This bridge, in a traditional Pack Horse shape, has remained intact straddling the River Esk near the moorland village of Glaisdale, in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park, for 400 years. The village is about ten miles inland from Whitby, where the River Esk flows into the North Sea.
It is known as Beggars’ Bridge, and was built in 1619, by Tom Ferris, a local man, son of a poor moorland sheep farmer. Having been turned down as a suitable suitor for his love, Agnes, by her wealthy land-owning father, Tom vowed to seek his fortune and to one day return to claim Agnes’ for his wife. After many adventures at sea, Tom returned, now a rich man, married Agnes, and prospered, to such an extent that he eventually became the Lord Mayor of Hull. The bridge, it is said, was erected by Tom as a memorial to his wife, and as a means for future lovers to cross the river without having to brave its often flooded waters. The story, as it has been passed down, is a mix of fact and fiction. The basic facts are essentially true, but the story, has become a local legend and has, no doubt been embellished over the course of time.
I have tried my hand at re-telling this story in a simple and traditional ballad style, the results of which efforts I give below . . .
THE BALLAD OF BEGGAR’S BRIDGE
He lived beside the river Esk
In a verdant sylvan dale;
His story I must tell you now
A truly stirring tale.
Tom loved a lass of high estate;
It was not meant to be,
For Agnes was of gentry born,
A lowly lad was he.
Her father disapproved the match,
Tom was of humble birth,
No land, no money, no position,
Of very little worth.
But their shared love was sound and solid
So secretly they met.
They shared their passions willingly
But always under threat.
Poor Tom was restless and intent
To run away to sea;
He held fast to the thoughts that stirred
Inside him to be free.
He knew one day he’d win his bride,
He would not be gainsaid;
Beyond this dale there was a world
Where fortunes could be made.
So one dark night he set off late
To wish Agnes farewell;
To promise to return for her,
To ever with her dwell.
She lived beside the river too,
But on the other side.
He therefore had to swim across,
He would not be denied.
The Esk just then was in full spate,
It coursed along the dale.
It almost took Tom’s life that night,
He knew he must prevail.
With strength of ten he forged his way
Across the raging stream;
Then dragged his aching body out
As if within a dream.
With his goodbyes Tom gave his word
That some day he’d return;
And Agnes gave her solemn oath
She’d wait for him in turn.
Tom took himself to Whitby town
And soon with Drake joined battle;
Against the Armada fleet he fought,
Saw off the invading rabble.
A rover in West Indies then
And piracy his game.
Plunder and pillage gave him wealth
And brought a taste of fame.
He felt that now he could return
To claim his promised bride;
Confront her father without fear,
With new found hope and pride.
And so to Glaisdale Tom returned
His roving days now past.
True to her word Agnes rejoiced,
Her hopes fulfilled at last.
They married soon and lived in bliss,
Or so the story goes.
Tom grew in wealth, in power, renown,
Commanding all he chose.
Throughout the north he garnered fame
His name grew ever bigger.
Lord Mayor of Hull he then became,
A well respected figure.
And when his Agnes died at last
Their story he declared,
Would with a bridge over the Esk
With all the world be shared.
A bridge to join the river’s banks
To help new lovers’ trysts;
A bridge secure from spate and flood
Which to this day exists.
The reason it’s called Beggar’s Bridge
No one is very sure.
‘Tis thought was done to prompt us all
That Tom was once so poor.
And so the story I’ve unfolded,
A famed love-lilt of old,
Remains a tale of hearts fulfilled,
The best-loved story told.
Beggar’s Bridge over the River Esk, at Glaisdale, North Yorkshire Moors National Park . . . Photograph – WHB – 2002