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High Bridge, Lincoln
River Witham, Lincoln, UK
associated engineer
Not known
date  circa 1160, circa 1235, 1540 - 1550, 1762 - 1763
era  Medieval  |  category  Bridge  |  reference  SK974711
ICE reference number  HEW 845
High Bridge carries Lincoln High Street over the River Witham. Incorporated in its structure are the stone ribs of what is believed to be the second-oldest masonry arch bridge in Britain. Once a major traffic route, the bridge remains in use as a pedestrian crossing.
The oldest section of High Bridge is about 10m wide. Its original semi-circular stone barrel vaulted span of 6.7m had five ribs, the outer pair 1.2m wide with three inner ribs 915mm wide.
Circa 1235, the bridge was widened on the east side by some 8.7m to accommodate a wayside chapel dedicated to Thomas Becket (c.1118-70). The extension, also with a single 6.7m span, had quadripartite groyned stone vaulting with diagonal ribs and replaced a ford over the river. Flights of steps were added on either side, leading from High Street to the river banks.
At an unknown later date, two of the intermediate ribs and much of the stone vaulting of the original arch were removed, as was the vaulting between the 13th century ribs. The stonework was replaced with brickwork, possibly to lower the roadway by 300-450mm.
In 1540-50, the bridge was extended 6m upstream (west). A twin-centre flat pointed arch without vaulting was constructed to support a range of half-timbered buildings. A small downstream (east) extension was added in 1762-3, increasing the bridge's overall width to 26.5m.
By 1762, the medieval chapel had been demolished — it had been disused since 1549. A stone conduit house shaped like an obelisk was constructed on the same spot to supply drinking water. Between 1792 and 1795, the timber flooring along the river bed beneath the bridge was removed, the river bed lowered and the bridge abutments underpinned. The alterations facilitated the passage of barges, though the narrow span interrupted river flow and navigation.
The archway through the bridge became known as the ‘Glory Hole’. In 1833, a loaded keel carrying Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-59), engaged in reporting on the Fossdyke Canal, became stuck under High Bridge and her crew "were obliged to pull her all the way through with the windlass".
Men’s public conveniences were erected near the obelisk in around 1863. The conduit house was restored and a drinking fountain added.
In 1902, architect William Watkins & Son reported on the condition of the bridge and subsequently directed its restoration (1902-3). The half-timbered buildings were also restored. The obelisk was demolished in 1939 as it obstructed vehicular traffic.
High Bridge is a scheduled Ancient Monument and a Grade 1 listed building. It carried a main road (A15/A46) until 1971, when a relief road was opened and the bridge area of Lincoln High Street pedestrianised.
Still in use today, this is the only bridge in Britain with a secular medieval building still standing on it. It is also one of only three bridges in England with buildings on them. The other two are Frome Bridge (1667) in Somerset and Pulteney Bridge (1773) in Bath, designed by Robert Adam (1728-92).
Architect (1903 restoration): William Watkins & Son
Research: ECPK
reference sources   CEH E&C

High Bridge, Lincoln