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Cowley Bridge

A Scheduled Monument in Upton Pyne, Devon

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Latitude: 50.7488 / 50°44'55"N

Longitude: -3.5503 / 3°33'0"W

OS Eastings: 290727.690448

OS Northings: 95504.204784

OS Grid: SX907955

Mapcode National: GBR P0.N6P6

Mapcode Global: FRA 37G3.DNZ

Entry Name: Cowley Bridge

Scheduled Date: 30 October 1928

Last Amended: 8 September 2003

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1021174

English Heritage Legacy ID: 33044

County: Devon

Civil Parish: Upton Pyne

Traditional County: Devon

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Devon

Church of England Parish: Newton St Cyres St Cyr and St Julitta

Church of England Diocese: Exeter


The monument includes Cowley Bridge, an early 19th century stone bridge
spanning the River Exe some 3km upstream from the city of Exeter. It is
located on the site of a succession of bridges at this spot, the earliest
of which to be recorded dates to 1286. The bridge carries the road which
connects Exeter with Crediton and North Devon and it is Listed Grade II*.
Designed in a classical style by the civil engineer James Green, Cowley
Bridge was built over the course of 1813-14 to replace an earlier bridge
which was found to have been too narrow. It is constructed largely of
local volcanic trap stone and comprises of three segmental arches with a
total span of 50m, these arches being supported by two piers which also
provide the cutwaters. There are pilasters above the cutwaters with large
round-headed niches all fashioned in volcanic trap ashlar as is the
dentilled exterior string-course (i.e. a line of small projecting blocks)
at road level. The ashlar parapet above the string-course has coping
stones of granite. The voussoirs (the visible exterior elements of the
arches) are of volcanic trap ashlar as are the abutments. The total length
of the bridge inclusive of its abutments is about 74m and it is 11m wide
inclusive of a carriageway width of about 8m. The designer of the bridge,
James Green, was born in 1781 and died in 1849; he was County Bridge
Surveyor in Devon for the years 1808-1841 and Cowley Bridge is considered
to be his most important work. A tablet on the southern side of the bridge
records the year of construction (1813-14) and cites the work as having
been carried out at the joint expense of the County of Devon and the
Chamber of Exeter. A dwarf pillar on the northern side records the first
stone laid on 22nd June 1813.
Cowley was the site of a timber bridge known to have been in existence by
1286 and which stood until at least 1340. At some stage it was replaced by
stone and major repairs are recorded in 1536 and 1545. A stone bridge at
the site was destroyed by the Royalists in the Civil War around 1646 in
order to frustrate a Parliamentarian advance on Exeter. The bridge which
was erected in its place after the end of hostilities may have been that
of four arches which was reported by Green in 1809 (only one year into his
appointment as County Bridge Surveyor) to have been in good repair but too
narrow. If so, it was this bridge which was replaced by Green's three arch
structure of 1813-14.

The modern tarmac surfacing of the carriageway across the bridge is
excluded from the scheduling, although the bridge fabric below it is

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.

Although bridges were constructed by carpenters or stone masons throughout
the medieval period increasingly, from the beginning of the 18th century,
professional engineers were involved in bridge design and by 1800, bridge
building was almost exclusively the work of the engineer. James Green, who
designed Cowley Bridge, was one of this new breed of engineer, and one of
his earliest works, following his appointment as County Surveyor of
Bridges, was the replacement of the old Cowley Bridge. The bridge which
was erected was in a classical style and it is essentially unaltered,
being a fine example of a multi-span bridge of the early 19th century. The
bridge is well-documented and it stands on the site of a succession of
timber and stone bridges which have been recorded from the late 13th

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Henderson, C, Jervoise, E , Old Devon Bridges, (1938), 60-61
Henderson, C, Jervoise, E , Old Devon Bridges, (1938), 59
Stoyle, M, The Civil War defences of Exeter, 1990, EMAFU Report 90.26 (unpub)

Source: Historic England

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