Ancient Monuments

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Tarr Steps

A Scheduled Monument in Dulverton, Somerset

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Latitude: 51.0771 / 51°4'37"N

Longitude: -3.6178 / 3°37'4"W

OS Eastings: 286762.12707

OS Northings: 132108.397044

OS Grid: SS867321

Mapcode National: GBR LB.DH90

Mapcode Global: FRA 3698.QCD

Entry Name: Tarr Steps

Scheduled Date: 25 November 1925

Last Amended: 22 June 2004

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1021325

English Heritage Legacy ID: 35719

County: Somerset

Civil Parish: Dulverton

Traditional County: Somerset

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Somerset


The monument includes Tarr Steps, a 55m long multi-span stone clapper
bridge which crosses the River Barle; it is believed to be of medieval
date and is Listed Grade I.

The Barle rises about 17km to the north west of the clapper bridge and
cuts through a deep wooded valley between Simonsbath and Dulverton. The
bridge is located adjacent to a ford on the single track road which
connects the villages of Hawkridge and Winsford. It is constructed from
rectangular rough-grit sandstone slabs, obtained locally from the Pickwell
Down basement beds, with 17 spans set on stone piers which are raised
about 1m above the river bed. Twelve of the horizontal spanning stones are
single; four are in pairs and one, which forms the end span on the eastern
side, has three parallel stones. The stones are between 2m to 2.9m long,
2m to 1.6m wide and up to 0.3m thick and are supported by piers which are
constructed of dry-stone blocks laid one upon another and set at about 2m
intervals. The average size of the supporting blocks is 2.2m long, 0.7m
wide and 0.7m thick. Each of the piers have up to three stone slabs laid
against them on either side. These appear to act as cutwaters on the
upstream side in order to protect the piers from flood damage and as
supports for the bridge on the downstream side.

Perhaps because of its megalithic character and its proximity to trackways
which are thought to be of Bronze Age date, Tarr Steps has commonly been
believed to date from the prehistoric period. However, recent research has
suggested that it is more likely to be medieval. It is known from
documentary sources that in 1279 the River Barle was crossed by a bridge
at Three Waters, located less than 2km to the south. This suggests Tarr
Steps was not constructed until after 1279 as it would seem unlikely that
two bridges crossing the same river would have co-existed in such close
proximity. Research into similarly constructed clapper bridges on Dartmoor
suggest that they were unlikely to date from before about 1400.

The modern surfacing of the road on the north side of the bridge is
excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath it is included.

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

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Clapper bridges are structures designed to carry a trackway across a river
by means of one, or more, large, flat stone slabs, either resting directly
on the river banks or supported on dry stone piers. Many examples comprise
a single slab while multi-span clapper bridges typically have between two
and five spans. They were used by foot passengers and packhorse traffic
and are frequently located on the course of a packhorse track. Although
some clapper bridges are thought to be of prehistoric origin there is no
evidence for this. It may be that surviving prehistoric monuments in the
immediate vicinity of clapper bridges, such as those on Exmoor and
Dartmoor has led to this assumption. It is more likely that clapper
bridges were constructed and used from the late medieval period, around
1400 to the 19th century. They are found in areas of the country where the
local rock yields large slabs of stone. Clapper bridges are very rare
monuments with only just over 40 recorded nationally.

With over 17 spans, Tarr Steps is a highly unusual example of its class of
monument where the typical arrangement is between two and five spans. It
is an important and well known feature of the Exmoor landscape where it is
accessible to the public at all times and continues to perform its
original function of providing a dry route across a river. Tarr Steps has
been described as one of the finest clapper bridges in the country.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Grinsell, L V, Archaeology of Exmoor, (1970), 148-150
Jervoise, E, The Ancient Bridges of the South of England, (1930), 112
SS 83 SE 1, National Monuments Record,

Source: Historic England

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