Warburton Toll Bridge Acts overview

It's worth pointing out that the Rixton and Warburton Bridge Act 1863 is still very much in force. Basic high school law students are taught "Parliament is sovereign" - e.g. what Parliament 'says' (typically writes down in Acts, or legislation) becomes law.

The next lesson for law students is that 'Parliament cannot bind it's successor' - Parliament can always change it's mind at later date, by changing the law, again typically via Acts or Parliament (legislation). Unfortunately, subsequent legislation typically only applies specific, limited changes, such that to understand the law in a particular area as it stands today, we have to read first the original legislation, then the first set of 'changes' (subsequent Acts), then the second set of changes etc. to get the full picture. 

This section walks through the key Acts of Parliament that give rise to the current rights and obligations of the owners of the Rixton and Warburton Bridge.

Rixton and Warburton Bridge Act, 1863

 

2022.01 1969 newspaper article showing the Rixton and Warburton Bridge, circa 1890

This act:

  • creates the Company, the "Rixton and Warburton Bridge Company".
  • Allows for capital to be raised via share issues, and borrowing against the new bridge, via mortgage. Parliament specifies share issue and borrowing limits.
  • Specifies the location of the new bridge over the river Mersey, and the location of the north and south approach roads between what is now the A57 Manchester road to the north, and Townfield lane next to Warburton Cross to the south.
  • Certain engineering requirements are specified - the span of the Rixton and Warburton Bridge, it's clearance above the river Mersey, and that the abutments or piers must be applicable to a bridge to be opened - there was clearly a recognition that larger vessels may need to pass in the future, Parliament specified that the Warburton and Rixton Bridge was to be capable of being converted to an opening bridge in the future.
  • In s.29, Parliament specifies that the Rixton and Warburton Bridge Company had to complete the conversion of the Rixton and Warburton Bridge into an opening bridge, at their own cost, should the owners of the Mersey Navigation (the river) widen / deepen the river to allow the passage of sea going (e.g. larger) vessels. This section appears to anticipate the building of the Manchester Ship Canal & put the onus of costs associated with making the Rixton and Warburton Bridge passable by significantly larger vessels onto the Rixton and Warburton Bridge Company. History shows that this section of the Act was not invoked (details below).

This act specifies a number of obligations and rights:

  • s. 38 make and maintain on each side of the bridge a good and sufficient fence of height not less than four feet
  • s. 46 the approach roads (so at this point in time, the road between what is now the A57 Manchester road and Townfield lane, at Warburton Cross - a route slightly west of the current route that now traverses the Cantilever MSC crossing), and the Warburton and Rixton Bridge shall be maintained by the Warburton and Rixton Bridge Company - Parliament intended that this Bridge and the approach roads should be 'privately maintained', but other than the toll gates & charges should be accessible as public highway.
  • s. 48 states the charges - effectively a maximum of "Two Shillings and Sixpence" for "every Carriage drawn or propelled by Steam or any Means other than Animal Power". This would convert to approx £7.30 at 2020 prices. Pedestrians can be charged (but are currently not), as can motorcycles. It looks like there is no provision to charge cyclists, who are not currently charged. The charges are optional. Using a conversion of 12d to a shilling, and 20 shillings to a pound, the maximum that can be charged would per trip would be 12.5p, and 25p for the maximum permitted two trips in any day, hence the modern single toll is rounded down to 12p.
  • s.50 states: The Tolls by the Act granted are by this Act vested in the Company for the Purposes of this Act. - this is a key  section, the tolls must only be used for the purposes of the Act.
  • s.51 allows the tolls to be reduced, but "never" exceed the Amount by this Act limited - Parliament set fixed toll limits, with no option to increase tolls or allow for inflation.
  • s.55 the Toll gate must display current Toll charges via a"Table painted in distinct and legible Black Letters on a Board with White Ground, containing a List, distinguishing the several Tolls to be paid by virtue of this Act"
  • s.57 allows for animals with reigns & saddles etc to be seized, in in order to obtain payment for monies (e.g. tolls) owned - the term used is 'distrain'; but there's no allowance for motor vehicles, or powers over motor vehicle drivers.
  • s.58 allows for seized animals etc. to be sold to cover charges after a defined number of days, but again no powers are granted over motor vehicles.
  • s.62 Toll Collectors shall display their first and last (christian and surname) "on the Front or some other conspicuous Part of the Toll House or Toll Gate immediately on this coming on Duty (each of the Letters of the Name or Names to be at least Two Inches in Length, and of a Breadth in Proportion, and painted in Black Letters on a Board with a White Ground), and shall continue the same so placed during the whole Time he is upon Duty" 
  • s.67 "If any Person fraudulently or forcibly pass over the Bridge or through any Toll Gate without having paid the Tolls, or assault, obstruct, or interrupt any Person employed in the Collection of the Tolls, every Person so offending shall for every such Offence forfeit not exceeding Forty Shillings." - note the definition - this does not cover e.g. driving a car through an open barrier (which is neither fraudulent nor forcible, though you should definitely seek legal advice before attempting this!)
  • There are allowances in this Act for the Rixton and Warburton Bridge Company to buy up & close all ferries over the Mersey for a mile in each direction, giving a local monopoly on crossings over the Mersey.

That's basically it.

Parliament permitted the current toll to be charged in return for the financial risk of building a crossing over the river Mersey.

 

The Rixton and Warburton Bridge Amendment Act, 1867

Around 4 years after the first Rixton and Warburton Bridge Act, this legislation was passed as "An Act to enable the Rixton and Warburton Bridge Company to raise further Money, and to create Preference Shares; and for other Purposes"

It appears that in 1867, the Rixton and Warburton Bridge is built, and is in use - it's now the 'Warburton Toll Bridge', crossing the river Mersey.

