A Curious Footpath

Cobbled Footpath at Saxon Mill  © M Cullen

Cobbled Footpath at Saxon Mill © M Cullen

This photograph shows the ancient cobbled footpath and bridge across the River Avon at Saxon Mill.  Outwardly this is just a footpath crossing the Avon, which happens also to mark the Milverton/Warwick parish boundary.  The footpath extends from the river crossing as far as the Coventry/Warwick Road and is properly defined with a row of kerb stones, or it was the last time I looked.

Somewhere in my memory bank is a story about this curious, well defined path causing trouble when the original mill was converted to a hostelry.  If I remember correctly, the footpath was not part of the Mill site, so arrangements had to be made to define the path as separate from the mill site.

Many years later when drawing the enclosure map of Milverton parish I noticed something odd across from the rear of the Saxon Mill: the boundary,  which followed the river along that side of the parish, except, that is, for the bridge and the footpath, which although on the Warwick side of the Avon, were shown on the enclosure map as part of Milverton parish.  Whether the Saxon Mill bridge had always been part of Milverton parish we do not know, but it was no doubt useful to both the landowner Bertie Greatheed, who lived on the Warwick side of the boundary, and the parishioners.

We now enter the realms of supposition.  A scrap of paper ( CR 1707/101)  in Warwick County Record Office indicated that the Greatheeds had arranged provision of a footpath along the bank of the Avon from the rear of Rock Mill Cottage along the river as far as Saxon Mill bridge.  It is still in use, though now used mainly by fishermen requiring access to the river-bank, and incidentally passing through a children’s playground, the site of the original village.

We can only make a guess as to why the Greatheeds funded the riverside path.  My suggestion is that an original bridge at Rock Mill, upstream of the present bridge, had failed.  There is evidence on old maps of an access road on the Warwick side of the Avon, presumably leading to an older bridge at Rock Mill, the failure of which would have left Leamington and Warwick separated.  Eventually the Earl of Warwick and Bertie Greatheed got together and paid for the Portobello bridge to reunite the towns.  In the meantime, Bertie Greatheed provided the footpath allowing those on foot a route along the river bank from Rock Mill to Saxon Mill, and so, into or out of the county town, while the local coach and wagon traffic were denied access to the detriment of both trade and social life.  With the completion of the Portobello bridge, the riverside footpath became just another footpath on a map.

Whether the original Saxon Mill bridge was always part of Milverton we cannot tell, but the footpath must have been a tremendous boon to foot travellers between the two towns, whilst wheeled traffic had to await the design and construction of the current Portobello bridge.

 

Mick Cullen

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