. They are all three constructed with alternate stretchers and pairs of headers, and there is an iron tie bar and plate over the centre arch. The parapets, without terminal piers, are in Flemish garden wall bond with stone copings, and splayed at the ends.
Chamberlaynes (Bridge H). The present bridge in reinforced concrete with tubular metal parapet rails was built in about 1955 in conjunction with road widening, and after its predecessor had suffered considerable damage from military vehicles during the second world war. The original bridge was of brick with three segmental arches springing above water level, triangular plan cutwaters and straight parapets with stone capped terminal piers. It is said to have been "built by subscription for the benefit of the public in 1790", and to have been repaired in 1809. When the old bridge was demolished in 1955 the rubble seems to have found its way to a dump near Wareham, as a stone was later recovered from it bearing the inscription below
CHAMBERLAINS BRIDGE REBUILT 1881 WALTER J. FLETCHER COUNTY SURVEYOR WILLIAM HAMMETT BUILDER