Chesters Bridge, Northumberland

One of the most fascinating structures to be found along Hadrian's Wall is the remnants of a bridge abutment that once took the wall across the river North Tyne, just east of Chesters Fort. Ironically, this is probably one of the least visited sites along the wall due to its concealed location, but by looking out for the signpost from the road, a pleasant ten minute walk across grazing land will bring you to the river bank. Few structures of its kind survive in Britain today, and these sparse remains are a lasting testament to the skill and ingenuity of the Roman engineers.

This is one of two Roman bridges to have been built on the site, the original Hadrianic Bridge being smaller and constructed at the same time as the great wall itself. Although both were built in stone, little survives of the original Chesters Bridge apart from a hexagonal pier base that was incorporated within the apron of the later bridge. It is known that there were at least eight of these piers some 13ft (4m) apart, and that they carried a structure some 10ft (3.1m) wide, coinciding with the width of the wall in this area. When complete the original bridge would have extended to a length of some 200ft (61m).

Around AD220 Chesters Bridge was re-built on a much more substantial scale, and it is the eastern abutment of this bridge that constitutes the bulk of the visible remains. Designed to carry a roadway, at the same time as forming part of the wall, this later bridge consisted of four arches supported on three massive piers and completed with a tower at each end. The foundations of the eastern tower are still discernable. Splaying out from the abutment was an apron projecting both north and south from the main line of the wall, the remains of which are clearly visible.

The distance between the piers measured some 34ft (10.5m) giving the entire structure an overall length of approxiamtely 189ft (57.5m). To one side of the site is an area containing many decorative stones that have been recovered over the years, and the bulk of these are known to have come from the superstructure of the later Chesters Bridge. A particularly interesting feature is a plain pillar with a moulded base lying on its side along the southern edge of the apron - this is believed to have been one of at least four that were incorporated within the Chesters Bridge parapet. Little additional work appears to have been carried out after the initial construction, with the exception of a water channel to the rear of the southern apron that extended beneath the tower. This may have been used as some form of flood defence, or to provide a water course for a nearby mill.

Chesters Roman Fort
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