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Late medieval and 19th century bridge at Wadebridge

A Scheduled Monument in Wadebridge, Cornwall

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Latitude: 50.5173 / 50°31'2"N

Longitude: -4.835 / 4°50'6"W

OS Eastings: 199113.984141

OS Northings: 72455.019185

OS Grid: SW991724

Mapcode National: GBR ZT.9K88

Mapcode Global: FRA 07RP.J5G

Entry Name: Late medieval and 19th century bridge at Wadebridge

Scheduled Date: 26 November 1928

Last Amended: 6 December 2002

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1020814

English Heritage Legacy ID: 15580

County: Cornwall

Civil Parish: Wadebridge

Built-Up Area: Wadebridge

Traditional County: Cornwall

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cornwall

Church of England Parish: St Breoke

Church of England Diocese: Truro


The monument includes a late medieval multi-span bridge, widened in
1852-3, across the River Camel estuary at Wadebridge in north Cornwall.
The bridge was again widened on the upstream side in 1963 with further
refurbishment of the carriageway in 1994: the structure of that 1963
bridge-widening and the later carriageway and street furniture lie outside
this scheduling beyond a protective margin around the medieval to 19th
century bridge. The entire bridge at Wadebridge is a Listed Building
Grade II*.
The bridge at Wadebridge spans the River Camel estuary north east-south
west where the estuary is now about 125m wide, slightly less than in the
medieval period due to post-medieval waterfront expansion and
consolidation, especially along the south west shore. The bridge
originally spanned the estuary by 17 arches; all still survive and
are included in this scheduling but with progressive reduction in the
estuary width, only 13 remain as open arches separated by 12 piers. Beyond
a 13th pier, the bridge's original north eastern arch is now walled in on
both sides to form a small store. The three original south western arches,
their piers and the medieval riverside abutment are known to survive
beneath the modern road, obscured to each side by raised ground and
cellars under 19th-20th century buildings. The survival of a
medieval causeway south west from the bridge is not known and its area
extends beyond this scheduling.
The bridge's medieval arches are pointed, 5.71m in span, with vaults 3.68m
long ending in single rings of local slate voussoirs visible beneath the
later widened arches. The arches spring from the sides of piers 3.42m
wide, provided with pointed cutwaters at each end and also built of local
slate. The piers at the north east of the bridge are founded on bedrock
but that dips beneath the estuary, leaving the south western piers resting
on deep riverine deposits. To prevent movement, in 1976 the pier footings
across the estuary's present width were cased in concrete over riverbed
The carriageway of the medieval bridge was 9 feet (2.74m) wide; in 1852-3
this was increased by 3 feet (0.91m) on each side. The widening was
supported on segmental arches built against both ends of the medieval
arches, extending the arch vaults to 5.7m long. Each segmental arch rests
in a slot cut into both faces of the medieval cutwaters, with a granite
bedstone at the base of each slot. These mid-19th century arches, also
faced by local slate rubble, have granite voussoirs with a projecting
keystone, leaving the vaults and voussoirs of the medieval bridge still
exposed beneath. In 1963 the bridge was widened again, entirely along the
upstream side and extending the arch vaults by a further 6.45m. The new
arches, also segmental, spring from narrow piers with pointed cutwaters.
Each arch employs eight concrete segments, ending with a ring of granite
voussoirs and a projecting keystone which closely match the arches from
the 1852-3 widening, as does their mostly slate facing. The widening in
1963 abutted rather than bonded with the bridge's earlier upstream
masonry, leaving intact the fabric of the medieval cutwaters and the
medieval and 19th century upstream arches, still visible against an
expansion joint to the 1963 work.
The bridge's parapets can be no older than the bridge-widening on their
respective sides: of 19th-20th century date on the downstream side and of
1963 or later date on the upstream side.
Throughout its history until 1993, this bridge carried the north coastal
route along the south west peninsula across the broad Camel Estuary. With
Bideford Bridge, of similar date 85km to the north east, it is one of two
surviving long multi-arched medieval bridges on that route. It replaced a
previous ford and ferry crossing at a town then named Wade, derived from
the Old English word for a ford. Chapels, licensed in the later 14th
century, had been built at each end of the ford: St Michael's Chapel at
the south west end and the `King's Chapel' at the north east. The bridge
was built between those chapels in the later 1460s, its construction
organised by John Lovibond, Vicar of Egloshayle. In 1468 he was permitted
to obtain stone from St Minver, further down the estuary. To fund its
maintenance, John Lovibond created a Charter of Endowment in 1476,
granting the bridge with capital stock, the benefits accruing from lands
in the nearby parishes of Egloshayle and St Breock and the right to
collect tolls on the bridge, all managed by Trustees. The Bridge Trust
administering this endowment remained active until its abolition in 1853.
The bridge was mentioned, as `Wade-brygge' by the chronicler William of
Worcester in 1478. It is described again by the King's Antiquary John
Leland in the 1530s, recording a local story that part of the bridge was
founded on packs of wool. The chapels at each end were seized by the Crown
after the Dissolution, to be sold off in 1591 for secular use: no remains
of either chapel are now known to survive. The strategic importance of the
route across the bridge is evident during the English Civil War, by the
despatch of Oliver Cromwell with a strong force to secure Wadebridge on
6 March 1646 to prevent its use by the Royalist army.
The increasing inadequacy of the narrow medieval bridge to cope with the
growth in trade and commerce during the 18th and 19th centuries resulted
in its widening in 1852-3 as noted above. Greatly increased traffic
pressures during the 20th century, when it carried the A39T trunk road,
led to the bridge being more than doubled in width again in 1963, again
described above. Towards the end of the 20th century, it was clear that
the bridge and its route directly into the town of Wadebridge were wholly
inappropriate for a major trunk road intended to carry high volumes of
traffic with an unimpeded traffic flow. Accordingly in 1993 both the
bridge and Wadebridge town were by-passed altogether by an entirely new
bridge carrying the A39T trunk road over the Camel Estuary 0.8km
downstream. The medieval bridge with its later modifications now carries
only local traffic, reflected in its downgrading to an unclassified road,
the narrowing of its vehicular carriageway and traffic calming installed
on its approach roads.
A number of features are excluded from the scheduling. These are: the
fabric of the 1963 widening along the upstream side of the bridge (which
also extends beyond the scheduling), the bridge's downstream parapet above
the surface level of the adjacent highway, all modern road signs and other
street furniture, all modern highway surfaces and their underlying
components to a depth 0.5m below the level at which the modern pavement
meets the downstream bridge parapet, all modern utilities pipes, cables
and their trenches and fittings and all modern drains. The ground and the
fabric of the bridge beneath all these features is, however, included.

