Ancient Monuments

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Telescopic rail bridge over the River Parrett, 270m south east of Bridgwater Dock lock

A Scheduled Monument in Bridgwater, Somerset

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Latitude: 51.1318 / 51°7'54"N

Longitude: -3.0014 / 3°0'5"W

OS Eastings: 330025.844722

OS Northings: 137424.839321

OS Grid: ST300374

Mapcode National: GBR M5.8X14

Mapcode Global: VH7DH.XTN7

Entry Name: Telescopic rail bridge over the River Parrett, 270m south east of Bridgwater Dock lock

Scheduled Date: 12 March 1974

Last Amended: 7 March 2002

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1020624

English Heritage Legacy ID: 33725

County: Somerset

Civil Parish: Bridgwater

Built-Up Area: Bridgwater

Traditional County: Somerset

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Somerset


The monument includes a Victorian telescopic railway bridge which spans
the River Parrett just north of The Clink, a main thoroughfare which connects
the east and west sides of the town of Bridgwater. The bridge was built as
part of a strategy devised to link the docks on the west side of the river
with the main Bristol and Exeter Railway line on the east side of the river
via a single branch line. This was designed in order to reduce the congestion
being caused by the large volume of traffic using the east and west quays
located to the south of the proposed crossing. The line was laid on the
site of a horse tramway which had previously been converted to a mixed
gauge rail. The bridge was completed in 1871, and became known as the
Black Bridge, a name still used by local people.
The structure of the telescopic bridge, so called because of its sliding,
telescopic action, is formed of three sections: a fixed section on the
west side of the river which is supported by pillars, a moveable middle
section which could be rolled on large wheels, and a traverser section which
moved sideways on the eastern side of the river. When river access to the quay
was required the middle section would be rolled eastwards into the area which
had been vacated by the traverser section thus allowing the marine traffic to
pass through. The bridge was originally operated manually by winches at
either end but these were replaced within a few months by a steam engine
which was housed in a brick engine room on the east bank of the river; the
mechanism and shaft now survive as below ground features and are included
in the scheduling. In 1907 the lower flanges of the bridge girders, which
had become worn through constant working over the rollers, were replaced
with mild steel by the Great Western Railway who had acquired the railway
line in 1876. The telescopic bridge continued in use to allow commercial
shipping to pass through until 1953 although it had been immobilised during
World War II. It was last opened in 1957. The bridge was converted for road
traffic use with a separate pedestrian walkway on the south side in 1967
after the railway line was dismantled.
The bridge remained in use as a road bridge until 1982 at which time it
was replaced by the Chandos Bridge, a new three-laned bridge located 30m to
the south. Since then the telescopic bridge has been used only as a foot
bridge. Parts of the bridge mechanism were removed at this time to the Great
Western Railway Museum at Didcot.
The bridge is a Listed Building, Grade II*.
All modern surfacings, all bollards, the traffic-light control boxes on
the east side of the bridge and the CCTV support pole on the north eastern
side of the bridge are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground
beneath these features is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Bridgwater had attracted coastal traffic to its tidal river port since the
early post-medieval period but it was not until the 1840s that a series
of docks were constructed at the northern edge of the town on the west bank
of the River Parrett. These docks were linked to the Bridgwater and
Taunton Canal giving Bridgwater a commanding position in the control of
shipped goods through the town. In 1865 the Bristol and Exeter Railway
Company purchased the canal and docks and plans were laid to extend the
existing railway across the Parrett to the docks. This resulted in a
telescopic bridge being completed in 1871 designed for partial retraction
to allow passage for boats bound for the east and west quays of Bridgwater
which stood further up river in the centre of the town. Telescopic bridges
were rare in Britain but a similar structure had been built in 1846 to carry
the Brighton and Chichester Railway across the River Arun; this example no
longer survives.
Despite part of the original superstructure being replaced in the early
20th century, the telescopic rail bridge over the River Parrett retains
elements of its original telescopic mechanism and parts of the traverser
pit are likely to survive below ground. It is a rare example of this type
of bridge design and is associated with other preserved industrial sites in
the area of the Bridgwater Dock and the River Parrett which together
played an important role in the town's industrial heritage.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Murless, B J, Bridgwater Docks and the River Parrett, (1983), 29-44

Source: Historic England

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