The Bridges of Medieval England: Transport and Society 400-1800

David Harrison
Oxford University Press 2004

Part 1 of The Bridges of Medieval England is an overview of bridges, analyzing their numbers, where they are located and the time their structures were built or rebuilt. Harrison gives a critical analysis of some routes and waterways where there are traces of bridges.
During the Dark Ages, there was a return to fords; new bridges were now constructed on their sites instead of areas that had the Roman bridges.
We may have a clearer view of the routes of the late Anglo-Saxon England better than roman routes from a guide of the 18th or even the early part of the 20th century as painted.

Two centuries after Norman Conquest, there was a remarkable boost in transportation which brought bridges to the frontline of interests in the new road system.
Certainly, many bridges had been in existence at about 1350, more also, enough proves abounds to support claims that some of these bridges were established even before the 13rd century.
In all these claims, the exact number of new bridges constructed could not be ascertained.
It is most likely that some of the bridges found in the 12th and 13th centuries were constructed around the late 11th century, but the exact number of bridges was not known.
Harrison further produces some analysis, linking bridges to a more complex history

Towards the end of Saxon era there was a road (known then as the main road) that linked London through Nottingham and Doncaster to the North. According to Domes day Book, a portion of it was referred to as the road heading to York in Nottinghamshire. Going to York through Blyth and Doncaster. In 868, it is most likely that this part of the road had been used when the York based Danes captured Nottingham. Trent of the fort was here. This route became significant about 50 years later. This was as a result of the construction of a bridge effectively directing traffic from north to south to the bridge. It was unarguably a most vital Trent crossing in the 11th century. William I (William the conqueror) passed through the same route on his journeys to and fro his major campaigns in the north in 1068 and also in the spring and autumn of 1069.

The periods (about 500 years) after the year 1250 were relatively stable years.
The period specifically after 1760 in the 18th century witnessed another change in the situation. Numerous bridges were constructed at different places. Bridges were now used to replace ferries left on secondary roads. This led to a drastic change in bridge construction, which has lingered to the present day. However, except for some handful of river crossings, others remained as they had been back in the dark ages.

Part II swings to bridge structures.
Harrison kicks off with threats confronted by bridges, especially those imposed by great floods. The main construction materials were timber, timber and stone, or arched stone; this was traced by archaeology, illustrations, descriptions and surveying of existing bridges.
Harrison provides a history of bridge construction: Causeways and early timber deck type of bridges, vaulted stone bridges, coffer dams bridges etc. He also viewed regional differences and specifications.

Within the 11th and the 15th centuries, there were contrary dispositions in various parts of the country. Most of the bridges on lowland in the southern parts and midlands retained same designs and pattern of construction for centuries. However, great progress was made amongst the medieval masons: most paramount was the ability to carve out a base for even worse conditions; also important was erection of mega arches, and recognition of its value and also vital was construction of large divided arches.

There have been claims and counter claims that these old-age bridges were of substandard quality and had low maintenance. On his part, Harrison examines the claims differently:
By the later part of the middle ages, there were well structured constructions, which were followed by regular maintenance. Bridges were still useful even when they were in terrible states .in the event that a part of them falls, they were patched. If it happens to be a major damage, a transient one is erected as substitute, pending the renovation of the collapsed bridge.

Part III examines the funding of construction and maintenance.
Financial records were improved upon during the later era, but great resources were dedicated to fund bridges in earlier periods. Such financial resources were generated from donations, bridgework commitment and tolls; the county councils had practically taken over the responsibility for funding and maintenance of bridges by 1900, but
When motor vehicles were invented and introduced, landowners still repaired the bridges because it was more of a liability they had inherited a number of almost a thousand years old, or from funds they got from bridge estates set up for almost same period.

The Bridges of Medieval England has 16 pages with white and black images of bridges. It has basic similarity with English history and a blend of architectural terms. It also used some Latin quotations without offering a corresponding translation in English. However, it is easily accessible, giving a brilliant mix of architecture, history, human geography and engineering.