Potter Heigham Bridge, Norfolk
A 14th century bridge over the river Thume in the Norfolk Broads and a notorious navigational hazard. It is an Ancient Monument.
Period of construction:
1000 - 1599
Transport Trust plaque:
Bridge Road, Potter Heigham, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk NR29 5JD
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 These were superseded by bridges which were ribbed under the arches (14/15century), and those with semi-circular arches.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. In the eastern counties they were first built with timber and then brick. Mayton Bridge 8 miles north of Norwich has four centred brick arches.
Potter Heigham bridge carried the main road from Great Yarmouth to Cromer and is believed to date from 1385. It is famous for being the most difficult to navigate in the Broads. The bridge opening is so narrow that only small cruisers can pass through it, and then only at low water, usually with the help of a pilot - there is a fee of Â£20 - Â£10 each way for holiday craft in the summer. A modern roadbridge is close by.
The old bridge consists of three arches though the two side arches are pointed and partly submerged.The parapets are made of brick and are supported by unusual cantilevered buttresses.
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Open at all times
How To Find:
By Road or Boat: It used to carry the A 149 but is now by passed, It can readily be seen from the river Thume or the A 149 and is accessible along Bridge Road south of the village.
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