Late medieval and 19th century bridge at Wadebridge


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1020814

Date first listed: 26-Nov-1928

Date of most recent amendment: 06-Dec-2002


Ordnance survey map of Late medieval and 19th century bridge at Wadebridge
© Crown Copyright and database right 2018. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
© British Crown and SeaZone Solutions Limited 2018. All rights reserved. Licence number 102006.006.
Use of this data is subject to Terms and Conditions.

The above map is for quick reference purposes only and may not be to scale. For a copy of the full scale map, please see the attached PDF - 1020814 .pdf

The PDF will be generated from our live systems and may take a few minutes to download depending on how busy our servers are. We apologise for this delay.

This copy shows the entry on 18-Dec-2018 at 10:33:47.


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

District: Cornwall (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Wadebridge

National Park: N/A

National Grid Reference: SW 99115 72455


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 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.

The medieval and 19th century bridge at Wadebridge survives well. Despite the 19th and later 20th century widening and the modern replacement of some infill over its arches, it retains extensively its original medieval fabric, its length makes it one of the longest surviving medieval multi-span bridges in England. Its importance in this regard is enhanced by the survival of a second such medieval bridge contemporary with Wadebridge on the same north coastal route at Bideford in north Devon. The mid-19th century widening reflects well the growing pressures on the nation's route network at that time. The neatly-executed segmental arches supporting that limited widening and the simple manner of their insertion into the medieval bridge are a good example of the physical accommodation of those pressures into the often medieval infrastructure that carried our highways. A good corpus of supporting historical documentation surrounds the original construction of the bridge, allowing, for instance, identification of the stone source and providing an excellent example of a medieval endowment to fund a bridge's maintenance costs. The historical context also adds particular importance to the bridge's physical structure by bracketing its construction date, allowing its deployment of single arch rings, broad piers and largely slate-built construction to be closely dated and to assist in the analogous dating of other more poorly-dated medieval bridges. The well-documented construction, widenings and eventual bypassing of this substantial medieval bridge on what is now an unclassified road shows clearly the considerable development of the highway system and its objectives during the medieval and post-medieval periods.


