John Corfield

thomasIn 1837 Thomas Smith was appointed County Surveyor of Hertfordshire on the death of John Pemberton and remained in office until his death in 1875. Although the repair of shire bridges was laid down in 1530 the position of a Surveyor for Hertfordshire seems to have originated in 1724.

Smith wasted no time in getting his letter of application to the Magistrates, for it is dated the 17 April 1837, only one day after Pemberton’s death! The surveyor’s duties were to “examine and report on the state of the county bridges and buildings and superintend all necessary repairs to the same and generally to transact all County business connected with the profession of Surveyor and Architect”.

The salary was £50 per annum. However following his successful work in connection with the County Gaol at Hertford, Smith’s salary rose to £75 and by the time of his death had risen to £140 but no expenses were paid. Generally speaking the salary was low compared to other county surveyors.

In the early 1870s Thomas Smith, his health now failing turned to his son Urban Smith, a qualified civil engineer, for a little filial support. In 1873 it was recommended that Urban Smith be appointed Deputy County Surveyor in consideration of the fact that his father had been in the post for almost forty years and had no legal entitlement to a pension. Urban succeeded his father as County Surveyor in January 1876 and remained in office until his retirement in 1914. Thus father and son held the post for the best part of eighty years.

In July 1874, an Act of Parliament gave approval to the merging of the two separate jurisdictions of the County and the Liberty of St Albans as from January 1875. The result was that the duties of the County Surveyor were revised to extend over the whole of the County of Hertfordshire and were to include not only the Gaol at Hertford but also the new Gaol at St Albans together with all the County buildings.


In 1837 when Thomas Smith was appointed County Surveyor, the County was responsible for over thirty bridges. By the end of 1875, the total had increased to fifty-six largely due to the winding up of the Turnpike Trusts and the merging of the Liberty of St Albans with the County.

It was not until 1888, when the Hertfordshire County Council came into being, that the County Surveyor had any responsibility for the repair and maintenance of all the main roads. Thus during his long period as County Surveyor, Smith had officially nothing to do with them.

Thomas Smith submitted to the Magistrates, in 1837, a detailed report on the state of the timber bridge crossing the River Lee between Bayford and Hertingfordbury stating it was in a ”very dangerous and dilapidated condition. This description of the bridge is, I am of the opinion, unfit for a public road, particularly over a river requiring a waterway of at least 24 feet. The natural liability to decay, and the repairs frequently required, renders a wooden bridge far from being an economical mode of building and so large an outlay is now required to repair the bridge, I have made a design of one of more substantial character, which I have the honour to submit for your consideration. I estimate the cost to be £288. The expense of a temporary wooden bridge need not, I conceive, be incurred, as there can be no doubt that for the short period required Mr Lewis would permit carriages to pass along the old road which runs through his premises.”

The Magistrates initially decided in favour of repairing the bridge but later rescinded their decision and ordered that a brick bridge should be built instead at the cost as estimated by Thomas Smith.

Another duty of the County Surveyor was to check that the contractor’s work had been properly done and to report back to the Magistrates at the next Quarter Sessions.

Where a County bridge was partly in two counties, it was then necessary for both County Surveyors to negotiate over its repair and the costs of any work shared. In 1841, Smith became involved with the re-building of two bridges. One was in the County itself and known as ”New Bridge, Puckeridge” and the other, “Colney Street”, in the Liberty of St Albans. New Bridge at Puckeridge was in such a poor state that Smith advised re building in brick and stone. In specifying the concrete mix, Smith stated that the gravel should be clean, coarse and ”not exceeding the size of an egg”. A clear matter-of-fact statement which even the dullest of workmen could scarcely fail to understand.

Smith’s involvement with the Liberty of St Albans over the Colney Street bridge on Watling Street, just north of Radlett, is interesting in that he had, as County Surveyor, no responsibility for any Liberty bridge or public building. However, Smith had been invited by the Liberty Magistrates to advise on the Gaol and the commission to deal with the Colney Street bridge presumably resulted from that connection. Smith recommended the old five arched bridge be rebuilt with three brick arches and prepared a sketch of his proposals. The Magistrates, however instructed him to design a less expensive and single arched bridge. The specification require tops of all brick arches to be covered with two inches of tempered clay followed by a roadway of gravel.

There is little doubt that Thomas Smith’s finest bridge in Hertfordshire was the one he designed for Standon, following the destruction of the old bridge by the severe floods of 1857. Smith reported that the original foundations had been of plank and pile construction which had rotted away. He proposed a new bridge of cast-iron, brick and stone on concrete foundations which he advised would suit the very boggy nature of the ground.

The final cost of the new bridge was within Smith’s original estimate and produced a comment by one of the Magistrates, that the new bridge was “doubtless a great ornament to the County” but he thought nevertheless that the cost of its construction was hardly necessary. On the other hand, a Mr Soames thought it a “handsome structure” but he felt the bridge was too high and that there was far more waterway than was really needed. Smith answered Soames’ criticism by pointing out that it had only eight feet more waterway than the old bridge and the height of the new arch “was the height of the flood water a year ago last October.” The bridge was demolished in 1968 as it was not strong enough to cope with present day traffic on a busy road.

.On the whole, much of Smith’s work in connection with county bridges, was rather mundane except for the one at Standon. Those described in this section illustrate generally the varied type of work which Smith dealt with. Some of the bridges were comparatively small such as Roxford but nevertheless they have stood the test of time.

At least eight bridges attributed to Thomas Smith are still in existence.

Bulls Mill TL 314157              Roxford TL 309109

Darnicle Hill TL 308047        Sacome Arches TL 327186

Old Colney Str. TL 156018   White Barns TL 437293

Briggens Park Tl412114       Blue Bridge TL 244036

This page was added on 24/07/2022.

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