Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1021325
Date first listed: 25-Nov-1925
Date of most recent amendment: 22-Jun-2004
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: West Somerset (District Authority)
District: West Somerset (District Authority)
Parish: Withypool and Hawkridge
National Park: EXMOOR
National Grid Reference: SS8676632111
Reasons for Designation
Clapper bridges are structures designed to carry a trackway across a river
by means of one, or more, large, flat stone slabs, either resting directly
on the river banks or supported on dry stone piers. Many examples comprise
a single slab while multi-span clapper bridges typically have between two
and five spans. They were used by foot passengers and packhorse traffic
and are frequently located on the course of a packhorse track. Although
some clapper bridges are thought to be of prehistoric origin there is no
evidence for this. It may be that surviving prehistoric monuments in the
immediate vicinity of clapper bridges, such as those on Exmoor and
Dartmoor has led to this assumption. It is more likely that clapper
bridges were constructed and used from the late medieval period, around
1400 to the 19th century. They are found in areas of the country where the
local rock yields large slabs of stone. Clapper bridges are very rare
monuments with only just over 40 recorded nationally.
With over 17 spans, Tarr Steps is a highly unusual example of its class of monument where the typical arrangement is between two and five spans. It is an important and well known feature of the Exmoor landscape where it is accessible to the public at all times and continues to perform its original function of providing a dry route across a river. Tarr Steps has been described as one of the finest clapper bridges in the country.
The monument includes Tarr Steps, a 55m long multi-span stone clapper
bridge which crosses the River Barle; it is believed to be of medieval
date and is Listed Grade I.
The Barle rises about 17km to the north west of the clapper bridge and cuts through a deep wooded valley between Simonsbath and Dulverton. The bridge is located adjacent to a ford on the single track road which connects the villages of Hawkridge and Winsford. It is constructed from rectangular rough-grit sandstone slabs, obtained locally from the Pickwell Down basement beds, with 17 spans set on stone piers which are raised about 1m above the river bed. Twelve of the horizontal spanning stones are single; four are in pairs and one, which forms the end span on the eastern side, has three parallel stones. The stones are between 2m to 2.9m long, 2m to 1.6m wide and up to 0.3m thick and are supported by piers which are constructed of dry-stone blocks laid one upon another and set at about 2m intervals. The average size of the supporting blocks is 2.2m long, 0.7m wide and 0.7m thick. Each of the piers have up to three stone slabs laid against them on either side. These appear to act as cutwaters on the upstream side in order to protect the piers from flood damage and as supports for the bridge on the downstream side.
Perhaps because of its megalithic character and its proximity to trackways which are thought to be of Bronze Age date, Tarr Steps has commonly been believed to date from the prehistoric period. However, recent research has suggested that it is more likely to be medieval. It is known from documentary sources that in 1279 the River Barle was crossed by a bridge at Three Waters, located less than 2km to the south. This suggests Tarr Steps was not constructed until after 1279 as it would seem unlikely that two bridges crossing the same river would have co-existed in such close proximity. Research into similarly constructed clapper bridges on Dartmoor suggest that they were unlikely to date from before about 1400.
The modern surfacing of the road on the north side of the bridge is excluded from the scheduling, although the ground 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: 35719
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
Grinsell, L V, Archaeology of Exmoor, (1970), 148-150
Jervoise, E, The Ancient Bridges of the South of England, (1930), 112
SS 83 SE 1, National Monuments Record,
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