Medieval timber bridge unearthed in gravel pit: Discovery of 11th-century remains shed light on development of English carpentry. David Keys reports

BRITAIN'S oldest large-scale example of sophisticated medieval wooden architecture has been discovered - buried 12ft deep in a gravel pit in Leicestershire.

Christopher Salisbury, an amateur archaeologist from Plumtree in Nottinghamshire, spotted huge timbers in the quarry, near Castle Donington, and called in professional colleagues to conduct an excavation.

Now, after four weeks digging, the substantial remains of a great medieval timber bridge have emerged. Dating work on the timbers - conducted by the University of Nottingham tree ring dating laboratory - show that the bridge was constructed in the late 11th century, at about the time of the Domesday Book.

About 25 per cent of the bridge's timbers have survived, including Britain's earliest known large-scale examples of sophisticated carpentry. The structure is 30 to 40 yards long, 10ft wide and was built using at least eight different types of lap and butt joints.

Archaeologists were surprised by the discovery - because old maps gave no hint of a bridge being sited where the gravel pit now operates.

However, examination of geological evidence shows that up to 700 years ago the river Trent ran through the site and the bridge would have been an important crossing point. It may have formed part of the medieval track that became the A6 Derby-to- London road, now located one and a half miles to the west.

By the 13th century the Trent had changed its course and a new bridge - this time made of stone - was built 50 yards to the south- west. This too has been located and excavated.

The river had changed its course yet again by the 17th century and now runs a quarter of a mile from the rediscovered 11th and 13th-century bridges.

The discovery of the 11th-century timber bridge sheds vital new light on the beginnings of English carpentry. It is one of the earliest examples of the woodworking tradition that blossomed into the timber-frame architectural style of the 13th to 17th centuries, for which Tudor England became so famous.

A Leicestershire County Council archaeological team, led by Patrick Clay and Susan Ripper, has now unearthed the late 11th- century timber bridge and a possible predecessor dating from perhaps a decade earlier.

Some 70 timbers have been found so far, including groups of timbers making up three or possibly four of the original bridge piers.

There are also the remains of a trestle structure which was either built in conjunction with the piers or as part of another late 11th-century bridge, constructed on the same site. The bridge or bridges seem to have collapsed during one or more severe floods.

Some archaeologists say the carpentry and architecture of the bridge represent 'a crucial moment in British building history'. It combines the 'earthfast' - based in the ground - building technology of Anglo-Saxon England with the timber-frame technology which became commonplace a century later.

(Photograph and graphic omitted)

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
football
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Qualified Primary Teaching Assistant

£64 - £73 per day + Competitive rates based on experience : Randstad Education...

Primary KS2 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam