Monnow Bridge

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Monnow Bridge
Pont Trefynwy
Monnow Bridge - - 1240265.jpg
Coordinates 51°48′32″N 2°43′12″W / 51.8090°N 2.7200°W / 51.8090; -2.7200Coordinates: 51°48′32″N 2°43′12″W / 51.8090°N 2.7200°W / 51.8090; -2.7200
Crosses River Monnow
Locale Monmouth, Wales
Heritage status Grade I listed
Material Old Red Sandstone
Total length 34.80m
Width 7.30m
Piers in water 2
Opened Late 13th century
Daily traffic Pedestrians

Monnow Bridge in Monmouth, Wales crosses the River Monnow (Welsh: Afon Mynwy) some 500m above its confluence with the River Wye. It is the only remaining fortified river bridge in Great Britain with its gate tower standing on the bridge. Its historical and architectural importance is reflected in its status as a Scheduled Monument and a Grade I listed building.

Built, according to tradition, in 1272, it replaced a 12th-century Norman timber bridge. From its construction, it played a significant, if ineffectual, role in the defences of Monmouth,in the English Civil War and the Chartist uprising. In the nineteenth century, the bridge continued its historic function was as a toll gate.

Built of Old Red Sandstone, the bridge was the subject of significant reconstruction, and destruction, in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the 21st century, the construction of a new road bridge to the south enabled the pedestrianisation of the bridge.


13th - 14th-centuries[edit]

The existing bridge was completed in the late 13th century, traditionally in 1272 though this date has no supporting documentary evidence.[1] The Monmouth antiquarian Charles Heath, writing in his Historical and descriptive accounts of the ancient and present state of the town of Monmouth published in 1804, recorded that its "foundation is so ancient that neither history or tradition afford any light respecting the date of its erection."[2] It replaced an earlier wooden structure.[3] Work on flood defences in 1988 revealed remains of a wooden bridge directly under the existing one, and dendrochronological analysis indicated that its timber came from trees felled between 1123 and 1169.[4] Some sources suggest that the earlier wooden bridge and the nearby Church of St Thomas the Martyr were damaged by fire in the Battle of Monmouth, between supporters of Henry III and the forces of Richard Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, in 1233.[5]

The stone bridge is constructed of Old Red Sandstone, with three arches on hexagonal piers forming pointed cutwaters. The gatehouse, called Monnow Gate, which gives Monnow Bridge its now unique appearance, was added at the end of the 13th or start of the 14th century, a few years after the bridge itself was built.[6] In 1297 Edward I provided a murage grant in favour of Monmouth, in response to a request from his nephew Henry of Lancaster. The grant allowed the townspeople to build the town walls and gates for defence and protection and the construction of the gate-tower formed part of these defensive improvements.[1] By 1315, this work was still incomplete or was in need of repair, since the original authority was renewed on 1 June 1315. At that time, the bridge would have been much narrower than now, with all traffic passing beneath a portcullis – the grooves for the lowering of which are still visible – and through a single arch. The prominent arched machicolations were added at an unknown date in the mediaeval period, possibly in the late 14th century.[7]

According to local historian Keith Kissack, the gate house was ineffective in defensive terms, as the Monnow could easily be crossed on foot just upstream.[8] However, as well as providing some defence for the Anglo-Norman population of the town against attacks by the Welsh of the surrounding areas, it served as a barrier to collect tolls from those attending markets. Tolls were authorised in the Patent Rolls of 1297 and 1315, and in subsequent town charters.[9]

15th - 19th centuries[edit]

