A THEORY ON THE BRIDGE


By Ron Dale


     In old documents referring to our village, Stanstead is often referred to as Pontis de Thele (Thele Bridge or possibly Toll Bridge) or Pontis Tegule (Tiled Bridge).   Firstly the two different descriptions of the bridge are puzzling. The different descriptions were used in the early Waltham Abbey Charters during the same period in the late 12th century.  A different period of time is therefore not a reason for the difference.

     I have just completed a study of over 40 different land grants written in Latin during the last 20 years of the 12th century up to the year 1200 approximately and this has given me much food for thought.  Six documents concern the debt of the Wauncey family to Bruno the moneylender for his mortgage on the TWO MANORS of Stanstead and St. Margarets. In previous histories of St. Margarets it was not known that the manor was owned and mortgaged by Roger de Wauncey along with Stanstead.  Although the short history written by Septimus Croft shows he was aware, there is no reference to this important fact in the Victoria County History. These grants were correctly interpreted in the book of early charters from villa de Stanstede et Pontis de Thele, mentioning the two manors and showing  St. Margarets as ‘The Toll Bridge’ or Thele Bridge which was correct as the manor later came to be abbreviated simply to THELE.  In all six instances Stanstead (later Abbotts) was referred to simply as Stanstede.   In numbers 363, 366 and 370 where the grants concerned a messuage in Saint Margarets only, this was correctly written in the Latin original as Pontis de Thele. It must be remembered that the manor of St. Margarets did not then exist and the building of  St. Mary’s church and the first bridge had created a new manor out of part of the manor of Hailey, which at first was nameless.  The manor initially became known as Pontis de Thele.  By the 13th century the manor was then called Thele and centuries later Margaret’s Thele and later still simply St. Margarets.

    In 6 other instances where the land was in Stanstead (Abbotts) it was correctly referred to just as Stanstede. There is not one instance of a Stanstead Abbotts property being referred to in Latin as pontis de Thele or pontem tegule.  It seems quite clear to me that where the bridge is mentioned in these early documents during the time before the new manor was named Thele, this is NOT a reference to Stanstead (Abbotts) but to the new and un-named manor which became Thele and in time St. Margarets.

     I have seen reference in the Victoria County History to Stanstede le Thele and Stanstede pontis de Thele. This quite obviously is a reference to Thele (St. Margarets) and NOT Stanstead Abbotts as inferred. In fact St. Margarets was later called Stanstead St. Margarets as it is today on the painted wooden manorial signpost which means the same as Stanstead le Thele of the 12th century.

     Where Stanstead (Abbotts) is meant and correctly interpreted in another six grants of land, the manor is simply referred to as villa de Stanstede or manerium Stanstede (village of Stanstead or manor of Stanstead). We must be careful not to accept incorrect translations of Latin originals of a century or more ago, as most of the Victoria County History for Stanstead Abbotts was written just before 1912. It is not actually an incorrect translation. It is a failure to understand the meaning of Pontis de Thele. Word for word it means ‘Bridge of Thele ‘ or possibly Toll Bridge, but as I have just explained, before the new manor was properly named as Thele, it was referred to by the name of its new bridge, so that all would know what part of the area was being discussed.  This shade of meaning would not have been understood by Mr. Page, the VCH historian.

    Now as to the reason for the different wordings, Pontis de Thele and Pontem tegule: I believe there can be only one explanation for this difference. There must have been two bridges!  In Waltham Abbey grant nos.392 and 393 the property referred to is stated in the Latin original to be in Amwell.  Although the translator has recorded the property as being in St. Margarets, it is quite clear from the text that it is not. The grant was from Robert Oissel de Emwelle! And there are other reasons to believe the property was in Amwell. The Latin text states that the land was just beyond (to the north side of) the Tiled bridge (pontem tegule). This would place it on the north side of the present main road, which is still in Amwell, just as it was in the 12th century.  The road is still roughly in the same location as it was then and the road was and still is the boundary between Amwell and St. Margarets. But why pontem tegule instead of pontis de Thele?  The truth is that we do not know. I offer the suggestion that perhaps there was a smaller bridge which was tiled, possibly for pedestrians over a narrow stream on the western side of the larger toll bridge. It has been recorded by others in the past that the meaning of ‘tegule’ is tiles or bricks and it has been stated that there was no brick-making or tile-making in the 12th century in our area when the bridge was made. I agree and I can find no evidence of this either. But if we look at the Domesday Online for Stanstead Abbotts it is there recorded that in 1086 there was a 4th century Roman pavement (At the site of Stanstead Bury presumably). We do not know the exact date when this first bridge was built but it was not too long after the Domesaday Survey. If there was a smaller bridge with tiles for pedestrians perhaps, the tiles could be the Roman tiles from Stanstead Bury. The remaining tiles not used are still to be seen in the nave wall of St. James church. This is of course only a surmise, but logically speaking, it is the only possible explanation.


Any observations welcomed on these theories?


(Grants of land studied from The Early Charters of Waltham Abbey 1062-1230, edited by Rosalind Ransford, Boydell Press, 1989.)