Telescopic rail bridge over the River Parrett, 270m south east of Bridgwater Dock lock


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Sedgemoor (District Authority)
National Park:
National Grid Reference:
ST 30020 37423

Reasons for Designation

Bridgwater had attracted coastal traffic to its tidal river port since the early post-medieval period but it was not until the 1840s that a series of docks were constructed at the northern edge of the town on the west bank of the River Parrett. These docks were linked to the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal giving Bridgwater a commanding position in the control of shipped goods through the town. In 1865 the Bristol and Exeter Railway Company purchased the canal and docks and plans were laid to extend the existing railway across the Parrett to the docks. This resulted in a telescopic bridge being completed in 1871 designed for partial retraction to allow passage for boats bound for the east and west quays of Bridgwater which stood further up river in the centre of the town. Telescopic bridges were rare in Britain but a similar structure had been built in 1846 to carry the Brighton and Chichester Railway across the River Arun; this example no longer survives. Despite part of the original superstructure being replaced in the early 20th century, the telescopic rail bridge over the River Parrett retains elements of its original telescopic mechanism and parts of the traverser pit are likely to survive below ground. It is a rare example of this type of bridge design and is associated with other preserved industrial sites in the area of the Bridgwater Dock and the River Parrett which together played an important role in the town's industrial heritage.


The monument includes a Victorian telescopic railway bridge which spans the River Parrett just north of The Clink, a main thoroughfare which connects the east and west sides of the town of Bridgwater. The bridge was built as part of a strategy devised to link the docks on the west side of the river with the main Bristol and Exeter Railway line on the east side of the river via a single branch line. This was designed in order to reduce the congestion being caused by the large volume of traffic using the east and west quays located to the south of the proposed crossing. The line was laid on the site of a horse tramway which had previously been converted to a mixed gauge rail. The bridge was completed in 1871, and became known as the Black Bridge, a name still used by local people. The structure of the telescopic bridge, so called because of its sliding, telescopic action, is formed of three sections: a fixed section on the west side of the river which is supported by pillars, a moveable middle section which could be rolled on large wheels, and a traverser section which moved sideways on the eastern side of the river. When river access to the quay was required the middle section would be rolled eastwards into the area which had been vacated by the traverser section thus allowing the marine traffic to pass through. The bridge was originally operated manually by winches at either end but these were replaced within a few months by a steam engine which was housed in a brick engine room on the east bank of the river; the mechanism and shaft now survive as below ground features and are included in the scheduling. In 1907 the lower flanges of the bridge girders, which had become worn through constant working over the rollers, were replaced with mild steel by the Great Western Railway who had acquired the railway line in 1876. The telescopic bridge continued in use to allow commercial shipping to pass through until 1953 although it had been immobilised during World War II. It was last opened in 1957. The bridge was converted for road traffic use with a separate pedestrian walkway on the south side in 1967 after the railway line was dismantled. The bridge remained in use as a road bridge until 1982 at which time it was replaced by the Chandos Bridge, a new three-laned bridge located 30m to the south. Since then the telescopic bridge has been used only as a foot bridge. Parts of the bridge mechanism were removed at this time to the Great Western Railway Museum at Didcot. The bridge is a Listed Building, Grade II*. All modern surfacings, all bollards, the traffic-light control boxes on the east side of the bridge and the CCTV support pole on the north eastern side of the bridge are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is 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:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Murless, B J, Bridgwater Docks and the River Parrett, (1983), 29-44


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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