Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: February 19, 2017
Webpage updated: March 31, 2020

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Stonehouse Bridge with the Plymouth Breweries building n the background.
From a postcard.

Before the days of Stonehouse Bridge, passage was by pedestrian ferry across the creek or by road around Mill Bridge.

In 1767 Lord Mount Edgcumbe, as Lord of the Manor of East Stonehouse, and Sir John Saint Aubyn, Lord of the Manor of Stoke Damerel, obtained an Act of Parliament authorising the construction of the bridge to provide a more direct link between Plymouth-Dock and East Stonehouse.  The Act itself described the approaches to the old ferry as 'narrow and could only be used by foot passengers'.

Mr John Smeaton, the architect of the Eddystone Lighthouse that now stands on Plymouth Hoe, was invited to design the bridge.

The tolls were fixed by the Act at 2d return for a 1-horse drawn vehicle, 3d for 2 horses and 6d for wagons drawn by more than 2 horses.  Pedestrians paid a halfpenny and the bridge was for ever known as "Halfpenny or Ha'penny Bridge"  The Act also absolved the owners from paying any public or parochial rate or tax.

The Bridge was opened in 1773, when the approach to it was via Stonehouse Lane (later known as King Street) and High Street rather than through Union Street.  In 1775 carriages first began to ply for hire between Plymouth and Plymouth Dock, using the new Bridge.

The Stonehouse Bridge viewed looking towards Devonport.
Note the toll collectors' huts on either side and the Drake Institute in the background.
From the author's collection.

Stonehouse Lane was described at the time as 'ruinous' and to overcome this bad approach to the bridge a further Act of Parliament was obtained in 1784 to create the Stonehouse Turnpike Trust.  Thus when Union Street was finally opened in 1815 carriers not only had to pay a toll to use the Bridge but also a Turnpike toll to use the approach road.

In 1828 the bridge was raised and Devonport Hill lowered, which facilitated the use of hackney carriages to provide a public service between Plymouth and Devonport the following year. 

Several attempts were made by both Plymouth and Devonport to purchase the gate but the bridge, along with Stonehouse Mill Bridge, was eventually sold in  February 1890 to the General Tolls Company Ltd for 122,000.  The previous owners, the Earl of Mount Edgcumbe and Lord Saint Levan retained shares in the new company, which was registered on February 12th 1890.  Its original seven shareholders were all from the London area and the directors were Mr C J Stonor, Mr E C Stonor, Mr T M Witham and Mr O Lambert.  The new owners were going to collect the tolls themselves rather than put them up for auction, as was the common practice.

The Stonehouse Bridge Freeing Ceremony, 1924,
viewed looking towards Devonport.
From a postcard.

On Sunday October 21st 1917 passage across the Stonehouse Bridge was made free for all servicemen and nurses in uniform but not on duty.

After prolonged negotiations, an Act of Parliament in 1923 allowed Plymouth Town Council to buy the toll rights for 100,000.   Although the Act permitted the Council to charge tolls for the next ten years, it was decided to free the inhabitants from this burden and on April 1st 1924, the Mayor, Mr Solomon Stephens, and Council visited all the remaining toll houses and officially declared them free.

The creek above the Bridge was filled in during 1972 when some 600,000 tons of ballast and rubble were used to help create 19 acres of recreational land.