Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: March 30, 2018
Webpage updated: March 30, 2018




The Modbury Turnpike Trust was formed in 1759 and was for the purpose of improving the roadway from Modbury to Brixton and and thence via Lincotta Lane to Plympton, where it would link up with the Plymouth Eastern Turnpike for access via the Long Bridge at Marsh Mills to Plymouth.

However, Lord Morley, who lived at Saltram House, wanted a quicker, more direct route to get into Plymouth and engaged Mr Daniel Asher Alexander (1768-1846), an eminent engineer, to advise him on constructing a bridge across the narrowest point of the Lary.  He was quickly discouraged by the fact that the depth of the silt at the chosen point was so great that it would be very expensive to bridge the river.  So instead his Lordship installed a ferry, which as it comprised a long boat or raft wide enough to transport three or four carriages at a time, it was known as a "Flying Bridge".  By means of a windlass and an iron chained fixed to the side of the boat it was hauled back and forth across the water as occasion demanded.  Contrary to its glorious name, it did not "fly" across the water, especially when there was a tide running.

It is not clear exactly when the "Flying Bridge" was first used: it was certainly in existence by 1812 and may have been there in 1807.

On April 7th 1803 the Royal Assent was given to an Act or Parliament that extended the term granted by turnpike acts in 1758 and 1781 for the repair and widening of the road from Modbury to the north end of Lincotta Lane in Plympton.  But his Lordship was still not satisfied and in 1822 engaged a new, young engineer by the name of Mr James Rendel to design a suspension bridge to replace the ferry.

Unfortunately, what pleases one person has a habit of upsetting another.  Sir William Elford, owner of the Plymouth Bank and a promoter of the Plymouth Embankment Company, claimed compensation if the bridge were built as it would restrict the size of boats able to get to the Embankment Company's quay at Arnolds Point.

An interesting, if curious, alternative was then put forward by the notorious Johnson Brothers, who were about to become involved with the Plymouth and Dartmoor Railway and the granite quarries on Dartmoor.  They suggested building a wooden drawbridge across from Arnolds Point and claimed that it would cost less than Rendel's bridge.  Lord Morley took to the idea, of course, and some trial piles were driven but Mr Nicholas Lockyer called a pubic meeting at the Plymouth Guildhall, where the proposal was defeated by 50 votes to 4.  His Lordship lost heart and reverted to plan A.

The Lary (or Lairy) Bridge, Devon, Act was passed in 1823.

On June 17th 1823 the Royal Assent was given to another turnpike act, which in addition to covering the original route to Plympton now added a side road from the southern end of Lincotta Lane at Brixton to 'within Four hundred Yards of the Bridge over the Lary'.

Work on the Laira Bridge commenced in 1824 and was completed in 1827, during which time Mr Rendel managed to fall, fully clothed, into the river and had to be rescued.  Apparently the original plan was for the bridge to run on the same line as the ferry but as the ferry had to be kept running the eastern end of the bridge was placed a little to the north, which was the reason the roadway at Pomphlett made that rather notorious double bend to gain access to the bridge.  The Plymouth Embankment Company constructed the road access on the Plymouth side, now Laira Bridge Road.

Lord Morley did not do this work for nothing, of course, and a toll-gate was erected on the Plymouth side of the Bridge.  So did the Plymouth Embankment Company, within yards of the other.  There was also a toll-gate at Brixton, just after the road from Plympton joined the main route.

On November 1st 1878 the Modbury Turnpike Trust was wound up and the road handed over to the Ermington and Plympton Highway Board.

In 1897 Plymouth Corporation bought the Laira Bridge and the right to collect a toll.  It cost them 22,500.  The toll-gate was declared free from Midnight March 31st/April 1st 1904 but it was not until the same date in 1924 that the Plymouth Embankment Company's toll-gate was also thrown open.