Wallingford Bridge

Has been described as a Possible Fortified Bridge

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains

NameWallingford Bridge
Alternative Names
Historic CountryBerkshire
Modern AuthorityOxfordshire
1974 AuthorityOxfordshire
Civil ParishWallingford

The earliest evidence of a bridge at Wallingford is about 1141, when Stephen besieged the castle. It is said that the present bridge was built by Richard, King of the Romans, in the reign of Henry III, and a part of the existing structure may be of this date. The bridge was under the charge of two wardens. stewards, or bridgemen, and bequests were made and pontage was from time to time granted during the 14th century and later to the burgesses and to these officers for its maintenance. In 1429 the bridge was reported to be so ruinous that it was the cause of many accidents. Considerable repairs were done in 1507 and again in 1528–30, when the material of 'half the priory church,' then lately dissolved, was purchased at the cost of £9 for the repair of the bridge.

The bridge is described in the time of Queen Elizabeth as being in length 900 ft. and consisting of twenty arches, but in 1571 it was 'in such ruin and decay that the inhabitants of the borough (by means of their great poverty) cannot support and repair' it. In 1576, therefore, the mayor, burgesses and commonalty were empowered to charge certain tolls for its maintenance, but it was reported that in spite of the levy of the tolls the bridge was 'nothing repaired,' and the collector was severely admonished by the council. In 1633 the officers of the navy complained to the lords of the Admiralty of the difficulty of conveying ship timber by water from the forests of Shotover and Stowwood because no barge above 16 ft. 4 in. in width could pass through Wallingford Bridge. During the siege of the castle by the Parliamentary forces in 1646 some of the arches were removed and drawbridges erected in their stead

In 1751 an agreement was made with Joseph Absolon of Wallingford 'for doing the four arches of the great bridge.' A tablet formerly existing on the eleventh arch from the east recorded that 'the four wooden arches in this bridge were taken up and cast with brick and stone in 1751.' They are elsewhere described as 'four drawbridges.' The bridge was partly widened in 1770. As shown in old engravings it had the usual projecting cutwaters carried up to the top of the parapet to afford security to foot passengers. In 1809 the bridge was greatly damaged and partly broken down by a severe flood, and an Act of Parliament was passed 'for partly rebuilding, widening, and improving' it. The three arches across the main stream were entirely rebuilt and the whole of the bridge was widened 7 ft., at a cost of about £7,000. A new scale of tolls, which brought in about £500 a year, was in force till the debt was cleared off about 1842. At the beginning of the 19th century the bridge is described as consisting of nineteen arches, and this is the present number still open if three small culverts at the eastern end are included.

The bridge is about 900 ft. long, but varies in width from 23 ft. 6 in. to 21 ft. 6 in. On the north side is a narrow footway. Of the mediaeval structure the westernmost arch remains, but was closed up on the north side in 1809. There are sixteen other arches, of which the first, the tenth, and the fourteenth are also original. They vary in width between 16 ft. 1 in. and 17 ft. 4 in. and in span between 15 ft. and 16ft., and are each strengthened with four chamfered ribs. On the north side between the arches are large projecting pointed starlings, most of which still remain, and protrude beyond the 19th-century widening. The third, fourth, and fifth are the arches of 1809, the second and sixth are evidently the work of 1751, and the seventh also appears to be of the 18th century, while the eighth and ninth arches, which are pointed, were, no doubt, rebuilt in the 16th century. In the soffits are several pieces of Norman ornament which are doubtless some of the material of the priory church. The character and masonry of the next arch suggest late Norman work. The eleventh arch is segmental and was inserted in 1751. The next two arches were built of material taken from the priory church. The last two of the main arches were both rebuilt in 1751. At the end are the three small culverts above mentioned, which seem to have been substituted for the easternmost arches in 1809. (VCH)

The present stone bridge at Wallingford replaced a wooden structure in the 13th century. It was extensively repaired in 1530 using stone from Trinity Priory Church (SU 68 NW 7). Four arches were removed and wooden drawbridges substituted during the siege of the Castle (SU 68 NW 17) in 1646, and these were not replaced until 1751. In 1809 flood damage necessitated the rebuilding of the three principal arches, and at the same time the bridge was widened by 7 feet along the north side (F1 GHP 26-JUL-63). (PastScape)

