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Horse Bridge

A Scheduled Monument in Sydenham Damerel, Devon

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Latitude: 50.5517 / 50°33'6"N

Longitude: -4.2598 / 4°15'35"W

OS Eastings: 240006.084014

OS Northings: 74874.78086

OS Grid: SX400748

Mapcode National: GBR NQ.GPMV

Mapcode Global: FRA 17ZL.SBX

Entry Name: Horse Bridge

Scheduled Date: 16 January 1929

Last Amended: 6 December 2002

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1020813

English Heritage Legacy ID: 15579

County: Devon

Civil Parish: Sydenham Damerel

Traditional County: Cornwall

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Devon


The monument includes Horse Bridge which crosses the River Tamar, where it
forms the Cornwall and Devon boundary, at a point 6.5km north east of
Callington in east Cornwall. The bridge, built in 1437, retains much
original fabric and includes stone brackets which have been associated
with a medieval fishery on the river. Horse Bridge is also a Listed
Building Grade I.
The bridge crosses the River Tamar in dissected terrain where the fairly
steep valley sides drop down to a broad floodplain 200m wide. Here the
river keeps to the east of that floodplain and is spanned east-west by the
bridge's six main arches linked by five piers. From the bridge abutments,
masonry-faced causeways with parapets carry the road over the adjacent
riverbanks. The eastern causeway is short but the western is much longer
and incorporates a floodwater arch. From the end of its western causeway,
a low embankment with modern facing and railed fences takes the road
beyond the scheduling. Each of the six main arches is approximately 6m in
span; the western main arch is very slightly pointed but the others are
rounded. The floodwater arch in the western causeway is pointed with a
span of 4.7m. All of the arches have double rings of slate voussoirs, the
innermost recessed from the outer along a chamfered moulding. A projecting
moulding also marks the line, called the impost, along the sides of the
piers from which the arches spring. The five piers have pointed cutwaters
at each end, slightly longer upstream than downstream. Where sufficiently
exposed, the piers are seen to rise from a low bedding plinth resting on
bedrock. The bridge's western abutment also has a low upstream cutwater
which returns to a substantial plinth along the western causeway's lower
northern face, crossing and raising the floor level of the floodwater arch
on that side.
Towards the upper end of each pier's upstream cutwater apex is a stone
bracket: a lozenge-shaped slab projecting roughly level with the top of
the arch vaults. Each with a rounded tip and slightly hollowed underside,
these slabs are believed to have held poles to support nets in the late
medieval Tavistock Abbey's fishery along the River Tamar.
The masonry facing the bridge below parapet level is largely of local
slate rubble laid to course, with mouldings of a slaty freestone, but
granite slabs face the lower portions of the upstream cutwater apex on the
central three piers. The masonry also includes occasional small square
holes called putlog holes where medieval and later timber scaffolding was
inserted; most are infilled but those still open appear to have had
secondary functions after the bridge was built: a group of four occurs on
each upper face of the upstream cutwater on the second pier from the east
while others form drain outlets near the parapet base.
The sides of the bridge and its causeways rise above the carriageway as
parapets into which the pier cutwaters are carried up as refuges. A
moulded string course marks the base of the parapets along both sides of
the bridge from behind its eastern abutment to just beyond the floodwater
arch on the west. The parapets, about 1m high, are also in slate masonry,
some non-local: variations in their masonry's source and fabric details
reveal various phases in the present parapets, including some recent
The parapets are finished with chamfered coping slabs, mostly of granite
and many with their iron securing cramps. However the bridge also retains
some very eroded coping slabs of slaty freestone similar to that used for
the bridge's medieval mouldings: also chamfered, these copings derive from
an earlier phase with sockets for differing arrangements of cramps and
groups of deliberate cuts on some chamfer facets.
The carriageway between the parapets reduces to 3.6m wide over the main
arches, the same `12 feet' width as recorded in 1809. It widens gradually
along each causeway, then more markedly so at the end of the eastern
causeway as the road turns north and divides on leaving the bridge.
The construction of Horse Bridge resulted from an Indulgence granted to
that effect by Edmund Lacy, Bishop of Exeter, in AD 1437. When built it
carried the main route from Tavistock to Liskeard and was the lowest
bridging point on the River Tamar, remaining so until the early 16th
century. In 1439, Bishop Lacy granted another Indulgence for the
construction of the slightly smaller Greystone Bridge, surviving 11.5km
upstream along the River Tamar; from numerous detailed points of
similarity, Horse Bridge and Greystone Bridge are considered the work of
the same medieval architect.
In 1478, the bridge was named as `Hautes Brygge' by William of Worcester,
this later becoming `Hawte Bridg' in its mention by John Leland, the
King's Antiquary, in about 1535. In that late medieval period before the
Dissolution of the monasteries, Tavistock Abbey owned the Endsleigh
Estate, upstream from Horse Bridge on the Devon side, and rented the
fishing in the River Tamar from the Duchy of Cornwall; the operation of
that fishery is considered to account for the stone brackets on the
bridge's upstream cutwaters.
The importance of Horse Bridge in the route network declined from the
early 16th century, losing its status both as the lowest bridging point
along the river and as the carrier of the main route from Tavistock to
Liskeard with the building of New Bridge 9km downstream at Gunnislake.
Consequently throughout the post-medieval period Horse Bridge, the oldest
surviving bridge across the River Tamar, has served a network of minor
roads between major regional routes linking Tavistock, Liskeard and
Launceston which cross the River Tamar downstream at New Bridge and
upstream at Greystone Bridge. That pattern still persists, with Horse
Bridge carrying only an unclassified road used mainly by local traffic.
A number of features are excluded from the scheduling. These are: the
modern metalled road surface, the direction post, all modern roadsigns and
their posts, all modern fences, the modern gate and its fittings, the
modern blocking materials against the floodwater arch and all modern
garden furniture. However the ground beneath all these features is