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


The monument includes a late medieval multi-span bridge, widened in 1852-3, across the River Camel estuary at Wadebridge in north Cornwall. The bridge was again widened on the upstream side in 1963 with further refurbishment of the carriageway in 1994: the structure of that 1963 bridge-widening and the later carriageway and street furniture lie outside this scheduling beyond a protective margin around the medieval to 19th century bridge. The entire bridge at Wadebridge is a Listed Building Grade II*. The bridge at Wadebridge spans the River Camel estuary north east-south west where the estuary is now about 125m wide, slightly less than in the medieval period due to post-medieval waterfront expansion and consolidation, especially along the south west shore. The bridge originally spanned the estuary by 17 arches; all still survive and are included in this scheduling but with progressive reduction in the estuary width, only 13 remain as open arches separated by 12 piers. Beyond a 13th pier, the bridge's original north eastern arch is now walled in on both sides to form a small store. The three original south western arches, their piers and the medieval riverside abutment are known to survive beneath the modern road, obscured to each side by raised ground and cellars under 19th-20th century buildings. The survival of a medieval causeway south west from the bridge is not known and its area extends beyond this scheduling. The bridge's medieval arches are pointed, 5.71m in span, with vaults 3.68m long ending in single rings of local slate voussoirs visible beneath the later widened arches. The arches spring from the sides of piers 3.42m wide, provided with pointed cutwaters at each end and also built of local slate. The piers at the north east of the bridge are founded on bedrock but that dips beneath the estuary, leaving the south western piers resting on deep riverine deposits. To prevent movement, in 1976 the pier footings across the estuary's present width were cased in concrete over riverbed piles. The carriageway of the medieval bridge was 9 feet (2.74m) wide; in 1852-3 this was increased by 3 feet (0.91m) on each side. The widening was supported on segmental arches built against both ends of the medieval arches, extending the arch vaults to 5.7m long. Each segmental arch rests in a slot cut into both faces of the medieval cutwaters, with a granite bedstone at the base of each slot. These mid-19th century arches, also faced by local slate rubble, have granite voussoirs with a projecting keystone, leaving the vaults and voussoirs of the medieval bridge still exposed beneath. In 1963 the bridge was widened again, entirely along the upstream side and extending the arch vaults by a further 6.45m. The new arches, also segmental, spring from narrow piers with pointed cutwaters. Each arch employs eight concrete segments, ending with a ring of granite voussoirs and a projecting keystone which closely match the arches from the 1852-3 widening, as does their mostly slate facing. The widening in 1963 abutted rather than bonded with the bridge's earlier upstream masonry, leaving intact the fabric of the medieval cutwaters and the medieval and 19th century upstream arches, still visible against an expansion joint to the 1963 work. The bridge's parapets can be no older than the bridge-widening on their respective sides: of 19th-20th century date on the downstream side and of 1963 or later date on the upstream side. Throughout its history until 1993, this bridge carried the north coastal route along the south west peninsula across the broad Camel Estuary. With Bideford Bridge, of similar date 85km to the north east, it is one of two surviving long multi-arched medieval bridges on that route. It replaced a previous ford and ferry crossing at a town then named Wade, derived from the Old English word for a ford. Chapels, licensed in the later 14th century, had been built at each end of the ford: St Michael's Chapel at the south west end and the `King's Chapel' at the north east. The bridge was built between those chapels in the later 1460s, its construction organised by John Lovibond, Vicar of Egloshayle. In 1468 he was permitted to obtain stone from St Minver, further down the estuary. To fund its maintenance, John Lovibond created a Charter of Endowment in 1476, granting the bridge with capital stock, the benefits accruing from lands in the nearby parishes of Egloshayle and St Breock and the right to collect tolls on the bridge, all managed by Trustees. The Bridge Trust administering this endowment remained active until its abolition in 1853. The bridge was mentioned, as `Wade-brygge' by the chronicler William of Worcester in 1478. It is described again by the King's Antiquary John Leland in the 1530s, recording a local story that part of the bridge was founded on packs of wool. The chapels at each end were seized by the Crown after the Dissolution, to be sold off in 1591 for secular use: no remains of either chapel are now known to survive. The strategic importance of the route across the bridge is evident during the English Civil War, by the despatch of Oliver Cromwell with a strong force to secure Wadebridge on 6 March 1646 to prevent its use by the Royalist army. The increasing inadequacy of the narrow medieval bridge to cope with the growth in trade and commerce during the 18th and 19th centuries resulted in its widening in 1852-3 as noted above. Greatly increased traffic pressures during the 20th century, when it carried the A39T trunk road, led to the bridge being more than doubled in width again in 1963, again described above. Towards the end of the 20th century, it was clear that the bridge and its route directly into the town of Wadebridge were wholly inappropriate for a major trunk road intended to carry high volumes of traffic with an unimpeded traffic flow. Accordingly in 1993 both the bridge and Wadebridge town were by-passed altogether by an entirely new bridge carrying the A39T trunk road over the Camel Estuary 0.8km downstream. The medieval bridge with its later modifications now carries only local traffic, reflected in its downgrading to an unclassified road, the narrowing of its vehicular carriageway and traffic calming installed on its approach roads. A number of features are excluded from the scheduling. These are: the fabric of the 1963 widening along the upstream side of the bridge (which also extends beyond the scheduling), the bridge's downstream parapet above the surface level of the adjacent highway, all modern road signs and other street furniture, all modern highway surfaces and their underlying components to a depth 0.5m below the level at which the modern pavement meets the downstream bridge parapet, all modern utilities pipes, cables and their trenches and fittings and all modern drains. The ground and the fabric of the bridge beneath all 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: 15580

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Henderson, C, Coates, H, Old Cornish Bridges and Streams, (1928)
Henderson, C, Coates, H, Old Cornish Bridges and Streams, (1928)
Padel, O J, Cornish Place-Names, (1988)
Pearse Chope, R , Early Tours in Devon & Cornwall, (1967)
'Wimpey News' in Bridge Over The River Camel, (1976)
CAU, Cornwall SMR entry PRN 26200, (2002)
DCMS, AM7 scheduling documentation and maplet for CO 62, 1928,
Discussed at site visit on 11/4/2002, Spoken and Archive Data provided by Mr Andrew Langdon, (2002)
Listed at Grade II* on 6/6/1969, DCMS, Listed Building entry for SW 9872-9972 9/253 Wadebridge Bridge, (1969)
Listed Grade II* on 6/6/1969, DCMS, Listed Building entry for SW 9872-9972 9/253 Wadebridge Bridge, (1969)
Title: 1:10000 Ordnance Survey Map SW 97 SE Source Date: 2002 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: 25": 1 mile Ordnance Survey Mapping for the area around Wadebridge Source Date: Author: Publisher: Surveyor: 1880 and 1907 editions
Title: 25": 1 mile Ordnance Survey Mapping for the area including Wadebridge Source Date: Author: Publisher: Surveyor: 1880 and 1907 editions

End of official listing