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Toppesfield Bridge, Hadleigh

Scheduled as an Ancient Monument, this medieval three arch bridge has been described as ‘˜the finest ancient road bridge in Suffolk'.
Region:
Suffolk
Red Wheel Site:
No
Transport Mode(s):
Road
Address:
IP7 6BY
Postcode:
IP7 6BY
Visitor Centre:
No
Website:

About Toppesfield Bridge, Hadleigh

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 These were superseded by bridges which were ribbed under the arches (14/15century), and those with semi-circular arches.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.

In the historic town of Hadleigh in Suffolk there is a medieval three span bridge over the river Brett. It probably dates from the 14th century. It is built with stone blocks with pointed arches with spans of 3 m. (10 ft.). In 1750 the stone arches were extended with brick-work on the upstream side.

In 1974 a concrete slab was laid across the arches to relieve the weight on them. In spite of these alterations the basic shape of the bridge has been retained, and especially on the downstream side is a particularly attractive sight.

By Road: The bridge is on the south west side of the town on Duke Street, which is a turning off High Street in the centre of the town. It is signposted to Lower Layham. It is also on an attractive riverside walk.

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

Harrison, David. The Bridges of Medieval England. Oxford. ISBN 978-0-19-922685-6 (2004)

Hindle, P. Roads and Tracks for Historians. ISBN 1 86077 182 3 (2001)

Hindley, G. History of the Roads. Peter Davies. ISBN 0 8065 0290 8 (1971)

Jackson, Gibbard. From Track to Highway. (1935)

Jervoise, E. Ancient Bridges of England. Architectural Press. (1932)

Sheldon, G. From Trackway to Turnpike. Oxfd. Univ. Press. (1928)

Skempton, Sir Alec (Ed.) Biographical Dictionary of Civil Engineers. Vol.1. 1500-1830. ISBN 07277 2939X (2002)

Taylor, C. Roads and Tracks of Britain. ISBN 0 460 04329 3 (1979)

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