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Historic England Research Records

Piercebridge Roman Bridge

Hob Uid: 23766
Location :
North Yorkshire
Grid Ref : NZ2145015500
Summary : The remains of a Roman bridge, formerly on the River Tees, probably built in the later 2nd to early 3rd centuries AD, later altered in the early- to mid 4th century AD by the addition of a causeway. The surviving remains comprise an abutment on the south side, a length of pavement, which once consolidated the river bed, four piers constructed of stone, along with part of the later causeway preserved as an earthwork bank. The bridge probably originally had 5 piers and may have had a wooden superstructure. Although the site has been excavated the northern abutment was not located and may have been destroyed as the river shifted is course. This structure was associated with a nearby fort and civilian vicus settlement at Piercebridge. It once formed part of the Roman road between York and Corbridge (on Hadrian's Wall); the route is now known as Dere Street. It was the second of two bridges over the Tees in the vicinity, the earlier bridge was thought have been built of timber and lay 200 yards upstream to the west. This earlier structure is likely to have gone out of use around 130-180 AD; potentially because it was poorly sited and subject to flooding, presumably necessitating the building of the second bridge. It has been conjectured, based on interpretations of antiquarian reports, that the second Roman bridge may have survived in some form until about 1500, when it was replaced by another structure. However this has neither been fully proven, nor accepted, by all authorities. The site is in the care of English Heritage.
More information : (NZ 21451558) Roman Bridge found by gravel operations to the east of the site of the earlier Roman Bridge (NZ 21 NW 6)
The remains, excavated in advance of quarrying (1972), some 4ft high,
consisted of two courses of large roughly dressed stones with a
cutwater on the upstream side; it was evidently the southern abutment
of the bridge. Adjacent to the abutment was a large paved area 43ft
wide which can be seen in patches through the entire length of the
trench. Within this paved area two large gaps mark the position of
the 1st and 2nd piers. The bridge consisted of at least 5 piers but
the northern end has not been discovered despite an intensive
search. As the river course moved northwards the southern end became
supported by debris left by river floods and the piers were robbed
and later replaced by a causeway. Dating
evidence for the silting process is a coin of Hadrian and early 2nd century pottery.
No trace of the approach roads can be seen on either side. On the
south quarrying has destroyed all the evidence; however a road 24ft
wide heading in the direction of the bridge was discovered when
excavating the RB settlement site (NZ 21 NW 39) (Plans). (1)

NZ 21451550 The remains are now in the care of the D of E and stand
in good preservation within a landscaped enclosure. The main feature
is the southern abutment, a solid stone structure 3.2m wide and 8.1m long with a single cutwater at the upstream end. The abutment is faced with two courses of dressed stone blocks, some with iron cramps run in with lead, and stands 1.2m high above the pavement on its north (river) side and flush with the present ground level on the south. Equidistant along the second course on the river side, are five oblique mortice holes, evidently to support beams for the
superstructure of the bridge.
The pavement extends northwards for approx 73.0m and is virtually
complete for the first 28.0m of its length.
Elsewhere, however, it can only be recognised by odd patches of paving or displaced flat slabs of stone. Where complete, the pavement is 14.2m wide and extends beyond the E and W sides of the abutment.
16m from the N face of the abutment a gap in the pavement marks the
site of a pier and at 32m another gap indicates the site of the
second pier. Two more piers can be positively identified by the
tumbled mass of dressed stone blocks (some with cramps) that exist at
intervals of approx 16m, and a probable fifth pier can be inferred
from the stone blocks protruding from the bank at the north end of
the present enclosure. The northern abutment cannot be traced and it
has probably been scoured away by the present course of the river.
The causeway which replaced the southern portion of the bridge has been almost totally removed, and only a fragmentary bank 1.3m wide and revetted with stone on its outer side survives on the E side of the pavement. This extends 16.7m northwards from the abutment and attains the same height ie 1.2m.
The field in which the remains are sited has had the gravel extracted and is now reclaimed and under grass. No evidence of the approach road survives either here or in the area of the RB settlement
(NZ 21 NW 39).
Surveyed at 1:2500 on MSD. (2)

No change. (3)

NZ 214156. Roman bridge at Piercebridge. Under guardianship. (4)

Unchanged. See GP. (5)

