Elvet, Exe and Edmund

Building a bridge is a major undertaking, especially the cost. Who pays – the taxpayer, a local business consortium, the road users through tolls? This problem isn’t new. In Medieval times stones bridges were rare. Crossing rivers involved fords or wooden structures, which easily washed away. A generous patron was needed to build a sturdy stone bridge. These persons were often political figures, such as the nobility, wealthy merchants, or the Church.

Maintaining a bridge was down to the town’s citizens, those who relied on its economic importance, so goods crossing a bridge would have been taxed. In effect, bridges were mini customs checkpoints. The larger, the more significant the market town was, the greater the charges.

Elvet Bridge in the County of Durham was built by a bishop. Hugh le Puiset was a prolific builder, and the bridge was constructed sometime between 1170 and 1195. But the costs were still causing issues decades later so those who laboured on it were granted indulgences (a way of paying for your sins).

Elvet bridge has many features. It supposedly had fourteen arches, although its not possible to confirm this as floods caused damage and washed some away. Ten is more likely. As the river silted up, some of the arches have ended up incorporated into housing. In the Middle Ages, the bridge was guarded by gates and towers, and two chapels were built on it, at either end. By 1632, one chapel was replaced by a prison, which was demolished in the 18h Century. The chapel at the other end partly survived, merging with the houses on the dry riverbank.

Elvet wasn’t the only bridge with chapels on it. Exe Bridge in Exeter, another Medieval construction, was also home to two. The east chapel was dedicated to St Edmunds, the west, which was removed in 1778, to St Thomas. A record of St Edmund’s church existed in 1214. At 230 metres long, with possibly seventeen to eighteen arches, the bridge crossed the River Exe and the surrounding marshlands. To protect the foundations, timber, iron and lead were packed around the base stones. The bridge struggled with flood damage and was in need of constant repairs, but held out for 600 years until replaced. When demolished the piles were removed and they were found to be solid black and sturdy after over five centuries underwater.

The big bridge is the oldest of its kind in England (1190). Eight arches were uncovered after being buried for 200 years on what is now public park land, and St Edmund’s chapel survives as a ruined tower.

Why were chapels built on bridges? To give thanks for safe passage, and collect money in the form of alms to maintain it. Bridge building is after all a costly undertaking.

9 comments

  1. Damyanti Biswas · · Reply

    Learnt something new today… Thank you for sharing this!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think they built better in years past… as I can’t see any bridge lasting 600 years today. Until of late, I hadn’t realized that they do give a time frame on bridges.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A lot depends on the traffic, as you will find out in a later post, the weather can be devastating on an old bridge.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Arlee Bird · · Reply

    Fascinating info. They really built some bridges that endured through the ages. Now I drive over most bridges without giving them any thought. Those stone bridges were quite beautiful.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

    Like

    1. I didn’t realise how old some bridges are, especially in small towns and villages.

      Like

  4. joyweesemoll · · Reply

    I knew chapels were built on bridges from context that I was taught around The Canterbury Tales, but I didn’t know their more general purpose.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. debscarey · · Reply

    Crikey, who knew that bridges containing two churches was a thing. Mind you, the church – of whatever flavour – was always a canny operator so I shouldn’t be surprised.

    Debs visiting this year from
    Making Yourself Relationship Ready

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Churches did well at collecting money!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. […] by monks to gain rights to the bridge, and therefore exemption from upkeep of the bridge. The upkeep of a Medieval bridge was a ‘common burden’ for the community, so being exempt by charter was advantageous. […]

    Like

Leave a Reply to raesquiggles Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

The Bridgehunter's Chronicles

Bridging our past with the future by preserving our heritage in the present.

lynnelives

random, eclectic, see how my mind works

The Old Shelter

Dieselpunk author - Historical Fantasy Set in the 1920s

Shravmusings

Kiddie Talkies - Have a look at this World through a kid's eyes with the help of his Mom's expressions

Rebekah Loper, Author

Character-driven epic fantasy. Resilient women. A touch of romance.

Wolf of Words

Stories, Reviews and Opinions!

Iain Kelly

Fiction Writing

thewirralgirl

it wouldn't be thewirralgirl without you.

Rachel Walkley

Telling Tales, Revealing Secrets

Author Erika Jayne

Where stories come to life

Living the Dream

Susanne Matthews

Stories I Found in the Closet

The musings of writer, mother, musician and whatever else takes my fancy

Planet Pailly

Where Science Meets Fiction

True North Bricks

Canadian Recognized LEGO® Fan Media

Tossing It Out

The musings of writer, mother, musician and whatever else takes my fancy

Sorchia's Universe

Magic, Mystery, Romance, History, a little Whisky, and a Cat

%d bloggers like this: