Caerleon Net
Archaeologists Investigate
Timbers From Caerleon's
Old Wooden Bridge

A team of Archaeologists from GGAT (Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust) spent several days uncovering and recording part of the footings of Caerleon's old wooden bridge in late September, 2004.

During low tides, while heavy machinery continued the work to reinforce the river bank, the archaeologists examined a large timber that once held the Ultra Pontem end of Caerleon's ancient wooden bridge in place. As can be seen in the photo above, the timber lay on a bed of small stones and had three large mortise holes cut in it, these were to secure the upright timbers which supported the bridge.

We have a very good idea of what the bridge looked like and how it was constructed from contemporary drawings. William Coxe's Historical Tour In Monmouthshire, published in 1801, was superbly illustrated with views by Richard Colt Hoare. These illustrations included pictures of Caerleon Bridge at high tide and Chepstow Bridge at low tide. Both bridges used a similar method of construction, namely supporting the deck of the bridge on high wooden piers. (Actually half of Chepstow bridge was supported in this way, the western end of the bridge was supported by stone piers.) Hoare's illustration of one of the wooden piers can be seen to the right. The section coloured red is the timber revealed in these excavations.

A close examination of Hoare's illustration of Caerleon Bridge suggests that, like Chepstow Bridge, there were five 'upright' timbers in the piers - three vertical and two sloping to brace the structure. Maybe the three holes in the timber found were for the vertical sections of the pier.

GGAT has sent off samples of the bridge footings for dendrochronological dating. It is thought that the timber may be medieval and could have held Caerleon's Bridge in place for hundreds of years. We will bring you news of the results of these tests as soon as GGAT release them.

The archaeologists also found evidence of the repair work which would have been so important in keeping the bridge serviceable.

Newport's wooden bridge was replaced by a stone bridge in 1801. Caerleon had to wait about another ten years for its stone bridge. Built a short distance downriver of its older counterpart, this is of course the same bridge that nowadays carries double decker buses, lorries and the huge amount of traffic unimaginable in the days when it was constructed. Interestingly, the foundation stone on Caerleon Bridge is thought to have somehow come from Newport's first stone bridge which was replaced by a wider bridge in the 1920s.


You can read the full text from William Coxe's Historical Tour In Monmouthshire by following this link. This includes a description of the bridge and the highly improbable story of a Mrs Williams being swept down the river astride a bridge timber on the night of 29th of October 1772!

Illustrations of Caerleon's wooden bridge

Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust website  

Download GGAT report of Caerleon Bridge 'Dig' PDF 2.2 MB

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