A SHORT HISTORY OF WADEBRIDGE
While there are pre-historic structures and artefacts in the area, such as iron-age enclosures and standing stones, and the manor houses of Pawton, Pendavey, Pencarrow and Burniere are all mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, the first historical mention of Wadebridge itself dates to 1382. It was then known simply as Wade and was the site of a chapel where travellers could give thanks after wading or fording the River Camel.
The local churches at St Breock and Egloshayle both date from around the thirteenth century, but are sited away from the town. It was the Vicar of Egloshayle, John Lovybond, who in the 1460s instigated the building of the great stone bridge across the river. This originally had 17 arches, but the river banks have been built out and only 13 arches are now visible. The bridge was one of only two on the river to survive the great flood of 1847. The demands of increasing traffic have twice led to the bridge being widened, in 1852-3 when a broader roadway was built on the existing piers and in 1962-3 when effectively a second bridge was built alongside the first.
The bridge provided the first spur to the establishment of the town, which became a market centre and the place where ships coming up the river would transfer their cargo to barges or horse-drawn carts. A greater spur came in 1834 with the opening of the Bodmin and Wadebridge Railway which provided a link for heavy goods going inland to Bodmin and for stone and china clay coming down from the quarries on the edge of Bodmin Moor. The railway was the project of Sir William Molesworth of Pencarrow and was only the sixth in the country to open, before any London railway. However, for many years the railway was isolated from the growing national rail network. It was eventually connected to the Great Western line in 1888 and to the new North Cornwall line in 1895. In 1899 the line was extended along the Camel estuary to Padstow.
The town continued to grow, with the founding of the Boys School in 1878 and the building of the Town Hall, originally the Molesworth Exchange, in 1888. An outbreak of typhoid fever in 1897 led to demands for a better water supply for the town. The following year the first Town Council was set up to oversee this task and a new reservoir was opened on the hill to the south of the town in 1900.
More recent years have seen many changes to the town, although most of the buildings in the main streets have remained in use. New schools have been built for the increasing population and some marshland on the Egloshayle side of the river was reclaimed as a sports field, with facilities for cricket, tennis and bowls, plus a large children's play area. A long-planned footbridge to link this to the town centre finally came to pass in 1991, when Anneka Rice and her TV programme “Challenge Anneka” accepted the task of constructing the bridge over a single weekend.
The drastic reorganisation of the national rail network in the 1960s resulted in the closure of Wadebridge to passenger traffic in 1967 and to freight in 1978. The rail line is now the Camel Trail, a recreational route for cyclists and walkers, while the station buildings have become the Betjeman Centre with facilities mainly for the older members of the population and a small exhibit celebrating the former Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman.
The town became a bottleneck for road traffic, causing hours of delay during the main tourist season. This was a problem for decades, but a by-pass bridge downstream of the town was eventually built in 1993, transforming the situation and allowing the conversion of the main street, Molesworth Street, into a pedestrianised area. The town is now a shopping centre of character and an exceptionally pleasant place to live, recently voted the best in the South-west of England.
Our Museum opened in 2013.