Neither Monmouth town nor its castle were attacked in the rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr, although nearby Abergavenny and Grosmont were burned down in the uprising, and the town suffered from the devastation in surrounding areas. In the 16th century, the antiquarian John Leland described the bridge in one of his itineraries; "From Monk's Gate the wall extends Westwards to the river Monnow. In the wall are four gates: Monk's Gate, East Gate and Wye Gate ... and Monnow Gate which is above the bridge crossing the river Monnow."[10] A visual depiction of the bridge and gate is included in John Speed's work, The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain, published in 1611. His map of Monmouthshire includes an inset map of the town, and shows the Monnow Bridge and Gate, as well as a similar gatehouse on the Wye Bridge.[11] In the Civil War, the town changed hands several times, and in 1645 the bridge was seized by Royalist soldiers from Raglan, in a failed attempt to retake the town from the Parliamentarian forces under Colonel Kyrle.[12] By 1705 the gate needed maintenance. The original battlements were replaced with solid walls, and the building was refitted to form a two-storey dwelling house, with timber and lath extensions projecting over the river. The house was then leased to a resident gatekeeper, responsible for repairing and maintaining the building. Part of it remained in use as a lock-up, and both the bridge and the gatehouse were comprehensively repaired between 1771–75. In 1804 Charles Heath recorded, "the interior has nothing worthy attention and the only purpose to which it is employed is an occasional guardhouse, or powder room, for the military, when stationed at Monmouth."[13] The gatehouse had by this point been abandoned as a dwelling.[14]

The lean-to extensions were in turn demolished in 1815, and in 1819 a pedestrian passageway was driven through the building on the upstream side,[1] to help relieve the flows of traffic across the bridge. Before 1830, the gatehouse was owned by Monmouth Corporation, but was then formally transferred to the Duke of Beaufort as part of a property exchange.[15] The gatehouse roof was reconstructed in 1832, with deeper eaves and four decorative corbels on each side. Further fortification took place in 1839.[16] A second passageway was added on the downstream side of the arch in 1845.[1] Since then, the structure has remained essentially unchanged, through regular maintenance and repair.[17]

Until the mid 19th century, the gatehouse was the scene of annual battles, or "muntlings", between rival gangs from "Up-Town" – the main town of Monmouth – and Overmonnow or "Cappers' Town", so called because it was the traditional home of those who made Monmouth caps. These took place on 1 and 29 May, the youths arming themselves with besoms or "muntles" reinforced with stones. The altercations were banned in 1858.[18][19]

20th - 21st centuries[edit]

From 1889 to 1902 an extensive programme of conservation was carried out on the bridge, this began with the prevention of the potential collapse of the tower by inserting metal rods to tie the two faces of the tower together, the four round plates of the at the ends of these two rods can still be seen. In 1892, work began on the arches and piers of the bridge as it was discovered that riverbed erosion had seriously undermined the piers. This period of conservation was ended with maintenance being carried out on the gate tower exterior from the mid-1890s to 1897. Roof guttering and downpipes were added, badly eroded stone was replaced with squared blocks of old red sandstone and the cruciform arrow slit on the front, left, of the tower was restored to make it symmetrical. In April 1893, the bridge's first street lamp had been erected by the town council. In the late 1920s the top portion was replaced with twin electric lamps. In the 1960s the lamp was removed completely and since 1991 the bridge has been floodlit.[20]

In 1900, ownership of the gatehouse was transferred to the County Council when Henry Somerset, 9th Duke of Beaufort presented it to the Council. The gift is recorded on a brass plaque attached to the gatehouse.[21]

The first history of the bridge and gatehouse, Monnow Bridge Tower, was written by local antiquarian Mary Ellen Bagnall-Oakeley and published in 1903.[22] Mrs Bagnall-Oakeley had previously referenced the bridge in her wider study, The Fortifications of Monmouth, published in 1896.

In the 20th century the growth of traffic using the road, with resulting accidents and congestion on what was a humpback bridge with poor visibility and narrow approach roads, led to many proposals to by-pass the bridge. The structure was first formally recognised as an Ancient Monument in 1923, and proposals for a new road bridge began to be made about the same time.[23] The new A40, built in 1965/66 relieved the town of much through traffic, and a town centre plan prepared by the District Council in 1981 proposed a new bridge. A serious accident on 18 May 1982, when a double-decker bus attempted to cross into Monmouth, closed the bridge for a month while major repairs were performed.[24]