Bridge. C14 origins, repaired 1507 and 1528, 1646 arches removed and replaced with drawbridges. 1751, four arches rebuilt by Joseph Absolon of Wallingford. Widened 1770. 1809 rebuilding, widening and "improving" following flood damage. Toll house demolished c.1930. Ashlar stone to north side, with flint cut-waters with stone dressings to left. Banded stone cut-waters to right. Ashlar stone to south side with areas of squared stone and flint chequer to right. 19 arches, 5 cross river. Some arches are ribbed and are probably C15 stonework, possibly re-used. Elliptical arches over river, with keystones and voussoirs. Open baluster balustrade over river. Plain stone balustrade to rear. Late C20 cast iron lamps. (Listed Building Report)

An investigation was carried out by Oxfordshire County Council Department of Museum Services following the survey of medieval bridges in Oxfordshire (cf. Medieval Archaeol., xxv (1981), 225). The most ancient portion of the bridge appears to be a semicircular arch (no. 13 from the W. bank), a rubble and flint barrel vault 2.2 m high and 5.4 m wide; a 12th-century date is suggested. A major rebuild of the 13th to 14th century is represented by four arches and nine cutwaters, the arches having chamfered ribs in ashlar, the cutwaters being of flint rubble with ashlar projections upstream. Further rebuilding took place in the 16th and 17th centuries, and the bridge was widened, with three new navigation arches, in I809 (C.B.A. Group 9, Newsletter, 12 (1982), 110-13). (Med. Arch. 1982)

There is one peculiarity which is so far unexplained. Between arches 8 and 9 is a massive projection, which is buttressed by medieval cutwaters on each side. Is this the site of the tollhouse ? (mentioned in V.C.H. Berks III, 522). (South Midlands Archaeology 1982)

Gatehouse Comments

Given the history there must have been a tollhouse on the bridge and the massive projection between arches 8 and 9 is both clearly in the right location and big enough for this. The tollhouse is entirely likely to be associated with a gate. There then remains a question as to the form of the tollhouse and gate. Was it a timber house and bar gate or a masonry house with solid gates within a masonry arch or even a gatehouse in the form of a chamber built over a solid masonry gateway. The destruction of four arches over the deepest part of the river, and their replacement with drawbridges, in 1646 may have been as much to do with improving river traffic flow for masted vessels (consider the logistical supply of the royalist army based at surrounded Oxford) as to do with increasing defensive capacity. The relative lawlessness of the Civil War being used to take such an action without the legal difficulties that may have preventing this being done earlier, even though the difficulty for river traffic had been noted in 1633.

- Philip Davis

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

This is a Grade 2* listed building protected by law

Historic England Scheduled Monument Number
Historic England Listed Building number(s)
Images Of England
Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceSU610894
Latitude51.6005401611328
Longitude-1.11965000629425
Eastings461000
Northings189460
HyperLink HyperLink HyperLink
Photo by Philip Davis All Rights Reserved
Photo by Philip Davis All Rights Reserved

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Books

  • Christie, Neil, Creighton, Oliver et al, 2013, Transforming Townscapes From burh to borough: the archaeology of Wallingford AD 800-1400 (London: Society for Medieval Archaeology Monograph 35) p. 219-34
  • Thacker, F.S., 1968, The Thames highway (Newton Abbot: David and Charles) Vol. 2 p. 190-97
  • Page, Wm and Ditchfield, P.H. (eds), 1923, VCH Berkshire Vol. 3 p. 522 online transcription
  • Field, J.E., 1894, Historical Notes on the Antiquities of Wallingford (Wallingford: Arthur Jenkins) p. 26-8

Journals

  • Grayson, A.J., 2010, 'Thames Crossings near Wallingford from Roman to Early Norman Times' Oxoniensia p. 9-11
  • < >1982, 'Wallingford Bridge' South Midlands Archaeology: CBA Group 9 Newsletter Vol. 12 p. 110-13 online copy < >
  • 1982, Medieval Archaeology Vol. 26 p. 205 online copy

Other

  • Bruce Watson, 2013 Sept, Gazetteer of fortified bridges (working list kindly shared with Gatehouse)