A recent colour photograph of Grey's Bridge shows a more benign face of the edifice to which, in Thomas Hardy's 1886 novel The Mayor of Casterbridge those who are down-and-out and even those contemplating suicide tend to drift. The eighteenth-century stone bridge between the suburb of Durnover and the fields to the east of town occurs in a number of Hardy's stories, including A Few Crusted Characters, Under the Greenwood Tree, Far from the Madding Crowd, and The Trumpet-Major.
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who photographed or scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]
Passage from The Mayor of Casterbridge Associated with Grey's Bridge
Two bridges stood near the lower part of Casterbridge town. The first, of weather-stained brick, was immediately at the end of High Street, where a diverging branch from that thoroughfare ran round to the low-lying Durnover lanes; so that the precincts of the bridge formed the merging point of respectability and indigence. The second bridge, of stone, was further out on the highway — in fact, fairly in the meadows, though still within the town boundary.
These bridges had speaking countenances. Every projection in each was worn down to obtuseness, partly by weather, more by friction from generations of loungers, whose toes and heels had from year to year made restless movements against these parapets, as they had stood there meditating on the aspect of affairs. In the case of the more friable bricks and stones even the flat faces were worn into hollows by the same mixed mechanism. The masonry of the top was clamped with iron at each joint; since it had been no uncommon thing for desperate men to wrench the coping off and throw it down the river, in reckless defiance of the magistrates.
For to this pair of bridges gravitated all the failures of the town; those who had failed in business, in love, in sobriety, in crime. Why the unhappy hereabout usually chose the bridges for their meditations in preference to a railing, a gate, or a stile, was not so clear.
There was a marked difference of quality between the personages who haunted the near bridge of brick and the personages who haunted the far one of stone. Those of lowest character preferred the former, adjoining the town; they did not mind the glare of the public eye. They had been of comparatively no account during their successes; and though they might feel dispirited, they had no particular sense of shame in their ruin. Their hands were mostly kept in their pockets; they wore a leather strap round their hips or knees, and boots that required a great deal of lacing, but seemed never to get any. Instead of sighing at their adversities they spat, and instead of saying the iron had entered into their souls they said they were down on their luck. — Chapter 32, p. 68-269 [1895 edition].
The bridges thus represent two possible fortunes or destinies for ex-mayor Michael Henchard, the reformed alcoholic and out-of-work hay-trusser who through sheer determination and hard work had become the mayor and leading businessman of Casterbridge, only to lose everything when he overextended himself in trying to drive his former protege, Donal Farfrae, out of business. In the Graphic's serialisation of the novel, illustrator Robert Barnes places Michael Henchard and the devious Joshua Jopp at the very outskirts of Casterbridge, on Grey's Bridge in Henchard turned slightly, and saw that the comer was Jopp, his old foreman (3 April 1886). The bridges, located at the base of the hill, mark the end of High Street. Here, to continue his protagonist's downward trajectory, Hardy has Henchard learn from his former foreman that Donald Farfrae, now married to Lucetta Templeman, has moved into Henchard's old house at the Top o' the Town, complete with the furnishings he has bought at auction. His rout of Henchard is thus complete, as the canny Scot has usurped Henchard's position in the town, acquired his business, and even married the woman from Jersey whom Henchard had thought to marry. From the stone bridge, Henchard walks to nearby Ten Hatches WSeir, contemplating suicide. The present stone bridge over the River Frome on the London Road running east of the town was erected in 1742.
Hardy, Thomas. The Mayor of Casterbridge: A Story of a Man of Character. Illustrated by Robert Barnes. The Graphic. 2 January—15 May 1886.
Hardy, Thomas. The Mayor of Casterbridge: A Story of a Man of Character. Illustrated by Henry Macbeth-Raeburn. Volume Two in the Complete Uniform Edition of the Wessex Novels. London: Osgood, McIlvaine, 1895.
Pinion, F. B. A Hardy Companion. Trowbridge, Wiltshire: Macmillan, 1968.
Vann, J. Don. "The May of Casterbridge in the Graphic, 2 January—15 May 1886." Victorian Novels in Serial. New York: Modern Language Association, 1985. Pages 86-87.
Wright, Sarah Bird. Thomas Hardy A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts on File, 2002.
Last modified 8 February 2017