Piercebridge (Morbium) Roman Bridge

Roman Bridges

The main Roman Road from York to the north of England crossed the River Tees at Piercebridge. Portions of the Roman Bridge were found in 1972 in advance of gravel quarrying.

The River Tees has moved course to the north since the bridge was in use. Only the lowest elements of the bridge survive. At the base was a wash way of large irregular flagstones which made the water flow smoothly under the bridge arches. On this were built the piers which carried a timber roadway. These have been disturbed by flood water. The south abutment of the bridge survives to a height of two courses. It is built as the piers must have been of the large stones joined with iron cramps to resist the force of the river.

The stone piers and abutments supported a roadway of timber beams and planks.

The bridge was probably built in the latte half of the second century, but quite soon the course of the river began to move to the north and the southern end of the bridge began to silt up. Remains of a causeway and its revetmen  wall, built out over these layers of silt, in order the prevent  subsidence of the land and carrying the road towards the part of the bridge which still crossed the river can be seen at the southern end of the site.

Piercebridge & Dere Street

Dere Street was constructed as the Roman army advanced north during the latter years of the first century AD. That road was carried over the River Tees at Piercebridge where the Romans built a substantial bridge over the fast flowing river.

The Prehistoric Bridge at Piercebridge

Channel 4’s Time Team investigated Piercebridge in 2009  and found evidence for a prehistoric bridge located here.  It was probably repaired later suing Roman concrete. Underwater exploration found a number of timbers to the west of the course of the Roman stone bridge, and a radiocarbon date in the 1st century AD was obtained for an additional line of timber piles to the west of this.

The First Roman Bridge at Piercebridge

The army built a replacement, this time from stone, several hundred metres downstream and it is these remains which can be seen today.  The main bridge structure was again of timber, but this time the timber was supported by stone abutments and a series of five thick masonry piers. The builders also laid down a series of paving blocks in the river bed to prevent the river from damaging the piers.

Over time the river continued to change course, moving gradually northward. The southernmost abutment silted up in the 4th century, so the Romans built a metalled causeway leading to the bridge, protected by a retaining wall of limestone blocks.

The second Roman bridge was probably built at the same time as the 3rdt Century Roman Fort.

Visiting the Roman Bridge at Piercebridge

The stonework foundations are all that remain of the bridge that once carried the Roman Road, Dere Street, across the river Rees and on towards Piercebridge. There is free parking available in the car park of the nearby George Hotel. Walk to the back of the car park, alongside the main road and you will see a stile to a lane, which leads to the Roman Bridge.

Finds in the River

Since the mid 1980s, divers Bob Middlemass and Rolfe Mitchinson have recovered hundreds of objects from a relatively small area on the bed of the River Tees close to the site of the prehistoric bridge. A total of 586 coins have already been discovered. Dating of these show
some interesting deviation from the coin assemblage recovered from the earlier excavations, suggesting a different pattern of coin loss and therefore, by inference, function. The structure of the assemblage as a whole is more in keeping with votive offerings rather than everyday loss and discard. In particular, while the excavations have not recovered any coinage prior to the resign of Vespasian (69-79AD), there are a number of earlier coins from the river. The river assemblage shows two peaks in distribution, the first around138-161AD and the second around 193-222AD. The high incidence of coins dating from the second half of the 3rd century AD from the excavations is not mirrored in the river assemblage. This decline in the deposition of late coins is also seen at other votive sites.
Brooches retrieved from the river display a similar date range to those recovered from the excavation, but there are some differences in the type of brooches seen which may again relate to the use of votive offerings. Of the later brooches, the dominance of the Knee brooch, a known Germanic type, may reflect the influx of troops from the Continent. A number of later gold items are particularly suggestive of a high status site. Finds from the river also included a number of early intaglio rings, not seen from the excavations.
Definite military items from the assemblage date to the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. There are also lead seals stamped LVI (Legio VI Victrix), which correspond to the Sixth Legion, and OVA (Ala Vocontiorum), a cavalry unit. While the presence of these seals cannot be taken as proof of the
presence of these units there are also a number of 3rd century horse harness fittings and equipment present. Two 3rd or 4th century iron ‘standard points’, similar to those recovered from Vindolanda, were also recovered.

Plan of Piercebridge (Morbium) Roman Bridge

Piercebridge (Morbium) Roman Bridge
Sites near Piercebridge (Morbium) Roman Bridge