This Act

  • Permits the Rixton and Warburton Bridge Company to issue further shares, and borrow more funds against mortage, within defined limits.
  • The 'Monies' raised under this Act are to be applied only to the purposes of the undertaking of the 1863 Act (e.g. building & maintaining the Rixton and Warburton Bridge)
  • Strengthens the provisions for preventing any 'competitors' such as ferries or similar, from operating within the distance of a mile in either direction from the Rixton & Warburton Bridge.

 

The Manchester Ship Canal Act 1885

This Act appears to have taken over a year to be approved by Parliament, but was passed approx. 22 years after the Rixton and Warburton Bridge Act 1863, and around 18 years after the The Rixton and Warburton Bridge Amendment Act of 1867.

This Act:

  • Creates the "Manchester Ship Canal Company" (called "The Company" in this Act).
  • Specifies the building of the Manchester Ship Canal in sections, or 'Works', e.g.
    • "Number 35. - An opening bridge wholly in the township of Rixton-cum-Clazebrook in the said parish of Warrington with all necessary machinery and apparatus to carry the Rixton and Warburton Road over Work Number 3 commencing in the said road and terminating in that road at a point about two chains north-west of the point of commencement;
    • Number 36. - An opening bridge wholly in the said township of Latchford with all necessary machinery and apparatus to carry the road leading from Knutsford to Warrington over Work Number 2 commencing in that road and terminating in that road at a point about two chains north of the said point of commencement …"
  • Specifies that the Manchester Ship Canal Company may "...alter vary and reconstruct all or any of the bridge over the Rivers Mersey and Irwell or either of them and substitute opening for fixed bridges and remove all bridges rendered unnecessary by reason of the construction of substituted bridges..."

Note the use of "MAY alter vary..." - not shall - this is optional.


There's a lot going on in this Act.

this specifies an opening bridge, basically at the point where the northern approach road to the Rixton and Warburton Bridge crosses the new Ship Canal. The new bridge is to be 'about two chains' - approx 40m, so similar (unsurprisingly!) to the Latchford swing bridge.

  • Works no. 23 to 32 inclusive define new roads (& widening of one road) required due to the Ship Canal.
  • Works no. 33 to 39 inclusive specify new bridges over the Ship Canal, with detail shown for #35 & #36 above.
  • Roads are clearly defined as roads, bridges are clearly defined as bridges. At no point does the term road appear to include "road + bridge", understandable as each bridge crossing the Ship Canal would have been a significant expense, likely far more costly than providing or diverting a road.

The above needs to be considered with the following.

The Manchester Ship Canal (Various Powers) Act 1890

This Act:

  • Permits the substitution of a 'fixed' bridge instead of the 'opening' bridge specified in the Manchester Ship Canal Act of 1885 (actually " abandon the construction of the opening bridge authorized by the Act of 1885 as Work Number 35", suggested work started on an opening bridge.)
  • States that the Rixton and Warburton Bridge Company raised seven thousand pounds (£7,000) in shares, and borrowed a further one thousand five hundred pounds (£1,500)
  • States that "the (Rixton and Warburton) Bridge Company for some time past have not paid any interest on their mortgage debt"
  • Arranges for the transfer of the Rixton and Warburton Bridge 'undertaking' to the Manchester Ship Canal Company; the Manchester Ship Canal Company is to buy the Rixton and Warburton Bridge Company shares, pay off the mortgage and take control of the assets (the approach roads, the Rixton and Warburton Bridge, and the Toll charges)

 

There are some specific sections that are particularly relevant:

  • s. 9 "The said diversion of the Rixton and Warburton Road shall for all purposes (including the levying of tolls rates and charges) be substituted for the portion of the existing road so diverted)"

Interpretation here matters. Parliament states "Road", not "Road and Bridge". The intention here is to ensure that travellers on any part of the diverted road are still liable to pay the Toll charge specified in the Rixton and Warburton Bridge Act of 1863.

  • s. 15 specifies maintenance responsibilities for new bridges over the Manchester Ship Canal in that "Provided that unless otherwise agreed the structure of every bridge and the immediate approaches thereto and all other necessary works connected therewith shall be repaired and maintained by the (Manchester Ship Canal) Company."
  • s. 35 "the Directors of the (Warburton and Rixton) Bridge Company my exercise all necessary power for winding up the affairs of the (Warburton and Rixton) Bridge Company and as soon as their affairs have been wound up and all their debts and liabilities paid or satisfied the (Warburton and Rixton) Bridge Company shall be by virtue of this Act dissolved."

This gets complicated...

  • The Warburton and Rixton Bridge Company is dissolved.
  • The Toll is still valid, but is now collected by the Manchester Ship Canal Company, under the original terms of the Rixton and Warburton Bridge Act 1863

Given the assets of the Rixton and Warburton Bridge Company are now owned by the Manchester Ship Canal Company, it's fair to assume that the same company is maintaining both the undertakings in the 1863 Rixton and Warburton Bridge Act - e.g. the bridge over the Mersey and the approach roads (now diverted), AND the new Cantilever bridge over the Manchester Ship Canal... BUT

The provisions of the Rixton and Warburton Bridge Company still stand:

  • s.50 of the Rixton and Warburton Bridge Act, 1863 states "The Tolls by the Act granted are by this Act vested in the (Rixton and Warburton Bridge) Company for the Purposes of this Act."

So the Toll can only be used for the original scope of the 1863 Act, to maintain the Bridge over the river Mersey, maintain the approach roads, service borrowings and pay dividends. 

Parliament could have specified that the new Cantilver bridge (works no. 35) was to be maintained by the Toll, but did not. 

 

***links to extended transcriptions of the four Acts above, along with links to copies of the Acts themselves will be added shortly***

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