Ulshaw Bridge


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1021078

Date first listed: 30-Nov-1925

Date of most recent amendment: 15-Jul-2003


Ordnance survey map of Ulshaw Bridge
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: North Yorkshire

District: Richmondshire (District Authority)

Parish: East Witton

County: North Yorkshire

District: Richmondshire (District Authority)

Parish: Thornton Steward

National Grid Reference: SE 14516 87220


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.

Ulshaw Bridge is a good example of a late medieval bridge with few substantial alterations which retains a wide range of constructional features. The bridge has not been strengthened in modern times and is thus expected to retain original deposits in the interior of the bridge's structure. The bridge also contains a wide range of mason's marks, which will assist the study of this little understood aspect of medieval building. The sundial standing on the bridge survives well and is a good example of the style of the period.


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


The monument includes a medieval bridge crossing the River Ure on a north to south alignment 3km east of Middleham. The bridge includes the four arches and piers spanning the river, the approach causeways and the bridge abutments and supporting revetment walls. Also included in the monument is a late medieval sundial standing on the bridge. The bridge carries a minor road and is also a Listed Building Grade II.

There has been a crossing point over the River Ure at Ulshaw since at least Roman times as it is thought to be where a Roman road from Swaledale, 15km to the north met the river. In the medieval period Ulshaw was a main crossing point over the Ure lying close to both the important military and political stronghold of Middleham Castle to the west and Jervaulx Abbey to the east. The earliest known reference to a bridge at Ulshaw is in 1588 when 200 marks were spent on its repair. Some 50 years earlier John Leland, the antiquarian, who visited the area between 1535 and 1543, noted in his journal a wooden bridge across the Ure near Middleham but it is not clear whether this refers to Ulshaw Bridge. There are records throughout the 17th century of monies being allocated and repairs being undertaken to the bridge, including the large sum of 80 pounds in 1673. From the surviving architecture, the bridge is thought to date to the 16th century. The bridge parapets were replaced probably in the late 19th century.

The bridge is constructed of coursed ashlar blocks. Each of the arches is recessed segmental in shape and has a span of approximately 10m. The arches spring from three stone piers each with pointed cutwaters on both the up and downstream sides. On the western, upstream side all three cutwaters rise up to the parapet level. On the downstream side however only the central cutwater rises all the way up to parapet level, the outer two stop at the approximate level of the carriageway and then slope inwards to the parapet wall. The cutwaters project beyond the face of the bridge by 3.5m. The two approach causeways are both ramped in order to raise the carriageway over the arches. On the northern side the causeway measures 12m in length from the end of the northern arch and on the southern side it is 14m in length from the end of the southern arch. On each of the river banks there is a large stone footing known as an abutment which supports the bridge. At either side of these abutments there is a stone revetment wall extending up and down stream to prevent erosion of the river bank and the undermining of the bridge. On the upstream side of the southern abutment the revetment wall is similar to the cutwaters and is pointed in shape. This shape helps break the force of the river during spate by diverting some water away from the bridge. This feature projects from the face of the bridge by approximately 10m. On the upstream side of the northern abutment the revetment wall is 8m in length and is curved to channel water effectively through the arch. On the downstrean side the northern and southern revetment walls extend 5m away from the bridge.

Throughout the bridge there are a series of at least 30 mason's marks inscribed into the stone. These are particularly visible on the lower courses of the central downstream cutwater, the southern face of the northern arch and on the western face of the northern abutment. These marks comprise a range of symbols and shapes some of which are repeated. Such marks are found in many different classes of monument of the medieval period and although there are a number of theories about their function, the origin, meaning and purpose of these marks is not yet fully understood.

The bridge parapet above the arches was completely rebuilt in the 19th century. The parapet on the approach causeways is constructed of ashlar blocks and is thought to be part of the original construction. The rebuilt section is constructed of small roughly squared blocks laid in seven courses. Above this there is a single course of limestone double-chamfered coping stones. These match those on the approach causeways showing that they were reused from the original parapet. On the inner face of one of the coping stones above the southern arch on the south western side of the bridge there is a clear mason's mark identical to some on the lower courses of the cutwaters. This indicates that the original parapet and the lower parts of the bridge structure were contemporary. At its highest point the parapet stands 1m high.

On the bridge top there are six pedestrian refuges, one above each of the cutwaters. The three on the upstream side and the central one on the downstream side are all triangular in plan mirroring the shape of the cutwater below. They are an average of 3m deep and 3m wide. The outer two refuges on the downstream side are shallow curves about 1m deep reflecting the different form of the cutwater below. In both the two opposing central refuges there is a low stone seat placed across the apex of the refuge. The carriageway is 4m wide from parapet to parapet.

The sundial is located in the upstream central refuge. It is made of stone and includes a square pillar approximately 0.75m high standing in a square socket stone. There is an octagonal stone block on top of the pillar with the inscription RW 1674 carved on the eastern side. The gnomon which would have cast the shadow is not present. It is not known whether the sundial was placed here on the date given or was brought from another location at a different time.

The bridge excluding cutwaters is 5m wide and measures 78m in length. The ends of the bridge can be clearly identified by a difference in build between the bridge masonry and the continuing field walls.

The road surface is excluded from the scheduling, although the structure beneath it 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: 35481

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Chandler, J, John Lelands Itinerary: Travels in Tudor England, (1993), 571
Fleming, A, Swaledale: Valley of the Wild River, (1998), 39
Jervoise, E, Ancient Bridges of Northern England, (1931), 77-78
Listed Building Description, (1967)
Moorhouse, S, (2002)

End of official listing