Designed & maintained by Carol Gingell
© C.Gingell 2015 -
© Broadland Memories 2015
This is the first of a series of articles on the bridges, past and present, of the Norfolk Broads which hopes to provide a little bit of the history surrounding them, along with photographs old and new where possible. Alongside the articles there will also be an interactive map for each river which will mark the position of the bridges and give brief historical notes about each.
The history of bridges crossing the River Wensum in Norwich dates back to Anglo Saxon times when Norwich was one of the largest towns in England. In 1194 Norwich was granted the status of a city and continued to grow during the medieval period when it held huge importance as a centre for commerce and religion. Between 1297 and 1334 the city walls were constructed, along with 12 gatehouses which were heavily fortified and collected tolls from those wishing to enter. By 1300 there were five bridges crossing the Wensum – Bishops Bridge, Whitefriars, Fye, St. George’s and St. Miles Coslany. It is said that some 30,000 people were living within the city walls and, by the 14th century, Norwich was the chief manufacturer of worsted cloth, an industry which only began to decline during the early 1800’s. Those original bridges have seen many changes over the years and, in the 19th century, more river crossings were built as Norwich continued to expand.
Although navigation on the River Wensum is prohibited to hire craft beyond Bishops Bridge, just beyond the Yacht Station in Norwich, the river is still navigable through the city right up to New Mills. For those who own their own boats, and are able to pass underneath Bishops Bridge, then the trip is well worth it. Several of the bridges, and buildings along the route, bear plaques showing the level of the flood water which deluged the area during the floods of August 1912. Although there are further bridges beyond New Mills, I have decided to concentrate on those which fall within the navigable area of the Norfolk Broads and the bridges run in order, working their way downstream. All clearance heights given for the bridges are based on average high water times.
The first bridge here was built of timber at the end of the 12th century and is believed to have actually been two bridges between a central island. City records from the 13th century make mention of the parish of St. Lawrence “which lies between the two bridges of Coslayne”.
In 1521 this was rebuilt in stone. The bridge was accessed via St. Martins Gate which was part of the city’s medieval defensive walls and was on the road which connected Norwich to Aylsham. In the 13th century the gate was known as Porte de Coslayn, but by the 15th century was called Coslany Gates. Once through the gate and into the city, the road followed the River Wensum for a short way before crossing over St. Miles Bridge.
The current cast iron pedestrian bridge was constructed in 1804, designed by James Frost, and is the oldest metal bridge in Norwich – possibly even the oldest known in East Anglia. Standing next to the bridge is the old Bullards “Anchor” brewery. Bullards was founded in 1837 and continued trading from this site until 1963 when Watneys took over. Brewing finally ceased at St. Miles in 1968 and the building has been converted into flats in more recent years.
St. Miles Coslany Bridge -
The first bridge here opened in 1822, cost approximately £9,000 and was designed by Henry Lock. It was made of cast iron and was initially operated as a toll bridge until it was bought by the City Corporation in 1855 when the toll of 1/2d was scrapped.
This area was once the home of the Duke of Norfolk’s Palace, which stood on the site of the nearby multi-
Unable to carry the increase in heavy road traffic, a weight limit of 12 tons was placed on the old bridge in the 1930s. In 1972, after a further reduction in weight limit of 3 tons had been placed on it, the bridge was removed when the road was widened and the concrete span you see today was installed. It was originally proposed that the old bridge be sold off for scrap, but the Norwich Society stepped in and purchased the bridge which was then carefully stored away. Twenty years later, the bridge finally found a new home and can now be seen at the entrance of the Castle Mall shopping centre’s car park in Market Avenue.
The current bridge was built c1340 by Richard Spynk and is the only surviving medieval bridge in the city. It was also the first bridge in Norwich to be built of stone and formed part of the city’s defensive walls, with three fortified arches and a large gatehouse at the western end which controlled entrance to the city across the river.
The most notable event in the history of Bishops Bridge occurred in the 16th century. Robert Kett was a landowner from Wymondham and, in 1549, he led an army of 20,000 people to Norwich in protest against the enclosure of common land and the poverty of the peasantry. Initially, the rebels approached the city from the west but, on finding the gates heavily guarded, he then launched an attack from Mousehold Heath. Cannon fire from the rebels damaged the gatehouse at the bridge and also hit the nearby Cow Tower.
