No Parish of Ditchford.
Irthlingborough, " Richendon," and Irchester Pay for Repairs.
Beauties of Ancient Bridge.
Perhaps, though, our Saxon ancestors gave us our prettiest bread tradition, nay, fact, as it concerns the origin of the wedding cake. Every Saxon bride had to prove her ability to make bread. The final test came on her wedding morning, when she, as the bride-elect, had to make and bake a loaf for the wedding guests to eat. Cannot the dignity of labour claim an aristocratic birthright here? Here is a chance for ancestral research, anyway!
Now a word for the origin of the bridge, which is far more intimately associated with bread than may be at first apparent.
From the Saxon period to the time of steam power water was the motive force that ground at least three-quarters of all the corn grown in England, even in the windmill's palmiest days.
A suitable stream, and a favourite position, were causes that soon resulted in a mill being placed alongside the flowing water, after its value became realised. The Lord of the Manor saw to that, for a water-mill meant revenue to him. As there were people on the far side of the river that had corn to grind, also, a bridge was built to meet the difficulty of getting the corn across the stream, where a ford was not sufficient. That is why bridges are nearly always found near to mills; it was the mill that required the bridge for the corn to be brought over stream. Both are gloroius examples of mediaeval bridge-building, and mills are near unto them.
In the case of Ditchford, even that 14th century bridge is not the earliest that led to the mill. This Ditchford bridge, which has already been mentioned, is so intimately associated with the Rushden history that note must be taken of its relationship.
Ditchford is no parish, as are so many places that take their names fords. Denford, the wooded valley ford, only some five miles below, on the Nene, is a nearby instance. Rushden and Irchester parishes are both bounded by the Nene's left bank, and meet at the bridge, or, at least did so in the 14th century, for it was not until long after that date that the by-pass barge slip-canal was cut, whilst Irthlingborough parish skirts the river's right bank. The bridge was advisedly made the meeting place of these three parishes so that they could share the cost of building it.
These old bridges were noble structures, narrow, perchance, from the stand point of modern vehicular requirement, but not so for the mounted knight and squire, or for pack-horse travel. As wheeled traffic did not come into use until the middle of the 16th century there was ample room for even pack-horse teams to jostle past each other, on the bridge, teams that brought corn to the mill, or flour from it.
There had been a mill, and a bridge, at this Ditchford, centuries before 1330, when this Sheriff's order was made, as is here quoted on the authority of Bridges: "The bridge and causeway at Ditchford are in a ruinous condition, and dangerous to passengers, so that the townships of Irthlingburgh, Richendon, and Irchester, with their members (lodges presumably) are required to repair them." This Sheriff's order, in the year 1330, led to the building of the present bridge, one of such architectural beauty as to call for its being scheduled for preservation, as an ancient national monument.
The wheel and the Cross-keys on the south central buttress of the bridge have already been mentioned, but there is now no parish symbol on its opposite side, Rushdenward. It is not far fetched surmise to suppose that a sculptured Virgin and Child centred that bridge, on its northern side; especially so as, next to sculptured crucifixes, this was the most common of wayside sculptured calls to prayer. Opposing dogmas probably led to the sculptured Virgin's disappearance.
This Ditchford corner of Rushden most certainly has history behind it, history that stretches through many ages. Why, even Ditchford Station is now a mere matter for history to record; yet memory recalls the scene of over half a century ago, when my boyish footsteps were of the many, often one of a score folk, or more, that wended their way along the meadow path to the station from Rushden, or else oppositeward.
Mills were invented to grind corn into flour for bread, and they made necessary most, if not all, of the Nene's oldest bridges. There is no mill in Rushden now, though history tells of their great service to its community, in the past. Some of these records of Rushden Mills are of peculiar interest, if only because they have passed so completely into oblivion.