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The medieval Ouse Bridge had become crowded with buildings. As well as houses and shops, the bridge supported St William’s Chapel at one end, which was transformed into apartments after the Reformation.
Snow, a frost, a sudden thaw and a flood in the winter of 1564 caused the central arches to collapse. Twelve houses fell into the river and 12 people drowned.
The new bridge, opened in 1566, had five arches, with the central one 81 feet wide and more than 17 feet high. The bridge had a chapel, St William's, on the south side of the river. The Council chamber was housed next to the chapel and the damp city gaol (jail) was below. It was one of the sights of the city.
In 1724 the author Daniel Defoe described it: 'the bridge is vastly strong, and has one arch which, they tell me, was near 70 foot in diameter; it is, without exception, the greatest in England, some say it’s as large as the Rialto at Venice, though I think not.
The bridge was demolished in 1810 and the current bridge was completed in 1821. At first tolls were charged for crossing the bridge in order to recoup some of the building cost, though in 1829 traffic carrying materials for the repair of the minster after the fire was allowed to cross free of charge.