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

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.

Horse Bridge survives very well, retaining extensively its original fabric
as a particularly good example of late medieval bridge building in south
west England. With its six arches plus a floodwater arch, its length makes
it one of the longer surviving late medieval bridges. Horse Bridge
displays several features of special interest including the stone brackets
on the upstream cutwaters, its datable deployment of double arch rings and
largely slate-built, rather than granite-faced, construction, and the good
survival upstream of another bridge almost certainly by the same early
15th century architect. Its physical qualities are complemented by an
unusually well-documented origin and date as provided by its Indulgence in
the Bishop of Exeter's Register. The presence of such a fine and
substantial medieval bridge on what is now a minor road, long by-passed in
the region's main route network, shows clearly the development of the
highway system since the medieval period. That decline into relative
obscurity has undoubtedly contributed to the bridge's quality of survival,
allowing it to escape all but very limited modification and repair which
mainly affects the parapets.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Furneaux, R, The Tamar, (1992)
Gill, C, The Duchy of Cornwall, (1987)
Henderson, C, Coates, H, Old Cornish Bridges and Streams, (1928)
Henderson, C, Coates, H, Old Cornish Bridges and Streams, (1928)
Henderson, C, Coates, H, Old Cornish Bridges and Streams, (1928)
Pearse Chope, R , Early Tours in Devon & Cornwall, (1967)
Pounds, N J G , The Parliamentary Survey of the Duchy of Cornwall, (1982)
Pounds, N J G , The Parliamentary Survey of the Duchy of Cornwall, (1982)
Pounds, N J G , The Parliamentary Survey of the Duchy of Cornwall, (1982)
CAU, Cornwall SMR entry for PRN 6590, (2002)
DCMS, Listed Building entry SX47SW 12/310 Sydenham Damerel parish, (2002)
Ministry of Works, AM 7 scheduling documentation for CO 70 Horse Bridge, 1929,
Stoke Climsland & Sydenham Dameral, DCMS, Listed Building Entries SX37SE 8/151 & SX47SW 12/310, (2002)
Title: 1:10000 Ordnance Survey Maps SX 37 SE & SX 47 SW
Source Date: 2002

Title: 1:50000 Ordnance Survey Map sheet 201 Plymouth and Launceston
Source Date: 1992

Source: Historic England

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