A feasibility study was made in 1999 by engineers Ove Arup and Partners for a bridge further along from the Monnow bridge, but the scheme came to nothing.[25] However, a new road bridge over the Monnow, for local traffic within the town, was eventually built and opened on 15 March 2004, allowing the old bridge to become pedestrianised. The project also meant the demolition of the old cattle market. To commemorate the Millennium, a ceramic mosaic was installed by Monmouth Town Council. The circular plinth is made of 40 tiles that illustrate over 2,000 years of local history.[26]


The bridge is 34.80 metres (114.2 ft) in length and 7.30 metres (24.0 ft) wide.[27] The bridge is one of only two surviving fortified bridges in the United Kingdom, the other, rather smaller, example being at Warkworth, Northumberland. There, the gate house stands on land at one end of the bridge, rather than on the bridge itself.[28] The bridge is a Scheduled Monument[29] and a Grade I listed building.[30]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Newman 2000, p. 402.
  2. ^ "Historical and Descriptive Accounts of the Ancient and Present State of the ... - Charles Heath - Google Books". Retrieved 2017-01-05. 
  3. ^ Good Stuff (1974-08-15). "Monnow Bridge and Gateway - Monmouth - Monmouthshire - Wales". British Listed Buildings. Retrieved 2016-12-24. 
  4. ^ Rowlands 1994, p. 81.
  5. ^ Rowlands 1994, p. 2.
  6. ^ Rowlands 1994, p. 3.
  7. ^ Rowlands 1994, p. 9.
  8. ^ "Monnow Bridge". The Monmouth Website. Retrieved 1 April 2012. 
  9. ^ Rowlands 1994, p. 10.
  10. ^ Kissack 1975, p. 13.
  11. ^ Kissack 1975, p. 24.
  12. ^ Kissack 1975, p. 41.
  13. ^ "Historical and Descriptive Accounts of the Ancient and Present State of the ... - Charles Heath - Google Books". Retrieved 2017-01-05. 
  14. ^ Rowlands 1994, p. 30.
  15. ^ Kissack 1975, p. 213.
  16. ^ "Monnow Bridge And Gate; Western Gate, Monmouth". Coflein. 2011-07-29. Retrieved 2016-12-24. 
  17. ^ Monmouth Civic Society (n.d.). Guide to the Monmouth Heritage Blue Plaque Trail. p. 4. 
  18. ^ Palmer, Roy (1998). The Folklore of (Old) Monmouthshire. Logaston Press. p. 262. ISBN 1-873827-40-7. 
  19. ^ Greene, William Henry. Jack o' Kent and the Devil: stories of a Welsh border hero. p. 5. Retrieved 3 April 2012. 
  20. ^ Rowlands 1994, p. 52.
  21. ^ Rowlands 1994, p. 46.
  22. ^ Rowlands 1994, p. 54.
  23. ^ Rowlands 1994, p. 65.
  24. ^ Rowlands 1994, pp. 60-1.
  25. ^ Wayne Forster and Ove Arup and Partners – New Bridge at Monmouth, Report to Monmouthshire County Council on feasibility and urban impact of new bridge in Monmouth with Ove Arup and Partners, University of Wales Cardiff (1999)
  26. ^ "Monmouth Town Guide" (PDF). Monmouth Town Council. December 2011. p. 8. Retrieved 3 April 2012. 
  27. ^ Nicolas Janberg, Chief Editor. "Monnow Bridge (Monmouth, 1272)". Structurae. Retrieved 2016-12-24. 
  28. ^ Steane, John (1985), The Archaeology of Medieval England and Wales, Routledge, Abingdon, ISBN 978-1-138-79971-4 (p. 112)
  29. ^ Good Stuff IT Services. "Monnow Bridge | Monmouth | Monmouthshire | Scheduled and Ancient Monuments". Retrieved 2016-12-23. 
  30. ^ Good Stuff (1974-08-15). "Monnow Bridge and Gateway - Monmouth - Monmouthshire - Wales". British Listed Buildings. Retrieved 2016-12-23. 


Further reading[edit]

  • Jervoise, Edwyn (1936). "The Ancient Bridges of Wales and Western England". IV. Westminster: The Architectural Press for the SPAB: 123–124. 

External links[edit]