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 medieval and 19th century bridge at Wadebridge survives well. Despite
the 19th and later 20th century widening and the modern replacement of
some infill over its arches, it retains extensively its original medieval
fabric, its length makes it one of the longest surviving medieval
multi-span bridges in England. Its importance in this regard is enhanced
by the survival of a second such medieval bridge contemporary with
Wadebridge on the same north coastal route at Bideford in north Devon. The
mid-19th century widening reflects well the growing pressures on the
nation's route network at that time. The neatly-executed segmental arches
supporting that limited widening and the simple manner of their insertion
into the medieval bridge are a good example of the physical accommodation
of those pressures into the often medieval infrastructure that carried our
highways. A good corpus of supporting historical documentation surrounds
the original construction of the bridge, allowing, for instance,
identification of the stone source and providing an excellent example of a
medieval endowment to fund a bridge's maintenance costs. The historical
context also adds particular importance to the bridge's physical structure
by bracketing its construction date, allowing its deployment of single
arch rings, broad piers and largely slate-built construction to be closely
dated and to assist in the analogous dating of other more poorly-dated
medieval bridges. The well-documented construction, widenings and eventual
bypassing of this substantial medieval bridge on what is now an
unclassified road shows clearly the considerable development of the
highway system and its objectives during the medieval and post-medieval

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Henderson, C, Coates, H, Old Cornish Bridges and Streams, (1928)
Henderson, C, Coates, H, Old Cornish Bridges and Streams, (1928)
Padel, O J, Cornish Place-Names, (1988)
Pearse Chope, R , Early Tours in Devon & Cornwall, (1967)
'Wimpey News' in Bridge Over The River Camel, (1976)
CAU, Cornwall SMR entry PRN 26200, (2002)
DCMS, AM7 scheduling documentation and maplet for CO 62, 1928,
Discussed at site visit on 11/4/2002, Spoken and Archive Data provided by Mr Andrew Langdon, (2002)
Listed at Grade II* on 6/6/1969, DCMS, Listed Building entry for SW 9872-9972 9/253 Wadebridge Bridge, (1969)
Listed Grade II* on 6/6/1969, DCMS, Listed Building entry for SW 9872-9972 9/253 Wadebridge Bridge, (1969)
Title: 1:10000 Ordnance Survey Map SW 97 SE
Source Date: 2002

Title: 25": 1 mile Ordnance Survey Mapping for the area around Wadebridge
Source Date:
1880 and 1907 editions
Title: 25": 1 mile Ordnance Survey Mapping for the area including Wadebridge
Source Date:
1880 and 1907 editions

Source: Historic England

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