There has been a bridge over the River Ribble at Sawley for centuries. In the reign of Edward I, records show that Henry de Blackburn left two shillings per year for the repair of the bridge. Such crossings were in constant need of upkeep, and who would pay for this was a source of wrangling (as can be seen in our post about nearby Edisford Bridge).
The structure we see today dates from around 1800, but parts of it are thought to be earlier. The bridge is made of finely dressed sandstone. Its three arches are supported on two piers which have triangular cutwaters facing into the river.
It was sketched by J.M.W. Turner in 1816 in his study of Sawley Abbey. These are rough, fast drawings and can be viewed at the Tate’s page here (they are done in pencil which makes them a little difficult to see, make sure you click on the right hand picture and enlarge it on the website). Turner made a number of trips through Lancashire, and was an inveterate sketcher, often drawing areas from lots of different angles to catch the mood of a landscape. Most of these sketches were produced for his own reference and they were not used as studies for pictures that he would go on to sell.
Sawley village itself is worth a walk through. It is home to Sawley Abbey whose ruins are still standing. Some of the buildings in the village contain decorative stones taken from the abbey and are easily observed.
Site visited by A. and S. Bowden 2018
The bridge lies on the main road through Sawley. Park at the village hall, or on the road near the abbey and walk past the Spread Eagle pub and the bridge is just around the sharp corner.
Nearby, just a short walk away, Sawley Abbey
A short drive away Edisford Bridge
The Bridges of Lancashire and Yorkshire, Margaret Slack (1986) Robert Hale : London
Turner and Dr. Whitaker, (1982) Burnley Borough Council. This booklet is available from Towneley Hall