Kett’s men then stormed the bridge, swimming across the river and managed to take control of the city. A few days later more Royalist troops arrived and engaged in battle with the rebels who fled to the east and were finally massacred. Kett and his brother were caught and taken to London for trial where they were found guilty of treason. The pair were then brought back to Norfolk for execution and Robert Kett was hung from the keep at Norwich Castle
The Blackfriars were an order of Dominican monks who came to the city in 1226 and settled in the parish of Colgate. The name came from the colour of the robes that they wore. At the beginning of the 14th century they took over St. Andrews Hall from a smaller order of Friars known as the Sack Friars. The priory buildings of St. Andrews Hall and Blackfriars hall still remain in the city today and the oldest part of the building are believed to be found in what is now the Crypt Coffee Bar.
The first bridge was built here at the beginning of the 15th century and was originally known as New Bridge. The timber bridge was rebuilt towards the end of the 15th century and then rebuilt again in 1586 as a three arched, stone bridge. The current bridge was built in 1783 by Sir John Soane, the architect of the Bank of England, at a cost of nearly £1,300, and has a single arch made of Portland Stone, with cast iron railings. Two niches can be seen either side of the bridge, on the downstream side, which were originally intended to hold statues, although these were never added.
Blackfriars Bridge -
his district of Norwich is thought to be the oldest part of the city. Vikings settled in the area in around 866AD and much archaeological evidence has been found of late Saxon and medieval industry in the vicinity of the bridge. Finds include a number of items from the 8th and 9th century including two brooches and some early, imported French pottery. Evidence has also been found of late Saxon tanning, hornworking and metalworking, a wicker fence believed to date from the 10th century and an 11th century well and cess pit.
There are records of a bridge being built on this site in 1153 but this site is thought to be the oldest known bridge crossing point on the River Wensum. In the early part of the 11th century, the nearby Magdalen Street was known as Fyebriggate which means “road leading to Fye Bridge” but, in 1986 when a new drainage was being installed, evidence of a much earlier structure was found in a series of wooden piles leading from Elm Hill, across the Wensum to Fishergate which suggested a possible earlier crossing.. The 12th century bridge would have been a timber structure but, in the early 15th century was replaced by one built of stone. During the reign of Henry V, the bridge fell into disrepair and was finally destroyed by flooding in 1570.
A new, two arched stone bridge was built to replace it. There were many shops around this area in medieval times and it was also a great fish market, the street being lined with fish stalls and butchers stalls. The bridge was the subject of several repairs and rebuilds over the years and, in 1829, it was replaced by a single span, cast iron structure. (see picture right)
The previous Fye Bridge c1896 by J.S. Hobrough -
The current bridge was opened in 1933 and has two arches, each spanning 35 feet, with a width of 50 feet between parapets. More archaeological finds during the building included two 17th century pottery vessels and a post medieval iron axehead. More recent metal detecting finds are two 17th century lead cloth seals, a reminder that Norwich was once the centre of a huge cloth making industry.
A plaque on the current Fye Bridge also tells us that this was believed to have been the site of a medieval ducking stool used to punish “strumpets and common scolds”. 350 years ago it was also used as a method to test women who were suspected of being witches, the theory being that if the poor unfortunate girl survived the ducking then she must be a witch who was then burned and, if the girl drowned, then she was innocent of all charges!
Fye Bridge -
Recorded evidence dates the first bridge to cross the Wensum at this point to around 1106 and it was originally known as St. Martins Bridge. The first wooden structure was washed away in a flood in the late 13th century and was replaced by another, once again constructed largely from timber.
In 1549, when Robert Kett led his army of men in rebellion against Norwich to protest against land enclosures and the poverty amongst the peasantry, St. Martins Bridge was destroyed on the orders of the Earl of Warwick in an effort to prevent the rebels from entering the city. The bridge was rebuilt of stone in 1591 with a large, single arch decorated with battlements and two turrets. Over the years the turrets and battlements were replaced by the cast iron railings which can be seen in the photograph of the bridge on the right.
This area of the city was prone to flooding and, in the early 20th century, it was decided that the river should be widened at this point and the old bridge was taken down. Once again, the Norwich Society stepped in to try to save the bridge and the council agreed to store the stones at their depot until a suitable site to rebuild it on could be found. . Unfortunately, the carefully numbered stones later disappeared and were reputedly used as part of the foundations for the new Aylsham Road!
