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Ulshaw Bridge

A Scheduled Monument in Thornton Steward, North Yorkshire

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Latitude: 54.2804 / 54°16'49"N

Longitude: -1.7785 / 1°46'42"W

OS Eastings: 414516.081505

OS Northings: 487219.923998

OS Grid: SE145872

Mapcode National: GBR JL0Y.RC

Mapcode Global: WHC6Y.NN8X

Entry Name: Ulshaw Bridge

Scheduled Date: 30 November 1925

Last Amended: 15 July 2003

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1021078

English Heritage Legacy ID: 35481

County: North Yorkshire

Civil Parish: Thornton Steward

Traditional County: Yorkshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): North Yorkshire


The monument includes a medieval bridge crossing the River Ure on a north
to south alignment 3km east of Middleham. The bridge includes the four
arches and piers spanning the river, the approach causeways and the bridge
abutments and supporting revetment walls. Also included in the monument is
a late medieval sundial standing on the bridge. The bridge carries a minor
road and is also a Listed Building Grade II.

There has been a crossing point over the River Ure at Ulshaw since at
least Roman times as it is thought to be where a Roman road from
Swaledale, 15km to the north met the river. In the medieval period Ulshaw
was a main crossing point over the Ure lying close to both the important
military and political stronghold of Middleham Castle to the west and
Jervaulx Abbey to the east. The earliest known reference to a bridge at
Ulshaw is in 1588 when 200 marks were spent on its repair. Some 50 years
earlier John Leland, the antiquarian, who visited the area between 1535
and 1543, noted in his journal a wooden bridge across the Ure near
Middleham but it is not clear whether this refers to Ulshaw Bridge. There
are records throughout the 17th century of monies being allocated and
repairs being undertaken to the bridge, including the large sum of 80
pounds in 1673. From the surviving architecture, the bridge is thought to
date to the 16th century. The bridge parapets were replaced probably in
the late 19th century.

The bridge is constructed of coursed ashlar blocks. Each of the arches is
recessed segmental in shape and has a span of approximately 10m. The
arches spring from three stone piers each with pointed cutwaters on both
the up and downstream sides. On the western, upstream side all three
cutwaters rise up to the parapet level. On the downstream side however
only the central cutwater rises all the way up to parapet level, the outer
two stop at the approximate level of the carriageway and then slope
inwards to the parapet wall. The cutwaters project beyond the face of the
bridge by 3.5m. The two approach causeways are both ramped in order to
raise the carriageway over the arches. On the northern side the causeway
measures 12m in length from the end of the northern arch and on the
southern side it is 14m in length from the end of the southern arch. On
each of the river banks there is a large stone footing known as an
abutment which supports the bridge. At either side of these abutments
there is a stone revetment wall extending up and down stream to prevent
erosion of the river bank and the undermining of the bridge. On the
upstream side of the southern abutment the revetment wall is similar to
the cutwaters and is pointed in shape. This shape helps break the force of
the river during spate by diverting some water away from the bridge. This
feature projects from the face of the bridge by approximately 10m. On the
upstream side of the northern abutment the revetment wall is 8m in length
and is curved to channel water effectively through the arch. On the
downstrean side the northern and southern revetment walls extend 5m away
from the bridge.

Throughout the bridge there are a series of at least 30 mason's marks
inscribed into the stone. These are particularly visible on the lower
courses of the central downstream cutwater, the southern face of the
northern arch and on the western face of the northern abutment. These
marks comprise a range of symbols and shapes some of which are repeated.
Such marks are found in many different classes of monument of the medieval
period and although there are a number of theories about their function,
the origin, meaning and purpose of these marks is not yet fully

The bridge parapet above the arches was completely rebuilt in the 19th
century. The parapet on the approach causeways is constructed of ashlar
blocks and is thought to be part of the original construction. The rebuilt
section is constructed of small roughly squared blocks laid in seven
courses. Above this there is a single course of limestone double-chamfered
coping stones. These match those on the approach causeways showing that
they were reused from the original parapet. On the inner face of one of
the coping stones above the southern arch on the south western side of the
bridge there is a clear mason's mark identical to some on the lower
courses of the cutwaters. This indicates that the original parapet and the
lower parts of the bridge structure were contemporary. At its highest
point the parapet stands 1m high.

On the bridge top there are six pedestrian refuges, one above each of the
cutwaters. The three on the upstream side and the central one on the
downstream side are all triangular in plan mirroring the shape of the
cutwater below. They are an average of 3m deep and 3m wide. The outer two
refuges on the downstream side are shallow curves about 1m deep reflecting
the different form of the cutwater below. In both the two opposing central
refuges there is a low stone seat placed across the apex of the refuge.
The carriageway is 4m wide from parapet to parapet.

The sundial is located in the upstream central refuge. It is made of stone
and includes a square pillar approximately 0.75m high standing in a square
socket stone. There is an octagonal stone block on top of the pillar with
the inscription RW 1674 carved on the eastern side. The gnomon which would
have cast the shadow is not present. It is not known whether the sundial
was placed here on the date given or was brought from another location at
a different time.

The bridge excluding cutwaters is 5m wide and measures 78m in length. The
ends of the bridge can be clearly identified by a difference in build
between the bridge masonry and the continuing field walls.

The road surface is excluded from the scheduling, although the structure
beneath it is 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.

Ulshaw Bridge is a good example of a late medieval bridge with few substantial
alterations which retains a wide range of constructional features. The
bridge has not been strengthened in modern times and is thus expected to
retain original deposits in the interior of the bridge's structure. The bridge
also contains a wide range of mason's marks, which will assist the study of
this little understood aspect of medieval building. The sundial standing on
the bridge survives well and is a good example of the style of the period.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Chandler, J, John Lelands Itinerary: Travels in Tudor England, (1993), 571
Fleming, A, Swaledale: Valley of the Wild River, (1998), 39
Jervoise, E, Ancient Bridges of Northern England, (1931), 77-78
Listed Building Description, (1967)
Moorhouse, S, (2002)

Source: Historic England

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