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The medieval Exe Bridge, St Edmund's Church, and medieval tenement remains, lying between the River Exe and Frog Street

A Scheduled Monument in St David's, Devon

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Latitude: 50.719 / 50°43'8"N

Longitude: -3.5361 / 3°32'9"W

OS Eastings: 291660.30397

OS Northings: 92168.594926

OS Grid: SX916921

Mapcode National: GBR P0.QBJN

Mapcode Global: FRA 37H5.L7K

Entry Name: The medieval Exe Bridge, St Edmund's Church, and medieval tenement remains, lying between the River Exe and Frog Street

Scheduled Date: 13 December 1929

Last Amended: 6 December 2002

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1020671

English Heritage Legacy ID: 33046

County: Devon

Electoral Ward/Division: St David's

Built-Up Area: Exeter

Traditional County: Devon

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Devon

Church of England Parish: Exeter St Mary Steps

Church of England Diocese: Exeter


The monument includes the surviving standing and buried remains of the
medieval Exe Bridge (known as Old Exe Bridge) which once spanned the River
Exe, together with the remains of St Edmund's Church, which was
constructed on the bridge itself, and part of the rear house foundations
of a series of medieval tenements which fronted onto Frog Street at the
bridge's eastern end. The site lies on the east bank of the River Exe at a
point where the river appears to have been much wider in former times
allowing the possibility of a ford, although a succession of timber
bridges may have been in existence from Roman times until the decision was
taken to construct a stone bridge by the closing decade of the 12th
The Old Exe bridge, which is Listed Grade II, took a diagonal course
across the river running between the church of St Edmund on the city side
and the church of St Thomas Becket on the opposite, western bank. As
originally constructed the bridge is thought to have consisted of 17 or
possibly 18 arches spanning a total distance of about 180m between the
abutments. Of the original river arches eight survive fully exposed whilst
part of a ninth is visible, these representing a little under half of the
original length, ie: about 87m. A further length of about 25m of bridge
lies buried beneath Edmund Street and the modern bank of the Exe. The span
of the arches varies from 3.66m to 5.68m. The first four arches on the
Exeter side are segmental (almost semicircular) but the fifth to ninth
alternate between pointed (two centred) and segmental vaults. All the
arches are of ribbed construction. The segmental arches each have three
rectangular sectioned ribs, 1m wide, whilst the pointed ones have either
four or five, narrow, chamfered ribs 0.6m wide. All but the first arch are
strengthened with one, or sometimes two `arch rings' above the first set
of voussoirs and many are chamfered along their lower edges. The bridge is
on average 5m in width and it carried a roadway some 4m wide if allowance
is made for the parapets which no longer exist. The height of the roadway
above the river rose from about 3m at the Exeter abutment to over 6m above
the ninth arch. Some medieval paving of the roadway survives above the
seventh arch whilst the rest is a modern reconstruction. The bridge piers
are faced with local volcanic trap and sandstone ashlar; they were founded
on bases of rubble and gravel contained within bays of wooden stakes
driven into the riverbed. Dendrochronological (tree ring) dating has
demonstrated that some of these oak stakes were felled in the years
1190-1200. The upstream cutwaters of the piers are pointed to break up the
strength of the current whilst the downstream piers are rounded. Later
repairs of the bridge fabric can be identified with some confidence where
local Heavitree breccia stone has been used as this stone is known not to
have been quarried before the mid-14th century. The western half of the
bridge was demolished in 1778 following the construction of a new bridge
which took a different alignment further upstream.
St Edmund's Church, first recorded in 1214, formed an integral part of the
bridge construction with its tower contiguous with the bridge. The floors
of both the nave and chancel were supported above the river by the second
and third bridge arches. The church was about 20m in length by 5.5m in
width and it was entered from the bridge carriageway although
archaeological evidence survives to suggest access could also be obtained
from the river. It was rebuilt and extended on a number of occasions,
principally in 1448-9 when a bell tower was added and around 1500 when a
side aisle 12.6m long and 3m wide was built out from the north west wall.
A final and extensive rebuild took place in 1833-4 although all ancient
foundations were retained.
In 1975 the church was partly demolished with much of the 19th century
masonry removed, although all ancient walling was retained and the church
stands with its tower surviving to its full original height. Only
fragments survive of a chantry chapel of 1257 which stood opposite
St Edmund's on the other side of the thoroughfare; it was suppressed in
1546 during the Dissolution. An accumulation of river-deposited sands
against the riverbank on the north east side of the abutment and first
arch of the bridge was used, by the 13th century, to provide reclaimed
land for two medieval tenements. Excavation in 1975-9 revealed foundation
walls of the rear parts of two houses which would have fronted onto Frog
Street although it was not known by that name until the early 17th
century. Both houses shared a rear river wall which would have provided
some protection against flooding and both were shown to have a complex
sequence of development from around 1240. The more completely excavated of
the two was found to have been a rectangular hall-house with an internal
side passage along its east wall. Its occupants appear to have been
engaged in industrial activity, since in the late 13th century, two
barrels were sunk into the house floor, the barrels probably having been
used for soaking or tanning leather prior to leather working. The houses
were finally demolished in the post-medieval period but the earliest
foundations survive and comprise the medieval walls forming the property
boundaries and room divisions of the two tenements.
Documentary evidence for the bridge, church, and tenements, is extensive.
The first known bridge chaplain is recorded in 1196 suggesting that the
bridge had been erected by that date. St Edmund's Church on the east side
of the bridge was certainly complete by around 1214 when it was mentioned
in a list of Exeter Churches along with its companion Church of St Thomas
Becket which stood at the western end of the bridge. The account rolls of
the Bridge Wardens detailing the annual cost of repairs for the period
1343 to 1711 survive and they also include references to houses on the
bridge which appear to have been of timber-frame construction. Study of
these documents has shown that the Bridge Wardens paid for masons,
carpenters, smiths, sawyers, labourers, and roofers, and for a multitude
of various raw materials including brushwood which was made into wattling
to protect the foundations of the bridge piers from the battering of
driftwood and ice during winter. Supplementing the documentary evidence is
the archaeological work which has confirmed that the bridge was standing
by the early 13th century. The architectural detail and development of the
bridge, St Edmund's Church, and the medieval tenements at the east end of
the bridge, have all been detailed in a report by Stewart Brown. All
modern surfacings, lamp posts, fence posts and fencing, modern steps,
paving and road surfaces, and modern walls and surfaces where these do not
form part of the reconsolidation or reconstruction of the monument are
excluded from the scheduling, although the ground and ancient fabric
beneath all these features is included.
Specifically included in the scheduling, however, is the modern paving of
the bridge carriageway which is laid in alongside a surviving section of
medieval paving.

