Heritage Locations

Bishop Bridge, Norwich


A medieval road bridge, one of the oldest still in use.

Constructor:
Unclassified

Period of construction:
1000 - 1599

Transport Trust plaque:
No

Transport Mode:
Road

Address:
Norwich NR1 4ET

Postcode:
NR1 4ET

Nearest Town:
Norwich

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 These were superseded by bridges which were ribbed under the arches (14/15century), and those with semi-circular arches.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. Mayton Bridge 8 miles north of Norwich has four centred brick arches.

Bishop Bridge is the only surviving medieval bridge in the city. It was built in 1340, so is one of the oldest bridges still in use in England. A fortified gatehouse stood on the bridge until the 18th century, and the semi-circular projection visible today is part of its outer turrets. In 1549 it became a battlefield, when Robert Kett's rebels fought royal troops. The rebels overcame the defenders, and ran amok through Norwich.

The arms of the city - a lion and castle - are carved over a central arch; the Red Lion pub probably derives its name from this. Originally owned by monks, the prior was allowed to build houses on the bridge but had to allow access for people and their horses beside the arches. In 1393 it was handed over to the city.


Bibliography:

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:
Open at all times

How To Find:

By Road: Bishop Gate leads across the bridge off the A147 Bishop Bridge Road.

 



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