Environment

Sewer repairs reveal medieval snapshot of Exeter

Larkbeare BridgePhoto courtesy of Devon Archaeological Society

Posted on: 19 February 2013

Several feet below one of the main roads into Exeter city centre – Holloway Street – lies the medieval arch of Larkbeare Bridge, over the centuries encased by masonry and brickwork and later covered by the existing road.

Originally recorded in 1979 by Exeter Museums Archaeological Field Unit, and designated a Scheduled Monument in 1980, the bridge may have been built as early as the 13th century and probably served as part of an important trade route in to the city.

A recent investigation into a collapsed sewer next to the bridge revealed that a leak had washed some of the mortar from the ancient stonework.

Due to the Scheduled Monument status, before the sewer could be repaired to avoid further damage to the bridge, South West Water and contractors May Gurney had to liaise with Devon County Council, Exeter City Council and English Heritage to fast-track consent to repoint the arch. The repair works were monitored by AC Archaeology for South West Water.

Built over a brook known as Shutebrook, the bridge lies on an historically important route. Goods arriving at Exeter’s main port at Topsham would have been carried along the former Roman road (now Topsham Road and Holloway Street) into the city. It is likely that traders would have crossed Shutebrook at a bridge, as carts may have found it difficult to cross at a ford. Regular use of this route wore ‘a deep hollow way into the valley side’, and the road became known as Holloway Street in the early 16th century.

The actual construction date of Larkbeare Bridge is unknown, although it is similar to the medieval Exe Bridge, which was completed by the early 13th century.

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