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

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Multi-span bridges are structures of two or more arches supported on
piers. They were constructed throughout the medieval period for the use
of pedestrians and packhorse or vehicular traffic, crossing rivers or
streams, often replacing or supplementing earlier fords. During the early
medieval period timber was used, but from the 12th century stone (and
later brick) bridges became more common, with the piers sometimes
supported by a timber raft. Most stone or brick bridges were constructed
with pointed arches, although semicircular and segmental examples are also
known. A common medieval feature is the presence of stone ashlar ribs
underneath the arch. The bridge abutments and revetting of the river banks
also form part of the bridge. Where medieval bridges have been altered in
later centuries, original features are sometimes concealed behind later
stonework, including remains of earlier timber bridges. The roadway was
often originally cobbled or gravelled. The building and maintenance of
bridges was frequently carried out by the church and by guilds, although
landowners were also required to maintain bridges. From the mid-13th
century the right to collect tolls, known as pontage, was granted to many
bridges, usually for repairs; for this purpose many urban bridges had
houses or chapels on them, and some were fortified with a defensive
gateway. Medieval multi-span bridges must have been numerous throughout
England, but most have been rebuilt or replaced and less than 200 examples
are now known to survive. As a rare monument type largely unaltered,
surviving examples and examples that retain significant medieval and post-
medieval fabric are considered to be of national importance.

The Old Exe Bridge survives particularly well as one of the best-preserved
examples of a major medieval stone bridge of its date built in England.
Constructed around the year 1200 it spanned the waters of the River Exe
for almost 600 years until its partial demolition in 1778. Excavation has
demonstrated that St Edmund's Church, which stood on the bridge, formed
part of the original construction and that houses were built onto the
bridge and surrounding banks during the medieval period. The monument will
be informative about early bridge construction techniques in stone and the
fabric of the bridge preserves medieval masonry in abundance; this masonry
has been studied in detail. The ruins of the bridge, church, and tenements
will be informative about medieval life and the lives of the inhabitants
of Exeter during that period. The remains have been consolidated and are
displayed as a monument within a landscaped park forming a visual and
educational amenity.

Source: Historic England


Brown, S W, Excavations On The Medieval Exe Bridge, St Edmund's Church, etc, 1991, Unpublished report of EMAFU 91.52
Brown, S W, Excavations On The Medieval Exe Bridge, St Edmund's Church, etc, 1991, Unpublished report of EMAFU 91.52
Brown, S W, Excavations On The Medieval Exe Bridge, St Edmund's Church, etc, 1991, Unpublished report of EMAFU 91.52

Source: Historic England

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