01 December 2013

Durham Bridges: 2. Prebends Bridge

The centre of Durham is dominated by a large loop in the River Wear, which passes around the peninsula on which sit both Durham Castle and Durham Cathedral. While this may have been a highly defensible site when the Castle was built in the 11th Century, it must have proven an increasing constraint on travel as the centuries wore on.

Prebends Bridge was one of three mediaeval bridges to be built which spanned the river. Originally, it was the site of a ferry. In 1574, this was replaced by a timber bridge built on stone piers, although that was swept away in the floods of 1771. The present bridge was completed in 1778, funded by the Cathedral and designed by George Nicholson.

The bridge has three semicircular stone arches. The parapet is generally solid, but opened with balustrades near the crown of each arch. There are triangular cutwaters, with a semi-hexagonal geometry above the base. The face of the arch ring is "dentilated", and you can see waterspouts on the elevations which assist with drainage.

These are an unusual feature. Poor drainage is a common feature in old masonry bridges, but the details of this bridge seem better thought out than most. Viewed from above, you can see a succession of scalloped humps in the road, assisting water in draining towards the waterspouts. I can't remember seeing this feature anywhere else.

Despite this, the bridge has suffered from masonry deterioration, and it was closed to traffic entirely in 2011.

It's not the prettiest of Durham's bridges. The regular procession of arches seems stilted, and I think it would have looked better if the open balustrading was continued over more of its length. I imagine it looks much more attractive on a calm and sunny day, when it reflects better in the water.

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