The previous Whitefriars Bridge c1890 by Mason & Co. -
The current Whitefriars Bridge was opened in 1925 and was built by the city engineer, A.E. Collins. The Whitefriars were an order of Carmelite monks who founded their monastery next to the bridge in the 13th century. The site is now occupied by the old St. James’ works, formerly a Victorian yarn mill built in 1839 by Richard Parkinson, and now better known as being the offices for Jarrold’s printworks. The only remains of the original monastery is the Northern gate which dates from the 15th century. Human remains dating from the medieval period have been found on the site during excavations.
More recent excavations around Whitefriars Bridge have uncovered evidence of the early shoemaking industry in the city, with fragments of soles, uppers and leather offcuts dating from the 10th and 11th century being found. There are also rumours that a secret tunnel runs from the bridge to the nearby White Lion pub.
Whitefriars Bridge -
The newest bridge to span the River Wensum in Norwich. Peter’s Bridge opened in January 2012 and crosses the river between the St. James Place business centre on Barrack Street and St.Helen’s Wharf beside the Adam and Eve public house. Named after the former Jarrolds chairman Peter Jarrold, who conceived the idea for a river crossing here over 20 years ago, the new cycle and foot bridge has recently been shortlisted for the 2012 Institute of Civil Engineers award. Designed by Ramboll UK, the bridge was built of weathering steel with a hardwood deck at a cost of around £1.6m and forms the shape of the letter “J”. Although it spans a 30 meter section of the river, the bridge is actually around 80 meters in length. The new bridge is part of ongoing development in this area, future plans include further offices and a 150 bed hotel.
Peter’s Bridge photographed by Jaap Oepkes 2012 -
Records exist of a licence being granted to the prior to build a bridge at this point of the city in 1275, once again this would probably have been a timber structure. It has also been suggested that there may have been a Roman road between Bawburgh and Bishops Bridge, part of which follows what is now the Dereham Road.
Drawing showing the gatehouse on Bishops Bridge -
Bishops Bridge also played another, more gruesome part in the history of the city during the 15th and 16th centuries. The nearby Bridge House pub bears a plaque which tells us that it was once the site of Lollards Pit, an area where religious heretics were sent to be executed. The Lollards were a group who called for the reform of the Catholic Church who they believed to be extremely corrupt. Those found guilty of heresy against the church were marched through the city and across Bishops Bridge to the pit where they were then burned at the stake. Another plaque on the opposite side of the road lists the names of some of those who met with this fate. Much later the site was used as the city rubbish dump and wherries would regularly unload cargoes of rubbish at the staithe near the bridge.
Bishops Bridge -
Over the years the city walls began to fall into disrepair as maintenance costs proved to be too high. It was also felt that since there was now no threat of invasion, that their removal would make passage in and out of the city much easier. In 1790 it was discovered that the bridge was developing large cracks in the arches, caused by the weight of the gatehouse above and, between 1791 and 1808 the gates and city walls were demolished. In the early 20th century the city authorities embarked on a programme of modernisation and, in 1923, Bishops Bridge was earmarked for replacement with a wider bridge. The Norwich Society was formed at this time and consisted of a group of architects, archaeologists and concerned local citizens who wanted to preserve the city’s heritage. Their campaign was successful and they managed to protect Bishops Bridge by having it listed by the National Ministry of Works.
Just downstream of Bishops Bridge was the ferry crossing point at the old Cathedral Watergate. Pull’s Ferry was named after one of its longest serving ferryman, John Pull , who ran the ferry and adjoining inn from 1796 until his death in 1841. The arched Watergate dates back to the 15th century and was originally the entrance to a canal which led up to the cathedral The canal was dug out to enable building materials for the construction of the cathedral to be unloaded on site. Pull’s Ferry is actually the name of the adjoining house which was built in 1647 but has an 18th century extension. The ferry operated until 1946 by which time the buildings and Watergate had fallen into disrepair. In the following year, a bequest from Camilla Dye along with money raised by the local Girl Guides saved the building and architect Cecil Upcher carried out the restoration of both the house and the Watergate.
Pulls Ferry c1890s
This site is another one of the later river crossings in Norwich. The first bridge was opened in 1811, was built of timber and Portland stone with cast iron railings and was another toll bridge. The bridge gave little room for boats to pass underneath and, when the first Thorpe rail station was opened in 1844, a new cast iron bridge designed by C. Atkinson was also installed. The foundry, from which the bridge derives its name, stood just downstream of where the Nelson Hotel now stands. Its tall chimney can be seen on the early photograph of the bridge.
