The history of the bridges in the parish is not easy to trace and the dates when they were first built are not known. Their existence only comes to light when they were officially recorded for some reason. Before the 14th Century, people and packhorses had to cross the Dart at Staverton at the ford – after which the village is named. The first bridge in the parish was Austin’s Bridge, just off the Buckfastleigh to Totnes Road. Originally 7’ 6’ wide it was widened in 1809. Dart Bridge (formerly known as Hood Bridge) was believed to have been built around 1356. Records indicate that Staverton Bridge was rebuilt in 1413 after the previous wooden structure was in danger of collapse.
The Church decided to finance the rebuilding of Staverton Bridge by issuing Indulgences, an apparently common means of raising finance for such projects in medieval times. People paid money to the church for Indulgences in the belief that they would spend less time in Purgatory, the equivalent of paying a fine instead of going to prison! The morality of raising funds in this way might be suspect, but at least we now benefit from the superstition of those who had done some wrong and hoped to buy their way out of Purgatory. As a result we now have the present fine stone bridge, which is a much-loved symbol of the Parish and which features on the Parish Council Chairman’s badge.
Some colourful events appear to have taken place on the bridge over the centauries. In 1436, an official enquiry resulted from a drunken brawl between a parish chaplain, Sir John Laa and one John Gayne. They were returning home from dining out and they started to argue on the bridge. The former drew a knife in self defence and the latter fell on it and was killed. Normally, a priest who had killed a man would have lost his living, but the Bishop’s enquiry absolved Sir John of any guilt and he continued in office.
Twenty years later, other incidents took place involving John Murry, the Bailiff of Haytor Hundred, who should have been maintaining the peace, but instead appears to have behaved suspiciously like a highwayman, relieving travellers of horses, harnesses and baggage as they crossed the bridge. It would have been an ideal place for waylaying and trapping victims.
Repairs and alterations have been carried out during the bridge’s long history but it remains the main route out of the village to Dartington and Totnes. Stand quietly on the bridge for a moment or two and you might just be lucky enough to catch the vivid blue flash of the kingfisher as it hunts for fish.