Heritage Locations

Bow Bridge, Bruton


A 15th century packhorse bridge listed Grade I and scheduled as an Ancient Monument.

Constructor:
Unclassified

Period of construction:
1000 - 1599

Transport Trust plaque:
No

Transport Mode:
Road

Address:
Plox, Bruton, Somerset, BA10 0AD

Postcode:
BA10 0AD

Nearest Town:
Bruton

Heritage Centre:
No

The first bridges were probably of felled trees lain across the river (Stockbridge and Trowbridge both refer to tree trunk bridges) and then of worked timber.

The Romans built bridges in wood, and probably stone, but none remain in Britain. The oldest surviving timber bridge is over the River Ouse at Selby and dates from 1790.

The first simple stone bridges - clapper bridges comprise large slabs of stone rested on stone piers to span a stream or small river. Tarr Steps, which crosses the River Barle in Somerset, is the longest with 17 spans supporting stone slabs 5 feet wide. It is too narrow for carts but Pont Sarnddu in Carnarvonshire is ten feet across and wide enough for vehicles.

Packhorse bridges, small arched bridges, with very low parapets so as not to get in the way of the horse's panniers, can still be found for example at Wycoller in Lancashire, Moulton in Suffolk, and Fifehead Neville, Dorset.

More sophisticated stone bridges were built abundantly in the 13th century, the use of timber continued into the 16th century. The river Skell at Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire, is crossed by probably the oldest arched bridge in England. Thirteenth to fourteenth century bridges can be recognised by their pointed arches and by the V-shaped extensions over the cutwaters for pedestrian refuges. These were superseded by bridges which were ribbed under the arches (14/15century), and those with semi-circular arches.

But all of these styles are modified by the needs and knowledge of the locality. In the early eighteenth century Daniel Defoe observed "...the Nyd, smaller then the Wharfe, but furiously rapid, and very dangerous to pass in many places, especially upon sudden rains. Notwithstanding, such lofty high built bridges are as not to be seen over such small rivers in any other place".

Masonry arch and cast iron bridges derive from the late 18th and 19th centuries. Bridges were usually made from local materials.

This example is a single arch packhorse bridge built in the 15th century to link a nearby abbey with the town of Bruton. It had to be rebuilt after serious flooding in 1982. it was used in the medieval period for carrying wool southward to Poole, a laden horse being able to pass over the bridge with its bulging load projecting on each side over the parapets of the bridge.


Bibliography:
Addison, Sir William, The Old Roads of England, Harper Collins, ISBN 0 7134 1714 5 (1980)

Albert, W., The Turnpike Road System in England 1663- 1840, Cambridge University Press, ISBN O 5210 3391 8 (1972)

Challis, Chris, Packhorse Bridge, Aylestone, T. Savage, ASIN: B0007B7S02 7S02 (1986)

Harrison, David, The Bridges of Medieval England: Transport and Society 400-1800, Oxford University Press, ISBN-10: 0199226857 (2007)

Hartwell, Michael, Illustrated Guide to the Packhorse Bridges of the Lake District, Ernest Press, ISBN-10: 0948153318 (1994)

Hinchcliffe, Ernest, Guide to the Packhorse Bridges of England, Cicerone Press, ISBN-10: 1852841435 (1994)

Lewis, Carenza, Village, Hamlet and Field: Changing Medieval Settlements in Central England, Windgather Press, ISBN-10: 0953863034 (2001)

Williamson, Tom
, Shaping Medieval Landscapes: Settlement, Society, Environment, Windgather Press, ISBN-10: 0954557581 (2004)


Opening Times:
Open at all times

How To Find:
By Road: On a turning northward off the A359, Plox, just west of the road bridge, or approached from the north along Lower Backway.

Facilities:


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