Heritage Locations

Thornborough Bridge, Buckingham

The oldest bridge in Buckinghamshire, it dates from the 14th century.


Period of construction:
1000 - 1599

Transport Trust plaque:

Transport Mode:

Bridge Street, Thornborough, MK18 2DN

MK18 2DN

Nearest Town:

Heritage Centre:

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 These were superseded by bridges which were ribbed under the arches (14/15century), and those with semi-circular arches.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.

A tributary of the Ouse is crossed on the road to Buckingham by Thornborough Bridge, which is an interesting structure dating from the 14th century. It is 12 ft. wide and spans the river by six low arches, of which all the four middle are moulded and two of them strengthened by ribs; the two outer arches are plain, and possibly of later date. There are three sterlings on the south side carried up to form refuges, and between the two western arches on the north is a rectangular recess probably for the same purpose.

The bridge has been repaired and the parapets are modern. The division between the parishes of Buckingham and Thornborough is marked by a boundary stone in the middle of the bridge. Near the bridge on the north side of the road are Thornborough Mounds, two tumuli in which Roman remains were found in 1839.


Addison, Sir William. The Old Roads of England ISBN 0 7134 1714 5 (1980)

Albert, W. The Turnpike Road System in England 1663- 1840. Camb. Univ. Press. ISBN O 5210 3391 8 (1972)

Harrison, David. The Bridges of Medieval England. Oxford. ISBN 978-0-19-922685-6 (2004)

Hindle, P. Roads and Tracks for Historians. ISBN 1 86077 182 3 (2001)

Hindley, G. History of the Roads. Peter Davies. ISBN 0 8065 0290 8 (1971)

Jackson, Gibbard. From Track to Highway. (1935)

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

Sheldon, G. From Trackway to Turnpike. Oxfd. Univ. Press. (1928)

Taylor, C. Roads and Tracks of Britain. ISBN 0 460 04329 3 (1979)

Opening Times:
Always open.

How To Find:
By road: The A421 crosses the river on a parallel new bridge south of the village of Thornborough. This provides a good view of the old bridge.

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