Harrold Bridge


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Statutory Address:
Carlton Road, Harrold, Bedford


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Statutory Address:
Carlton Road, Harrold, Bedford

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

Bedford (Unitary Authority)
Carlton and Chellington
Bedford (Unitary Authority)
Bedford (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:


Medieval multi-span bridge and causeway.

Reasons for Designation

Harrold Bridge, a medieval multi-span bridge and causeway, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

* Rarity: less than 200 medieval multi-span bridges are known to survive and Harrold Bridge is therefore a rare and early surviving example;

* Survival of original fabric: it is an extensive, well-preserved structure that retains a significant proportion of medieval fabric, and there is a high chance of further surviving early fabric within the core of the bridge;

* Historic interest: the documentary evidence for the bridge’s repair and its numerous phases of widening indicate its long established importance as a crossing place at this part of the river where it forms an element of considerable historic interest in the landscape.


Multi-span bridges 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 C12 stone (and later brick) bridges became more common, with the piers sometimes supporting a timber raft. Most stone bridges were constructed with pointed arches, although semicircular and segmental examples are also known.

The date of the construction of the bridge at Harrold is unknown but documents dating from 1136-46 refer to ‘three acres of my lord’s meadow next to the place of Harewold bridge’. This may, of course, refer to an earlier bridge rather than the present structure. It is not known who was responsible for its construction but in rural areas bridges were often built by the lord of the manor who was then liable for its repair. The four river arches of Harrold Bridge at the northern end were repaired by the lords of the manors of Harrold, Odell, Carlton and Chellington. These four parishes met near the river crossing so it is likely that the first bridge was a joint enterprise between all four manors. It is thought that the remaining structure was originally maintained by Harrold Priory before becoming the responsibility of the County. This complex arrangement of shared liability led to the development of a multi-phase structure of different styles. An indication of the bridge’s importance is the number of bequests made for its repair in the late medieval period, and there is documentary evidence for numerous repairs and alterations from the C16 to the C19.

The causeway originally extended to the south edge of the river bank as remains of the stonework can be seen in the soffits of some of the flood arches. All the arches except for the five at the south end are medieval in date and show three or four stages of widening, whilst the last five were added at a later date, certainly by c.1630. During repair work in 1992 evidence was found of an earlier approach ramp with stone retaining walls between arches 5 and 6 (see the Plan section of the List entry for the numbering sequence). The 9 flood arches were widened at an unknown date: arches 1 and 2 were widened on the east side, and all but arch 1 was widened on the west side by inserting another limestone arch ring springing from the cutwaters. Flood arches 4, 7, 8 and 9 have since been rebuilt. Arch 10 of the river arch was widened at an early date by the addition of a stone skin on the west side, and the other five arches have all been rebuilt and widened. Arch 11 is probably a late-medieval replacement; arches 12 and 13 were rebuilt in the 1660s; and arch 14, which in 1757 was still spanned with timber beams, was rebuilt in the mid-C19.

In 1826 the County Surveyor produced a plan and east elevation of the bridge with recommendations for its repair. It shows that river arches 12 to 15 (those that were privately maintained) were fenced with posts and rails, whilst arches 10 and 11 (maintained by the County) had stone parapets. There was also an earthen ramp which had provided access to the river bridge before the flood arches were widened. This was subsequently enclosed by a retaining wall, forming the present passing bay. Arch 14 was rebuilt in stone in 1856 and the following year the river bridge was widened on the west side in limestone with brick arch rings. The flood arches were also widened and the limestone face was extended over the triangular cutwaters, resulting in the present rounded buttress-type features.

Between 1986 and 1992 an extensive restoration programme was carried out which involved rebuilding a partly collapsed stone arch; stabilising and rebuilding c10m length of structurally unsafe spandrel and parapet walls; and replacing defective stones and re-pointing using lime mortar.


Medieval multi-span bridge and causeway.

MATERIALS: coursed limestone rubble with some red-brick arch rings.

PLAN: the bridge carries the road over the River Great Ouse and is aligned north-south. At the northern end 6 arches span the river, known as the river bridge, followed by a short causeway on the south bank, and then 9 arches over the flood plain, known as the long bridge. Beyond this, and parallel to the Carlton Road, is a narrow 20 arch foot causeway. The arches of the long bridge and river bridge have been numbered starting from the south end, hence the flood arches are 1 to 9, and the river arches 10 to 15.

EXTERIOR: the bridge and causeway is a substantial, multi-phase structure that forms a picturesque element in the landscape. The river bridge has stone parapets with semi-circular coping in red brick and two passenger refuges on the west side. At the northern end are 5 small rounded buttress-like features on the outer side of the east parapet. The river arches are irregular in width and style, and the soffits reveal three phases of widening. Above arch 10, which is a small round arch nearest the south bank, a change in the stonework on the east side indicates the original line where the earthen ramp gave access to the river bridge. The parapet, added in the late 1820s, has created the passing bay. On the east side, arch 11 has a pointed arch of two layers of dressed, chamfered ironstone and an outer rounded arch with a red brick arch ring. The rest have rounded limestone arches. There is corbelled stonework above arch 12; and arch 14 has double arch rings of limestone blocks and the parapet coping above is of gault brick. On the west side of the river bridge the arches are round, except for arch 11 which is raised to a slight point, with red brick arch rings. Between the arches there are large triangular cutwaters.

The long bridge to the south has, on the east side, a projecting thin course of masonry above the arches indicating the original height. Above this a parapet has been built which was further heightened and capped with semicircular brick. The parapet becomes lower at the south end, terminating in a short eastwards return. The soffits of the flood arches show 3 to 4 phases of widening. On the east side, the arches are mostly round, although some are raised into a slight point, and have stone arch rings. Arch 3 has a shallow segmental arch with a red brick arch ring. On the west side, arches 1 to 6 are segmental with brick arch rings, and there are rounded buttress-like features in between – a later encasing of the original triangular cutwaters. Arches 7 to 9 are semicircular with keyed ironstone arch rings. Above these 3 arches the parapet coping is of stone. To the south, the causeway has triangular cutwaters on the west side, the surface of which is set with flint nodules. The Tudor arches have arch rings of rubble stone, except for three semicircular arches of chamfered brick which may be a late-C19 repair. The causeway becomes narrower at the southern end and there are no cutwaters.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
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Books and journals
Simco , Angela , McKeague, Peter , Bridges of Bedfordshire, Bedfordshire Archaeology Monograph No. 2, pp.55-61, (1997)
Harold Bridge, accessed 03.02.15 from http://www.bedfordshire.gov.uk/CommunityAndLiving/ArchivesAnd RecordOffice/


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

Images of England

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Date: 06 Dec 2001
Reference: IOE01/05691/33
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr Derek E. Wharton. Source Historic England Archive
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