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Roman Bridges, Chollerford
Riiver North Tyne, Chollerford, Northumberland, UK
associated engineer
Not known
date  circa 122-128 AD, possibly 162-165 AD
UK era  Roman  |  category  Bridge  |  reference  NY913700
ICE reference number  HEW 761
The remains of two Roman masonry bridges can be found at the point where Hadrianís Wall meets the River North Tyne near Chesters. The first, a footbridge, seems to have been built at the time of the wall's construction (c122-8 AD). The second, wider bridge replaced it when the Military Way was added (162-5 AD). Part of the east abutment survives, along with submerged ruins of two river piers and the west abutment, collectively designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
Before Hadrianís Wall existed, the Stanegate (stone road) was the original east-west route between the Roman forts of Corstopitum at Corbridge on the River Tyne and Luguvalium at Carlisle on the River Eden. The Stanegate is thought to have been constructed during the tenure of Gnaeus Julius Agricola (40-93 AD), governor of Britain 77-85 AD. It followed the contours of the land and crossed the River North Tyne via a timber bridge, or perhaps a ford, around 1km downstream (south) of Chesters.
The wall built for Hadrian (76-138 AD, emperor from 117 AD) lies to the north of Stanegate and marks the then northern limit of the Roman Empire. It takes a direct route from the fort of Segedunum at Wallsend on the Tyne, via Carlisle to the Solway Firth. Construction of the wall, and the 2.3 hectare cavalry fort of Cilurnum (cauldron pool) at Chesters, 120m west of the North Tyne, began in 122 AD.
The wall is defended by castellated parapets with a walkway between, allowing sentries to patrol the ramparts. The structure did not stop at river banks ó at Chollerford the walkway was carried over the water on a bridge of stone, thought to have been commenced in 122 or 123 AD.
The bridge was some 61m long and probably took the form of nine arches, each spanning approximately 4.1m, set on eight piers between two abutments. In section, the piers were shaped like elongated hexagons, rectangular with 45 degree pointed cutwaters at each end (upstream and downstream). The stonework consisted of large blocks bound together with dovetail iron clamps set in lead.
It seems likely that the bridge stood largely undefended while the army manning Hadrianís Wall travelled north to hold the new fortification of the Antonine Wall. Built over about 12 years from 142 AD, this second line of demarcation comprised a ditch and a turf wall on stone foundations, crossing Scotland from the Firth of Clyde to the Firth of Forth.
About 162 AD, the Antonine Wall was abandoned and the army sent back to Hadrianís Wall. The original narrow bridge at Chollerford was demolished and replaced by a wider road bridge to carry the Military Way, a Roman supply route between forts along the wall. Itís not known exactly when the second bridge was constructed, perhaps (logically) at the same time as the Military Way (162-5 AD) or later, during the reign of Septimius Severus (145-211 AD, emperor from 193 AD) in the 190s.
The second bridge was about 58m long with a carriageway 6m wide, substantial wing-walled abutments and guard towers on each bank. Owing to changes in the riverís course, its east abutment incorporates the hexagonal east pier of the earlier bridge in the area directly west of the east tower. The pier is 6m long overall and 3.1m wide with cutwaters approximately 1.5m long.
The upper surfaces of the massive rectangular blocks of the abutments bear lewis holes. A Roman lewis was a lifting device that relied on friction. It consisted of three metal legs ó the two outer ones wider at the base ó held together by a removable shackle. The lewis hole, a dovetailed opening, was chiselled into the rock and the two outer legs inserted, followed by the central leg, then the shackle was connected and the stone craned into place.
The superstructure of the newer bridge was probably all stone but it may have had a timber deck. Its four spans of 10.8m were supported on large stone pentagonal piers, rectangular with a pointed cutwater on the upstream (north) side. The piers were 6.6m long and 4.9m wide. It is probable that a defensive drawbridge formed part of the east end of the deck, raised via a beam and pulleys projecting from the east tower.
On other Roman bridges of a similar scale, and so probably this one too, the deck was flanked by stone parapets atop a moulded cornice above arch spandrels. The parapets featured freestanding columns at intervals, usually topped with statues.
After construction, scour affected the south wing wall of the east abutment and undermining was prevented by extending the wall. At an unknown later date, a water channel was constructed. It passes through the base of the east tower and under the adjacent road ramp, to supply a watermill to the south of the bridge.
Around 675, the bridge was dismantled and the stone used to construct St Wilfridís church in Hexham. It appears that all the above ground stonework in the east and west abutments was removed. Parts of the arches and piers were taken down, mainly to salvage the several tonnes of lead bars used as reinforcement. No further activity is known.
In 1851, a plan of the visible bridge remains was published. The changing course of the river at the site of the bridges means the east bank is now about 15m west of its position in Roman times, and the width of its channel decreased to some 50m. The east pier of the second bridge is therefore buried in the river bank, while the remains of the other two are still in the river.
Between 1860 to early 1863, the eastern part of the bridges was excavated and surveyed (William Coulson, John Clayton and others). Further investigation was carried out in 1946 (Frank Gerald Simpson). In 1982-3, during consolidation work (Paul Bidwell and Neil Holbrook), removal of loose stones revealed the existence of the earlier east pier built into the later bridge abutment.
In 1990-1, excavations (Paul Bidwell and Bill Griffiths) on the west river bank uncovered the west approach road ramp and confirmed the existence of the west tower.
From 2010, the site has been under the care of English Heritage. The bridge remains are protected by Scheduled Ancient Monument status.
Research: ECPK
bibliography
"Hadrianís Wall Bridges" by P.T. Bidwell and N. Holbrook, English Heritage, Archaeological Report no 9, Historic Buildings & Monuments Commission for England, 1989
http://roman-britain.co.uk
https://historicengland.org.uk
www.english-heritage.org.uk
www.ice.org
www.transportheritage.com
reference sources   CEH NorthRRB
Location

Roman Bridges, Chollerford