Are you a ‘pontist’? AKA a historic bridge enthusiast who enjoys either lobbying for preservation and/or who enjoys visiting and photographing historic bridges.
If you are, this is the blog for you! Author and bridge expert Marshall Hall examines the beautiful Thornborough Bridge alongside previously unpublished images found in his book, The Historic Bridges of Buckinghamshire. Scroll down and enjoy!
Historically rivers have been a hub for human settlement and have long been a key part of local livelihoods, history, and culture, as well as playing a role today in providing services and leisure to people who live around them. All four of the earliest human civilisations were formed on great rivers: the Nile, Euphrates, Indus, and the Yellow rivers. Cities have traditionally sprung up at bridgeheads or where a river could be forded at any time of the year. A local example in Buckinghamshire is Thornborough Bridge.
Thornborough was an important place in Roman times, marking the crossroads of five major roads. This east to west river crossing is at least 1,200 years old and dates back to Roman times. This position on Padbury Brook was originally a Roman ford, made from limestone blocks held in place with wooden stakes. These were found during excavations in the 1970s.
There are two large burial mounds to the north of the bridge that date to around 200 AD, and when excavated in 1839 by the Duke of Buckingham, produced a wealth of treasures; bronze and gold ornaments, pottery and glass. A glass urn containing human remains also survived, indicating that the mounds resulted from a lavish funeral ceremony.
The bridge itself dates to 1400 AD and is the sole surviving medieval bridge in Buckinghamshire and the oldest bridge in the county. It is made of stone with six stone arches, the centre two accommodating the main flow of the river. These centre arches are more ornate with ribbed vaults and carved voussoirs. Both arches are divided into three bays over the channels by two hollow-chamfered ribs and have hoodmoulds to the south side. The four remaining arches, two on each side, are less ornate and intended for Spring flooding overflows. There are three cutwaters on the south side central piers which are carried up through the parapet as passing pedestrian places. The north side has one square passing place with an inscription tablet and shields carved onto the pier below.
The bridge straddles the parish boundaries of Thornborough and Buckingham. The parish boundary follows the line of Padbury Brook or The Twins, a tributary of the River Great Ouse. The parish division is marked by a boundary stone in the middle of the bridge. The stone bridge is around 30 metres (98 ft) long and 4 metres (13 ft) wide.
There is evidence of multiple repairs carried out over the centuries, extensively in 1661 with other late 19th and 20th century repairs. There are fragments of an inscription on the north side of the bridge mentioning the 1661 repairs:
The parapets show 20th century damage by modern vehicles struggling with such a narrow road width.
Bridge Name: Thornborough Bridge (Disused)
Location: Thornborough Bridge is located on the original Bletchley to Buckingham road, now bypassed by a modern bridge in 1974 for the A421. The bridge is accessible to walkers from an adjacent lay-by. Use postcode MK18 7DX for your satnav.
Crosses: Padbury Brook
National Grid Reference: SP 72925 33199
Span: 30 metres
Bridge Type: Arch
Materials: Coursed Rubble and Dressed Stone
Opened: Medieval (around 1400)
Managed by: Transport for Buckinghamshire
Historic England Designation: Scheduled Monument and Grade I Listed
We have lost many of our older bridges to the ravages of time and the modern practice of culvertisation and urban development. A few of our older bridges, like Thornborough, remain though, and their beauty and pivotal role in our history is starting to be recognised.
“If looking at a bridge is more exciting than crossing that bridge, then you can be sure that it is a very beautiful bridge!” Mehmet Muratildan
Historic Bridges of Buckinghamshire
By Marshall Hall
Bridges have always played an important role in the socio-economic history of human development and Buckinghamshire has hundreds of them. Through photographs, stories and historical records, this book looks at the historic bridges that make up the chronology of Buckinghamshire. Varied in architectural structure and practical use, this beautifully illustrated volume reveals bridges to be a cornerstone of Buckinghamshire history and culture.
Marshall Hall is a retired UK university professor of Socio-anthropology who has held a lifelong interest in travel, exploration, linguistics, architecture, and adventure. He originally moved from the University of Cincinnati to England to teach for the American College in London and 33 years later still calls the UK home. Today Marshall writes, teaches the occasional university class as a guest lecturer, does public speaking, and tends to his allotment.
9781911188926 | Hardback | Windgather Press | July 2021 | £35.00
Available to order through Oxbow Books