A useful additional reference is PR Scott's article, which attempts to set out the chronolgy of the Tees bridges in the vicinity. It is likely that the first Roman bridge in the vicinity was probably a timber structure possibly constructed in the AD 90s that went out of use in circa 130-180 AD, potentially because of its poor siting in a section of the river that was prone to flooding. This was then replaced at a better site by a second Roman bridge, this time in stone, which was extant in some form until about 1500 when it was replaced by a bridge which is still standing. (6)

A paper by TT Hay counters earlier speculations by R. Selkirk that the remains were those of a dam, and seeks to confirm the interpretation as a bridge. (7)

A conservation statement for the site of Piercebridge Roman Bridge was issued by English Heritage in 2002. This structure is 200 yards downstream to the east of an earlier bridge. This second bridge may date to the second and third centuries AD based on the pottery evidence from nearby roman buildings around the southern approach road to the bridge. It is likely to have had a wooden superstructure springing from stone abutments and five masonry piers. The southern abutment became silted over and the river began to move northward. As a response to this a causeway was built over the top in the early to mid 4th century AD. This featured a metalled surface and revetments made from limestone slabs. The bridges would have been essential to the development of the civilian settlement, which grew up on both sides of the River Tees. The remains of the bridge are rare and of exceptional significance. (8)

The English Heritage "Heritage Unlocked" series includes an accessible overview of the chronology of the site and a description of the surviving remains. (9)

An English Heritage publication on Roman Bridges in the North of England notes that caution must be execised with the idea that the second Roman Bridge may have survived into the medieval period- antiquarian accounts may refer to a medieval bridge, not the Roman bridge found in the 1970s. (10)

An academic overview of the bridge in its context is provided in 'Britannia'. it cites evidence of pottery from the causeway that dates from the early 4th century, with one sherd dating to 320-270 (the latter might be intrusive), thus making it likelt that the causeway was built in or a little after the early 4th century. (11)

Sources :
Source Number : 1
Source : Current archaeology
Source details : Plans Illus
Page(s) : 136-141
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 4, No 5 Sep-1973
Source Number : 2
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : F1 ECW 07-OCT-76
Page(s) :
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 11
Source : Britannia : a journal of Romano-British and kindred studies
Source details : Fitzpatrick, D and Scott P: 'The Roman Bridge of Piercebridge Yorshire/County Durham'
Page(s) : 111-32
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 30, 1999
Source Number : 3
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : F2 RE 23-OCT-81
Page(s) :
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 4
Source : List of ancient monuments in England: Volume 1, Northern England; Volume 2, Southern England; Volume 3, East Anglia and the Midlands
Source details :
Page(s) : 60
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 1
Source Number : 5
Source : Oral information, correspondence (not archived) or staff comments
Source details : R3 JML 26-JUN-89
Page(s) :
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 6
Source : Transactions of the Architectural and Archaeological Society of Durham and Northumberland
Source details : Article by P R Scott.
Page(s) : 77-82
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 6, 1982
Source Number : 7
Source : Durham archaeological journal
Source details : TT Hay: 'Engineering Aspects of Piercebridge Roman Bridge'.
Page(s) : 63-70
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 8, 1992
Source Number : 8
Source : Piercebridge Roman Bridge Conservation Statement
Source details :
Page(s) :
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 9
Source : Heritage unlocked: Guide to free sites in Yorkshire and the north east
Source details :
Page(s) : 20-21
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 10
Source : Hadrian's Wall Bridges
Source details :
Page(s) : 110-112
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : no.9

Monument Types:
Components and Objects:
Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (County No.)
External Cross Reference Number : NY 1150
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : EH Property Number
External Cross Reference Number : 379
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : NZ 21 NW 40
External Cross Reference Notes :

Related Warden Records :
Associated Monuments : 23654
Relationship type : General association
Associated Monuments : 1031405
Relationship type : General association
Associated Monuments : 23638
Relationship type : General association

Related Activities :
Associated Activities : Primary, PIERCEBRIDGE
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1972-01-01
End Date : 1972-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, FIELD OBSERVATION ON NZ 21 NW 40
Start Date : 1976-10-07
End Date : 1976-10-07
Associated Activities : Primary, FIELD OBSERVATION ON NZ 21 NW 40
Start Date : 1981-10-23
End Date : 1981-10-23
Associated Activities : Primary, FIELD OBSERVATION ON NZ 21 NW 40
Start Date : 1989-06-26
End Date : 1989-06-26