Higher New Bridge


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Date first listed:
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Ordnance survey map of Higher New Bridge
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Cornwall (Unitary Authority)
St. Stephens By Launceston Rural
Torridge (District Authority)
St. Giles on the Heath
National Grid Reference:
SX 34888 86689

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 semicircular 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.

Higher New Bridge survives well. It retains much of its original form and structure despite some limited rebuilding and strengthening, providing a good example of late medieval bridge-building in south west England. Its near-contemporary description by Leland is valuable and unusual in its detail, confirming the substantial originality of the bridge's surviving design and its links with Tavistock Abbey; a good illustration of the role of medieval religious houses in bridge-building and maintenance. The physical presence on the bridge of the turnpike milestone and the concrete raft by which the bridge was later strengthened, together with the documented development of the late medieval route to a turnpiked coaching road, then a 20th century `A' class road and the bridge's eventual replacement by a nearby concrete bridge, all serve to illustrate the considerable development of the highway system and its river crossings since the medieval period.


The monument includes Higher New Bridge across the River Tamar, on the boundary between Cornwall and Devon at a point 2.5km north east of Launceston in east Cornwall. The bridge is largely of late medieval date with some later modification. The monument also includes a post-medieval milestone and a boundary marker stone. Higher New Bridge is Listed Grade I. Higher New Bridge spans the River Tamar north east-south west by three substantial arches, to which a masonry faced causeway rises at each end. The south western causeway includes a small floodwater arch, part of the bridge's original design. The arches are each very slightly pointed, almost rounded in form. The three main arches range from 7.8m to 8.5m in span, each with double arch-rings: the inner rings have granite voussoirs and are slightly recessed, separated by a granite string-course from outer rings largely of local metamorphic stone. The floodwater arch, 5.3m in span, has only a single ring of granite voussoirs on each face. Between the large arches, the two piers have pointed cutwaters to each side and are faced mostly by dressed granite slabs, called ashlar, as are the masonry abuments, though some later rebuilding is shown by local stone facing the upstream cutwaters above the level of the arch springing. Similar differences occur in the facing of the sides of the bridge above the arches: largely of granite ashlar downstream but of local stone upstream. The exposed base of the north eastern abutment reveals its stepped foundation courses. The line, called the impost, along which each arch springs is marked by a granite string-course; immediately above this under the three large arches (though not the floodwater arch) is a row of spaced rectangular slots considered to have held the posts of a timber structure, possibly a sluice-gate, included in the bridge's original design. The causeways approaching the bridge from each side are unequal: short and steep on the north east but long with a more gentle slope on the south west side. Both causeways are faced by local slate masonry and both are steeply buttressed along much of their length. Much of their visible masonry facing is clearly of post-medieval build but their core will preserve remains of the bridge's original causeways and an area of earlier masonry facing survives around the floodwater arch. The parapets rise along the sides of the bridge from a granite string-course above the two outer main arches, though this is absent from the later fabric along the causeways. Above the central arch, the string course is replicated by the edge of a concrete raft inserted to stregthen the bridge during the 20th century. All of the piers' cutwaters are carried up into the parapets as refuges. The parapets, of local stone, are generally 0.3m wide and 1m-1.15m high though slightly wider over the causeways where they are of most recent build. Where the bridge crosses the river, the parapets are capped largely by a chamfered granite coping, with a coping of local stone on the south western refuges. Along the causeways the parapets have a varied coping, mostly of mortared edge-set slabs but also including concrete capping and rows of small projecting end-set slabs cemented in place along each face of some recent portions. The parapets define the bridge's carriageway as 75.5m long overall including the causeways and ranging in width from 3.65m in the section over the river, to 3.95m wide at the north east end and 5m wide at the south west end. Over the centre of the river, the bridge's downstream parapet contains a 20th century granite boundary stone, set flush into the parapet facing the highway and incised with a short vertical line on Cornwall and Devon county boundary, from which two short lines project to the Cornish side. Situated within the upstream refuge on the Cornish side is a late 18th century milestone that served the Launceston to Holsworthy turnpike road. The milestone is visible as an upright granite slab, 1.01m high, 0.31m wide and 0.16m thick, with a rounded upper edge. The upper end of the face towards the highway is incised `L' (for Launceston), below which is incised `2' (miles). Beneath that is an incised Ordnance Survey height bench-mark. The milestone is painted white, apart from its face towards the refuge, with the incisions highlighted in black. Higher New Bridge has been identified with the `pons novus juxta Launceston' for whose construction Bishop Oldham of Exeter granted an Indulgence on 21st August 1504. This may have replaced an earlier bridge, known as `Nether Bridge', which crossed the river upstream, beyond this scheduling. The actual building and maintenance of Higher New Bridge was attributed to Tavistock Abbey by John Leland who crossed it in the 1530s, travelling to Launceston from Holsworthy. Leland described it as a `bridge of stone having 3 arches and a smaul, caullid New Bridge, thorough the which the ryver of Tamar rennith'. In the latter half of the 18th century the route over the bridge became the turnpike road from Launceston to Holsworthy, Bideford and beyond, mapped as a coaching road by 1771. In the 20th century this route remained part of the main road network, becoming classified as the A388; reflecting this and the greatly increased quantity and weight of traffic it had to carry, the bridge was strengthened by the insertion of a concrete raft under the carriageway and parapets of the central main arch. However the bridge's narrow width, steep profile and sharply curving approach roads became increasingly inappropriate on such a major road. Consequently in 1986 Higher New Bridge was taken out of the route network on completion of a new concrete bridge which carries the main road across the river 60m upstream, beyond this scheduling. During construction of that concrete bridge, intact masonry was revealed below water level on the Devon side and dressed blocks of granite and slate were found on the riverbed, including a fragment of arch string-course: these are considered the probable remains of the Nether Bridge, predecessor to Higher New Bridge. The modern road metalling, all post-and-wire and post-and-rail fences, the modern materials blocking the floodwater arch and the modern notices and their plinths are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them is included

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


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

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Books and journals
Addison, W, The Old Roads of England, (1980)
Addison, W, The Old Roads of England, (1980)
Henderson, C, Coates, H, Old Cornish Bridges and Streams, (1928)
Henderson, C, Coates, H, Old Cornish Bridges and Streams, (1928)
Pearse Chope, R (ed), Early Tours in Devon and Cornwall, (1918)
Todd, , Laws, , Industrial Archaeology of Cornwall, (1972)
CAU, Cornwall SMR entry for PRN 2587,
CAU, Cornwall SMR entry for PRN 2588,
DCMS, Listed Building Entry for SX 38 NW 9/132,
DCMS, Listed Building Entry for SX 38 NW 9/132, (2001)
Reports to 30/10/1997, Various FMWs, FMW AM 107 reports for CO 68 Higher New Bridge,
Title: 1": 1 mile Ordnance Survey Map sheet 186 Bodmin and Launceston Source Date: 1946 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: 1": 1 mile Ordnance Survey Map sheet 25 Tavistock Source Date: 1860 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: 1:10000 Ordnance Survey Map SX 38 NW Source Date: 2001 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:


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.

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