This view shows Old Bedford Bridge, which formerly had two stone toll houses on its span, the remains of which are visible in the engraving. The bridge was demolished and a replacement constructed in 1813. Despite the removal of the toll houses, the bridge did not became toll free until 1835.
This plate was published as part of ‘Britannia Depicta: a Series of Views of the Most Interesting and Picturesque Objects in Great Britain’, published by Cadell and Davies between 1803 and 1817. The ‘Britannia Depicta’ series of engravings accompanied and illustrated a text by brothers Daniel and Samuel Lysons (both antiquaries) titled ‘Magna Britannia, being a concise topographical account of the several counties of Great Britain’, which was published in parts between 1806 and 1822. Publication costs were so high that neither project was completed. ‘Britannia Depicta’ included references to pages in the Lysons’ book and was ‘published regularly at the same periods, as… ‘Magna Britannia’; arranged in the same manner, and printed on papers of corresponding size and quality.’ This print is from Volume I, which included views of Bedford, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire.
Thomas Hearne was born at Brinkworth, near Malmesbury in Wiltshire. He was apprentice to the engraver William Woollett, and became a watercolourist, mostly of topographical views. In 1771 he went to the Leeward Islands with the Governor-General Sir Ralph Payne, and stayed for three and a half years. His most important work was in conjunction with the engraver William Byrne, with whom he produced ‘The Antiquities of Great Britain’ between 1777 and 1781, and many of the plates for ‘Britannia Depicta’ between 1806 and 1818. His early work shows the influence of Paul Sandby, and he was in turn to influence the early styles of Thomas Girtin and J. M. W. Turner.
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