Over the next few decades the increase in industrial and residential development meant that the bridge became too narrow to cope with the demands being placed upon it. When the new Thorpe Station was built in 1886, the bridge was also replaced at a cost of £12,000, opening in January 1888. The bridge was apparently assembled in the station yard and then rolled across the road onto the existing stone abutments. The Great Eastern Hotel stood beside the bridge for many years until, in 1963, it was demolished and the Nelson Hotel was erected in its place.
The second Foundry Bridge pictured c1880 by Stacy -
Foundry Bridge -
Given the temporary name of Old Barge Yard Bridge whilst under construction, the Lady Julian Bridge opened in August 2009 and cost around £2.5 million to build. The costs were mainly funded by contributions from Riverside developers with additional monies from the East Of England Development Agency and the Greater Norwich Development Partnership.
This pedestrian/cycle swing bridge connects the riverside area of the city to King Street and was named after a competition was launched for the public to enter suitable suggestions. The lady Julian Bridge is named after the medieval mystic “Mother Julian” of Norwich who was born in 1342 and lived in a cell attached to St. Julian’s Church in King Street. She wrote “Revelations Of Divine Love” which documented the visions she experienced, and it is believed to have been the first book written in the UK by a woman.
Lady Julian Bridge -
The Novi Sad Friendship Bridge also links King Street to the riverside area of Norwich. The Serbian (former Yugoslavian) town of Novi Sad is one of Norwich’s twin towns and a link between the two was set up over 40 years ago after visits between city officials. The bridge was opened for pedestrians and cyclists in November 2001 and is an asymmetric, cable stayed swing bridge which can open by rotating on its central pier should any large ships enter the city. The bridge cost around £800,000 to build.
Novi Sad Bridge -
The first Carrow Bridge was built as a toll bridge in 1810 and stood 500 feet downstream from where the current one now lies, connecting Carrow Hill to Carrow Road. It was a fixed bridge with a cast iron arch and stood in an area that was considerably more rural than it is today. In 1833 the bridge was replaced by a double bascule lifting bridge as larger seagoing vessels began to make their way up to the city. As both road and river traffic increased during the latter half of the 19th century, and early part of the 20th century, it was decided that another new bridge would be needed. Colmans mustard factory had now expanded it’s factory either side of the bridge and, under pressure from them, the new bridge was constructed further upstream, the road being diverted to take traffic across it.
The second Carrow Bridge pictured c1890 by Stacy -
The current bridge was designed by A.E. Collins who was the city engineer and was built by J.Butler & Co. of Leeds. The new single-
Whilst dredging the river during construction in 1922 a Bronze Age copper alloy spearhead was found. Further remnants of the city’s medieval defences can be seen on the riverbanks on either side, just downstream of the bridge. The ruins of the two boom towers remain which were once used to guard the city from attack via the river, heavy chains being suspended between them.
The current Carrow Bridge pictured c1925
Carrow Bridge -
Trowse Station was the original terminus of the Ipswich to Norwich railway line before a rail bridge was constructed across the Wensum to extend the line to Thorpe station. For many years it was the station at which livestock were unloaded before being herded up to the cattle market in front of Norwich castle. In 1892 the Great eastern Railway reported that 95,000 beasts, 137,000 sheep and 14,000 pigs were received there. The new Thorpe Station was built in the city in 1844 and the first Trowse rail bridge was opened in 1845 and was the first swing bridge in the world. Originally the line was part of the Norwich and Brandon Railway, and then it became part of the combined Norfolk Railway Company before finally becoming part of the Great Eastern Railway Company.
The bridge was rebuilt c1900 and remained in use until 1987 when the current bridge was installed. Where the original had been the first swing bridge in the world, the new bridge was the first overhead electric swing bridge in the UK.
Trowse Swing Bridge pictured in the early 1900s by A.A. King -
In 2003, Network Rail caused uproar amongst river users when they welded the rails shut, thus preventing the bridge from being able to open to allow masted boats to reach the city. Network rail claimed that the problem was caused by a delay in receiving the custom made scarf rail joints which were needed for repairs and the bridge was finally re-
Trowse Swing Bridge -
Duke Street Bridge -
Bridges of the Norfolk Broads
The River Wensum
The original Duke Street Bridge photographed in the 1950s by courtesy of Joe Mason