Heritage Locations

Old Dee Bridge, Chester


Late medieval bridge on the site of earlier constructions and a principal crossing into Wales

Constructor:
Unclassified

Period of construction:
1000 - 1599

Transport Trust plaque:
No

Transport Mode:
Road

Address:
Handbridge, Chester CH1 2DE

Postcode:
CH1 2DE

Nearest Town:
Chester

Heritage Centre:
No


The first bridges were probably of felled trees lain across the river (Stockbridge and Trowbridge both refer to tree trunk bridges) and then of worked timber.

The Romans built bridges in wood, and probably stone, but none remain in Britain. The oldest surviving timber bridge is over the River Ouse at Selby and dates from 1790.

The first simple stone bridges - clapper bridges  comprise large slabs of stone rested on stone piers to span a stream or small river. Tarr Steps, which crosses the River Barle in Somerset, is the longest with 17 spans supporting stone slabs 5 feet wide. It is too narrow for carts but Pont Sarnddu in Carnarvonshire is ten feet across and wide enough for vehicles.

Packhorse bridges, small arched bridges, with very low parapets so as not to get in the way of the horse's panniers, can still be found  for example at Wycoller in Lancashire, Moulton in Suffolk, and Fifehead Neville, Dorset.

More sophisticated stone bridges were built abundantly in the 13th century, the use of timber continued into the 16th century. The river Skell at Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire, is crossed by probably the oldest arched bridge in England. Thirteenth to fourteenth century bridges can be recognised by their pointed arches and by the V-shaped extensions over the cutwaters for pedestrian refuges. These were superseded by bridges which were ribbed under the arches (14/15century), and those with semi-circular arches.

But all of these styles are modified by the needs and knowledge of the locality. In the early eighteenth century Daniel Defoe observed "...the Nyd, smaller then the Wharfe, but furiously rapid, and very dangerous to pass in many places, especially upon sudden rains. Notwithstanding, such lofty high built bridges are as not to be seen over such small rivers in any other place".

Masonry arch and cast iron bridges derive from the late 18th and 19th centuries. Bridges were usually made from local materials. In the eastern counties they were first built with timber and then brick.

ChesterAt the end of Bridge Street is the Old Dee Bridge, the oldest bridge in the city. The first Dee Bridge was built in 922 and was made of wood. Legend says that when King Edward I crossed over on his way to fight the Welsh, he decreed that if a stone bridge was not constructed he would sack the city. Fortunately when he returned in 1280, the current bridge was in place.

It was known as the Chester Bridge in coaching days when distances were measured from it. It is notable for the variation in the span of the four arches, the widest being 18 m (60 ft) due to the variable quality of the river bed.

It was the only crossing point of the Dee at Chester until 1832. The bridge links Chester with Handbridge and used to provide a gateway to Wales. In 1773 the Old Dee Bridge was described as 'very narrow and dangerous' as the volume of traffic continued to rise, yet no other bridge was built for almost 60 years. The bridge was eventually superseded by the building of the Grosvenor Bridge a little further down stream in the 19th Century.

It is a Grade I Listed Building.


Bibliography:

Addison, Sir William, The Old Roads of England,  Harper Collins, ISBN-10: 0713417145 (1980)

Albert, W. The Turnpike Road System in England 1663- 1840, Cambridge University Press, ISBN-10: O521033918 (1972)

Crook, M, Medieval Bridges, Shire Publications, ISBN-10: 0747803846 (1998)

Harrison, David, The Bridges of Medieval England, Oxford, ISBN-10: 0199226857 (2007)

Hindle, P., Roads and Tracks for Historians, Phillimore & Co, ISBN-10: 1860771823 (2001)

Hindley, G. History of the Roads, Peter Davies, ISBN-10: 0806502908 (1971)

Jackson, Gibbard, From Track to Highway, Ivor Nicholson and Watson, ASIN: B00085R4D8 (1935)

Jervoise, E., Ancient Bridges of England, Architectural Press, ASIN: B00085PLDI (1932)

Sheldon, G. From Trackway to Turnpike, Oxford University Press, ASIN: B001FSHEU0 (1928)

Taylor, C. Roads and Tracks of Britain, J M Dent, ISBN-10: 0460043293 (1979)

Thacker, Alan, Medieval Archaeology, Art, and Architecture at Chester, Maney Publishing, ISBN-10: 1902653092 (2000)



Opening Times:
Viewable at all times

How To Find:
By road: Off A5269 and A482, on Hindbridge to the south of the city centre

Facilities:


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