Many thanks to Penrith Body Repairs and Eden Hall Estate
for facilitating this camera's location. In the early hours of a dark March morning in 1968, amidst a powerful westerly gale and the raging torrent of floodwaters in the River Eden, the historic Langwathby Bridge, which had stood for three centuries and carried the Penrith to Alston road over the river, unexpectedly collapsed. Without warning, an eighty-yard chasm appeared in the road, while the remnants of the bridge settled in a chaotic heap of debris amid the fury of the swollen river.
Merely ten minutes before the collapse, a local resident, Mr. Peter Smith of Milestone House in Melmerby, had driven across the bridge toward Penrith. Upon encountering flooding on the road ahead, he reversed his vehicle back to the Langwathby side. Mr. Smith, seeking assistance, proceeded to a telephone and began calling Penrith when all communication abruptly ceased, coinciding with the bridge's collapse at precisely 5:20 am.To this day, the residents of the area recount the storm that struck on the night of Saturday, March 23, 1968, as they navigate the temporary girder bridge erected over the Eden. The storm resulted in widespread flooding and extensive damage along the course of the River Eden, with Appleby suffering particularly severe consequences. However, the most dramatic event was the sudden collapse of the Langwathby Bridge on the following morning.Mr. Jim Monkhouse, a resident of Langwathby, had stood on the bridge at midnight and felt it tremble under the weight of the rushing water. He believed that a large tree, carried downstream by the flood, must have struck the keystone of the pier on the Langwathby side, causing its collapse and subsequent destruction of the roadway. Additionally, he speculated that the elevation of the road on the Penrith side, which had been raised several feet on an embankment, may have contributed to the disaster by impeding the flow of floodwater beneath the bridge's arches.Despite the road's elevation, it failed to prevent flooding, reaching as far back as the Edenhall-Great Salkeld crossroads. Consequently, the occupants of Toll Bar Cottage, situated at this junction, had to be evacuated in the early hours of Sunday with the assistance of Penrith firefighters.News of the bridge collapse spread through radio broadcasts, attracting numerous onlookers to both sides of the bridge on Sunday. Among the curious spectators was Mr. Edward Short, the Postmaster General in the Labour Government at the time. He observed an enterprising effort by Post Office engineers to restore communication to the Langwathby area. The engineer-in-charge, Mr. Herbert Haythornthwaite, attempted to establish connections by throwing lines across the river, but his efforts proved unsuccessful. Eventually, he enlisted the skills of champion archer Mr. David Farrer from Carleton, Penrith. Using a bow borrowed from Mr. Norman Little's son in Langwathby, Mr. Farrer shot multiple arrows across the river, but the lines they carried were too heavy. However, an angler came forward and offered a length of lightweight fishing line, and with the help of this nylon line, the arrow successfully traversed the eighty-yard gap. Heavier lines were then hauled across, followed by a cable, ultimately enabling Mr. Short to communicate via telephone with Mr. Haythornthwaite on the far side of the river.The Langwathby Bridge had stood since at least 1686, as evidenced by the engraved date on one of its facing stones. Early bridges spanning the River Eden consisted of stock-bridges, consisting of planks placed on bearers supported by logs or stocks. These stocks were eventually replaced by stone pillars known as "jewels," but stone arches were not introduced in this region until after the Restoration in 1660. In neighboring Westmoreland, the Quarter Sessions conducted an examination of bridge conditions following the devastating Civil War. In 1679, they issued an order for a levy of 5d in the £ upon the Barony of Appleby for the next seven years to fund bridge repairs. At the end of this period, in 1686, an inspection of the restored bridges was mandated.