Heritage Locations

Wade's Bridge, Aberfeldy


The only one of General Wade's bridges still in use. It was designed by William Adam in 1833.

Constructor:
Unclassified

Period of construction:
1700 - 1749

Transport Trust plaque:
No

Transport Mode:
Road

Address:
Weem Hotel, Aberfeldy, PH15 2LD

Postcode:
PH15 2LD

Nearest Town:
Pitlochry

Heritage Centre:
No


George Wade was born in 1673, grandson of an English soldier who had settled in Ireland at the end of Cromwell's campaign there in the 1650's. George joined the army as a young man and served in Ireland, France, Flanders, Portugal and Spain, gaining rapid promotion throughout, until he returned to England with the rank of Major General in l711. In 1722 he was elected MP for Bath and two years later was chosen by King George I to visit and report on the worrying situation in the Highlands of Scotland.

In 1688 James VII of Scotland, II of England, had been ousted from the throne by William and Mary. There followed a series of Jacobite uprisings in a vain attempt to restore the Royal House of Stuart to the throne. Word then came from Scotland that the 1716 Disarming Act (following the suppressed rebellion of 1715) had left the loyal Highlanders defenceless against rebels, and that the whole country was riven with corruption, thieving and blackmail.

After a rapid visit to the north in 1724, Wade concluded his report with several proposals - the building of barracks for His Majesty's troops, an improved system of sherriffs and JPs to administer the law, a further Disarming act, a network of good roads and bridges and companies of local men to keep the peace.

His assessment must have been well received, for within a fortnight he had been appointed Commander of His Majesty's Forces in Scotland. These measures were embarked upon immediately with the road-building programme under Wade's personal supervision until, at the end of 1733, he handed over responsibility to William Caulfield, to whom are attributed the famous lines: 'If you'd seen these roads before they were made, you'd lift up your arms and bless General Wade'

Wade's personal attitude to the Highlands and their people is hard to assess, but he made few enemies in his time here. He certainly seems to have believed strongly that the Highlands should be policed by Highlanders for their own good. Even his military roads were less than repressive in their effects. In fact, the only military commander to gain massive benefit from them was 'Bonnie Prince Charlie' whose troops used every inch of the network in the campaign of 1745-6.

Wade returned to the army and was promoted to Lieutenant General in 1742. In 1743 he served under King George II at the battle of Dettingen in the War of the Austrian Succession, the last battle in which an English king led the army. He became Commander in Chief but was replaced by the Duke of Cumberland when he failed to counter the 1745 uprising with sufficient despatch.

General Wade's bridge at Aberfeldy was first opened to traffic at the end of October 1733. Wade regarded it as the greatest of his considerable achievements in road-making. In 9 years he had personally supervised the construction of over 250 miles of military roads in the Highlands - the first engineered roads in Britain since Roman times. Wade visited the bridge briefly in 1734 but it was not until 8 August 1735 - nearly two years later - that he attended the formal opening celebrations. The total cost was £3,596 or, in today's terms, over £1m. No reasonable expense had been spared. The best architect in Scotland, William Adam, was hired to design the structure and master masons were brought from the northern counties of England to spend all winter preparing the stone - a grey chlorite schist from a quarry at Farrochil about a mile to the south-west and the following summer constructing the bridge.

This completed the first stage of what Wade saw as an essential network of roads, initially linking Inverness and Fort William along the Great Glen with Dunkeld and Crieff. The network later grew to over 1,000 miles south of the Great Glen, establishing most major routes of the present day.

Built by gangs of 300-500 men, these roads were normally sixteen feet (5m) wide, with a ditch on each side and surfaced with loose gravel. They followed lines as straight as the land form allowed.

The road from Crieff - visible in many places from the modern road - led north by the Sma' Glen and Amutree through Glen Cochil and into Aberfeldy by what is now called 'Old Crieff Road'. To the north of the bridge it pioneered the present day route to Tummel Bridge, Trinafour and Dainacardoch where it joined the road from Dunkeld to Inverness (the modern A9).

For many years, Wade's bridge was the only one spanning the Tay (Scotland's longest river) and therefore the only sure access into the east and central Highlands. Elsewhere the numerous ferries and fording places were very dependent on the state of the river. The bridge was therefore a vital link in an important thoroughfare - forming a focal point for the growth of the present-day town of Aberfeldy.

Prince Charles Edward Stuart himself crossed the bridge on his retreat north in February 1746. He stayed two nights at Castle Menzies one mile to the north, followed only four days later by a contingent of the Duke of Cumberland's forces, by whom he was disastrously defeated at Culloden later in the year.

The bridge has survived the turbulent politics of many generations. It is now the only one of Wade's 35 major bridges to remain in use as a public highway. Built for 18th century wheeled carriages, it survives as a great memorial to a great road building engineer. The Weem Hotel nearby on the western side was the barracks for the workers during construction.


Bibliography:

Haldane, A.R.B., The Drove Roads of Scotland, Birlinn, ISBN 978 18415 86953 (2008)

Mackie, J.D., A History of Scotland, Penguin, ISBN-10 0140136495 (1984)

Magnusson, Magnus, Scotland: The Story of a Nation, Grove Press, ISBN-10 0802139320 (2003)

McCall, Colin, Routes, Roads, Regiments and Rebellions, ISBN 978 09544 45508 (2003)

Nelson, G., Highland Bridges, Aberdeeeen University Press, ISBN-10 0080377440  (1990)

Skempton, Sir Alec (Ed.), Biographical Dictionary of Civil Engineers. Vol.1. 1500-1830, Thomas Telford, ISBN 07277 2939X (2002)



Opening Times:
Open at all times.

How To Find:
On B846 on the western side of Aberfeldy


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