Clyst St Mary Bridge and causeway


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1020209

Date first listed: 30-Oct-1928

Date of most recent amendment: 06-Jul-2001


Ordnance survey map of Clyst St Mary Bridge and causeway
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Devon

District: East Devon (District Authority)

Parish: Clyst St. George

County: Devon

District: East Devon (District Authority)

Parish: Clyst St. Mary

County: Devon

District: East Devon (District Authority)

Parish: Sowton

National Grid Reference: SX 97159 91091


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

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 semi-circular 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.

Clyst St Mary Bridge survives particularly well without any major modern refurbishment or strengthening. Its fabric preserves medieval masonry and features in all of its five arches and its causeway wall provides a coherent and ancient linkage between the separate arches as well as contributing to the bridge's aesthetic qualities. The periods of construction of the bridge have been studied in detail and published in county archaeological journals, while the bridge is mentioned in several historical documents relating to the Western Prayer Book Rebellion of 1549. The monument acts as a visible reminder of significant events in local history as well as displaying clearly visible and recorded features of 13th-14th century medieval bridge construction techniques.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes Clyst St Mary Bridge and causeway. The bridge, which is first recorded in the early decades of the 13th century, comprises several arches linked by a walled causeway which once carried the road from Sidmouth to Exeter across the River Clyst and its flood plain. The bridge stands just to the west of the village of Clyst St Mary (formerly Bishop's Clyst) about 5km east of Exeter at a crossing point of the river which may have been in use during the Roman period. The stone-built bridge is considered to be the oldest surviving medieval bridge in Devon outside the city of Exeter with an earliest documentary reference of 1238 (as `pontem de Clist'). The bridge has been shown to display at least four episodes of construction ranging from the medieval to the post- medieval periods. Earlier commentators have suggested that the two low segmental arches spanning the River Clyst itself at the western end of the bridge represent the most ancient part of the structure, possibly that referred to in 1238. These arches are 3.4m wide and they would have carried a roadway 2.8m in width. Each vault is supported by four chamfered ribs springing from a level 1.16m above a plinth. Construction is of trap (a volcanic basalt) and sandstone ashlar; the ribs are entirely of sandstone. Significantly, there is no Heavitree stone in their construction. Major quarrying of the distinctive red breccia known as Heavitree stone took place in nearby areas, including the parish of Heavitree from whence the stone derived its name, from the mid-14th century onwards. Its absence in the western bridge arches would support a suggested 13th-early 14th century date for construction; quarries of volcanic trap lie at much greater distance and Heavitree stone would almost certainly have been used had it been available to the early bridge builders. The absence of Heavitree stone may likewise be cited to suggest a similar early date for the single arch at the centre of the causeway and the two arches at the eastern end of the bridge which carry it across the mill leat. These three arches are sufficiently similar in construction to suggest that they were built at the same time although they are clearly of a different character to the western arches and may be the product of a recorded substantial improvement to the bridge which was made in 1310. These three spans at the centre and east of the bridge have a chamfered plinth at the base and are wider than those at the west thus allowing for an increased road width, 3.94m wide in the case of the central arch, 3.35m wide over the two eastern arches which cross the mill leat. The mill, which is known to have been in existence by 1374, lies 250m upstream of the bridge. The revetment walls and buttresses of the causeway appear to be substantially of one build. In this case extensive use has been made of Heavitree stone which suggests a mid-14th century or later date for their construction. An order to undertake major repairs in 1603 is believed to relate to the causeway rather than the arches. All five medieval arches were however widened after the mid-19th century by the addition of semi-circular arches of breccia on both the north and south sides. Clyst St Mary Bridge was reportedly the site of a minor battle of the Wars of the Roses in 1455 but it also featured in the Western Prayer Book Rebellion of 1549 when it was barricaded against the King's forces led by Sir Peter Carew. This followed an incident in which an elderly lady parishioner of the village was upbraided by Sir Walter Raleigh (father of the famous explorer) for openly displaying her Catholic rosary in contravention of the new liturgy. Further acts of rebellion led to an army being dispatched from London and on Sunday 4th August 1549 the village was captured and burnt with the rebels falling back onto the west bank of the River Clyst but continuing to defend the narrow bridge. Unable to cross the bridge, royalist troops forded the river further upstream and attacked the bridge rebels from behind. A battle ensued at Clyst Heath which led to a victory for the King's army who then marched into Exeter to find that all the surviving insurgents had dispersed. Excluded from the scheduling are the posts across the eastern end of the bridge carriageway which prevent vehicular access, and the modern surfacing of the carriageway; the ground and bridge fabric beneath these features is, however, included.

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


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 33035

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Axford, J, Clyst St Mary, (2000), 85-93
Gover, J E B et al, The Place Names of Devon, (1932), 586
Henderson, C, Jervoise, E , Old Devon Bridges, (1938), 68-69
Whitaker, R, Clyst St Mary, (1954)
Brown, S W, 'Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society' in The Medieval Bridge and St Gabriel's Chapel, Bishop's Clyst, , Vol. 40, (1982), 163-69

End of official listing