Horse Bridge


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


Ordnance survey map of Horse 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)
West Devon (District Authority)
Sydenham Damerel
National Grid Reference:
SX 40006 74874

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.

Horse Bridge survives very well, retaining extensively its original fabric as a particularly good example of late medieval bridge building in south west England. With its six arches plus a floodwater arch, its length makes it one of the longer surviving late medieval bridges. Horse Bridge displays several features of special interest including the stone brackets on the upstream cutwaters, its datable deployment of double arch rings and largely slate-built, rather than granite-faced, construction, and the good survival upstream of another bridge almost certainly by the same early 15th century architect. Its physical qualities are complemented by an unusually well-documented origin and date as provided by its Indulgence in the Bishop of Exeter's Register. The presence of such a fine and substantial medieval bridge on what is now a minor road, long by-passed in the region's main route network, shows clearly the development of the highway system since the medieval period. That decline into relative obscurity has undoubtedly contributed to the bridge's quality of survival, allowing it to escape all but very limited modification and repair which mainly affects the parapets.


The monument includes Horse Bridge which crosses the River Tamar, where it forms the Cornwall and Devon boundary, at a point 6.5km north east of Callington in east Cornwall. The bridge, built in 1437, retains much original fabric and includes stone brackets which have been associated with a medieval fishery on the river. Horse Bridge is also a Listed Building Grade I. The bridge crosses the River Tamar in dissected terrain where the fairly steep valley sides drop down to a broad floodplain 200m wide. Here the river keeps to the east of that floodplain and is spanned east-west by the bridge's six main arches linked by five piers. From the bridge abutments, masonry-faced causeways with parapets carry the road over the adjacent riverbanks. The eastern causeway is short but the western is much longer and incorporates a floodwater arch. From the end of its western causeway, a low embankment with modern facing and railed fences takes the road beyond the scheduling. Each of the six main arches is approximately 6m in span; the western main arch is very slightly pointed but the others are rounded. The floodwater arch in the western causeway is pointed with a span of 4.7m. All of the arches have double rings of slate voussoirs, the innermost recessed from the outer along a chamfered moulding. A projecting moulding also marks the line, called the impost, along the sides of the piers from which the arches spring. The five piers have pointed cutwaters at each end, slightly longer upstream than downstream. Where sufficiently exposed, the piers are seen to rise from a low bedding plinth resting on bedrock. The bridge's western abutment also has a low upstream cutwater which returns to a substantial plinth along the western causeway's lower northern face, crossing and raising the floor level of the floodwater arch on that side. Towards the upper end of each pier's upstream cutwater apex is a stone bracket: a lozenge-shaped slab projecting roughly level with the top of the arch vaults. Each with a rounded tip and slightly hollowed underside, these slabs are believed to have held poles to support nets in the late medieval Tavistock Abbey's fishery along the River Tamar. The masonry facing the bridge below parapet level is largely of local slate rubble laid to course, with mouldings of a slaty freestone, but granite slabs face the lower portions of the upstream cutwater apex on the central three piers. The masonry also includes occasional small square holes called putlog holes where medieval and later timber scaffolding was inserted; most are infilled but those still open appear to have had secondary functions after the bridge was built: a group of four occurs on each upper face of the upstream cutwater on the second pier from the east while others form drain outlets near the parapet base. The sides of the bridge and its causeways rise above the carriageway as parapets into which the pier cutwaters are carried up as refuges. A moulded string course marks the base of the parapets along both sides of the bridge from behind its eastern abutment to just beyond the floodwater arch on the west. The parapets, about 1m high, are also in slate masonry, some non-local: variations in their masonry's source and fabric details reveal various phases in the present parapets, including some recent repairs. The parapets are finished with chamfered coping slabs, mostly of granite and many with their iron securing cramps. However the bridge also retains some very eroded coping slabs of slaty freestone similar to that used for the bridge's medieval mouldings: also chamfered, these copings derive from an earlier phase with sockets for differing arrangements of cramps and groups of deliberate cuts on some chamfer facets. The carriageway between the parapets reduces to 3.6m wide over the main arches, the same `12 feet' width as recorded in 1809. It widens gradually along each causeway, then more markedly so at the end of the eastern causeway as the road turns north and divides on leaving the bridge. The construction of Horse Bridge resulted from an Indulgence granted to that effect by Edmund Lacy, Bishop of Exeter, in AD 1437. When built it carried the main route from Tavistock to Liskeard and was the lowest bridging point on the River Tamar, remaining so until the early 16th century. In 1439, Bishop Lacy granted another Indulgence for the construction of the slightly smaller Greystone Bridge, surviving 11.5km upstream along the River Tamar; from numerous detailed points of similarity, Horse Bridge and Greystone Bridge are considered the work of the same medieval architect. In 1478, the bridge was named as `Hautes Brygge' by William of Worcester, this later becoming `Hawte Bridg' in its mention by John Leland, the King's Antiquary, in about 1535. In that late medieval period before the Dissolution of the monasteries, Tavistock Abbey owned the Endsleigh Estate, upstream from Horse Bridge on the Devon side, and rented the fishing in the River Tamar from the Duchy of Cornwall; the operation of that fishery is considered to account for the stone brackets on the bridge's upstream cutwaters. The importance of Horse Bridge in the route network declined from the early 16th century, losing its status both as the lowest bridging point along the river and as the carrier of the main route from Tavistock to Liskeard with the building of New Bridge 9km downstream at Gunnislake. Consequently throughout the post-medieval period Horse Bridge, the oldest surviving bridge across the River Tamar, has served a network of minor roads between major regional routes linking Tavistock, Liskeard and Launceston which cross the River Tamar downstream at New Bridge and upstream at Greystone Bridge. That pattern still persists, with Horse Bridge carrying only an unclassified road used mainly by local traffic. A number of features are excluded from the scheduling. These are: the modern metalled road surface, the direction post, all modern roadsigns and their posts, all modern fences, the modern gate and its fittings, the modern blocking materials against the floodwater arch and all modern garden furniture. However the ground beneath all these features 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.

Legacy System number:
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Books and journals
Furneaux, R, The Tamar, (1992)
Gill, C, The Duchy of Cornwall, (1987)
Henderson, C, Coates, H, Old Cornish Bridges and Streams, (1928)
Henderson, C, Coates, H, Old Cornish Bridges and Streams, (1928)
Henderson, C, Coates, H, Old Cornish Bridges and Streams, (1928)
Pearse Chope, R , Early Tours in Devon & Cornwall, (1967)
Pounds, N J G , The Parliamentary Survey of the Duchy of Cornwall, (1982)
Pounds, N J G , The Parliamentary Survey of the Duchy of Cornwall, (1982)
Pounds, N J G , The Parliamentary Survey of the Duchy of Cornwall, (1982)
CAU, Cornwall SMR entry for PRN 6590, (2002)
DCMS, Listed Building entry SX47SW 12/310 Sydenham Damerel parish, (2002)
Ministry of Works, AM 7 scheduling documentation for CO 70 Horse Bridge, 1929,
Stoke Climsland & Sydenham Dameral, DCMS, Listed Building Entries SX37SE 8/151 & SX47SW 12/310, (2002)
Title: 1:10000 Ordnance Survey Maps SX 37 SE & SX 47 SW Source Date: 2002 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: 1:50000 Ordnance Survey Map sheet 201 Plymouth and Launceston Source Date: 1992 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.

End of official listing

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