Morpeth Old Bridge


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


Ordnance survey map of Morpeth Old 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.

Northumberland (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
NZ 20033 85828

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.

Although the two segmental arches were removed in 1835, the central pier and the two abutments of the 13th century Morpeth Old Bridge remain in situ. The surviving remains will provide evidence of bridge construction and the way in which rivers were crossed in the medieval period. The crossing of the River Wansbeck was of great strategic importance and was defended by Morpeth Castle to the south. The Morpeth Old Bridge's importance is enhanced by its association with a chantry chapel at the north end of the bridge, and in particular by the survival of a timber substructure revealed during a survey in 1972.


The monument includes the above and below ground remains of Morpeth Old Bridge, a medieval multi-span bridge of 13th century date, which spanned the River Wansbeck in Morpeth. The bridge was in use until 1835 when it was partially demolished and replaced by a new bridge downstream. The abutments and central pier remain standing to about 4m high and are surmounted by a 19th century footbridge. The bridge is Listed Grade II. The bridge, built of squared sandstone, had two segmental arches supported on a central stone pier; the timber foundations of the latter were revealed during low water levels in 1972. The northern arch had a span of 15.6m while the southern arch had a span of 17.4m. The north and south abutments each retain the springing of an arch, and the central pier shows the springing of the southern arch; on the north face the pier has been cut back and partly reconstructed. To counteract the abrasive action around the bridge foundations, the river bed beneath the northern arch is paved with stone blocks which overlie a timber grid. Some of these timbers were visible during a survey in 1993. The addition of upstream and downstream cutwaters, or triangular projections, to the central pier aids the flow of water and helps counteract the abrasive action of the river. The cutwaters were carried up to parapet level and would have formed niches into which pedestrians could retreat. The total length of the bridge, inclusive of its abutments, is 38m and it was about 4m wide. The bridge is first documented in the Chartulary of Newminster in the 13th century, and the bridge and its chapel are recorded in 1294. The bridge was managed by a chaplain who was also called the keeper. A number of features are excluded from the scheduling. These are: the stone steps, modern wall, concrete paving, drain cover, modern stone structure, and pieces of sculpted stone beneath the north end of the bridge, the concrete steps along the west side of the riverbank, a brick outhouse, brick walls and stone capstones at the southern abutment, all walls above pavement level, and the 19th century pedestrian footbridge, although the ground beneath all 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
Ryder, P, Sermon, R, Historic Bridges in Northumberland, (1993)


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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