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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Treverbyn Bridge and Treverbyn Bridge

Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas JULY. 23, 2021

In case you can't tell, the Treverbyn bridge on the right is the original Treverbyn bridge. The Treverbyn bridge on the left is an upstart newcomer. The bridge on the right has seen at least 600 years of traffic, maybe even a thousand years. The bridge on the left has only seen 98 years of traffic.

We are in Cornwall, and on a day trip of exploration we came across this unusual pair of bridges and had to stop and investigate.

The original Treverbyn Bridge is a Grade II star listed structure, a three-span bridge, dating from the early medieval period which was substantially rebuilt in around 1412, widened in the 1700's and closed to motor traffic in 1929.

It's worth remembering that when it was closed to motor traffic in 1929 motor traffic had not been around very long anyway. The first four-wheeled petrol-driven automobile in Britain was built in Walthamstow by Frederick Bremer in 1892. That car only had 37 years in which to get to this bridge before it closed to motor traffic. In a remote rural area such as this it is highly unlikely much motor traffic existed at all when the new bridge was built. The old bridge originally formed part of the main route between the two biggest towns of this part of Cornwall, Bodmin and Liskeard.

Liskeard is one of those English, or really, Cornish names that never sound like they look. In this case it is pronounced Liss Card.

Other Cornish names we spotted on our travels this time were, Boconnoc, Cutmadoc, Two Waters Foot, Dublebois, Dobwalls, Trekeive, Cuttivet, Notter, Gang, Siblyback, Darite, Polbathic, Catchfrench, Trerulefoot, and Minions. It is worth going, just to collect wonderful names. But don't ask me how any of these are pronounced.

An interesting feature of the two bridges is their angles to each other. They start adjoining the same piece of road and then diverge. The old bridge lining up with a narrow lane, possibly the original road and the new bridge lining up with what appears to be a later road improvement.

Reasons for Designation

Treverbyn Bridge, dating from the pre-medieval period and substantially rebuilt in around 1412, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest: * an excellent survival of an early medieval bridge which retains the majority of its C15 fabric with little significant alteration; * the different phases of construction are visible in the well-constructed structure.

Historic interest:

* a good example of a multi-arch bridge spanning a small river which was influenced by the application of an Indulgence from the Church; * it forms part of a historic route between the historic towns of Bodmin and Liskeard.

At the eastern end are two four-centred arches (below) with recessed arch rings, flanking a central pier with triangular cutwaters, continued into the parapet as refuges. A slate string course marks the parapet base on the downstream side.

The earlier western arch (below) has an inner rounded slatestone arch and is flat topped with a granite slab, with the parapet carried over at an angle on a second granite slab. The pier between the eastern and earlier western section of the bridge is wider with unequal cutwaters and no refuges on both up- and downstream sides. This is where the river also divides by the means of an island on the downstream side.

The parapets (below) are about 50cm high, capped with iron-cramped dressed granite coping slabs. The parapet at the western end splays and curves to the downstream side, a result of widening in the C18.

The western part of the bridge contains pre-C15 fabric, which was referred to in around 1412 as ‘threatening total ruin’. Donations to the Church for the repair of bridges were common in early Christianity and in the medieval period, and ‘Indulgences’ issued by the Church guaranteed penance for sin for a certain number of days in exchange for labour or money to the repair of building of a bridge. In 1412 or 1413, Bishop Stafford, the Bishop of Exeter granted an Indulgence to fund the repair of Treverbyn Bridge, providing a pardon of forty days penance from sin for contributors. These repairs are evident in the fabric of the bridge’s eastern arches.

We are lucky today that the people of Cornwall back then were so sinful and in need of penance, or it would not be here today for us to marvel at. We are also lucky that the church back then was really just another money making scam. After all how would the church raise taxes and tithes from all the local people if they could not get their produce to market over an efficient bridge, paid for by the same people, desperate to get into heaven.

The road lost its importance in the early C19 when a new turnpike was opened through the Glynn Valley to the south (the modern A38). A new bridge by the County Surveyor EH Collcutt (below) was built adjacent to Treverbyn Bridge in 1929, leaving the medieval structure for pedestrian use only.

The modern 1929 replacement has been built in sympathy with the old bridge and is quite an elegant replacement, the stone already weathered to match, but boasting a single main arch where the old bridge had two.

It is a sobering thought as you stand and look at this impressive solid structure, that the earliest date we have on record for it is 600 years ago and that that date was recorded only because the bridge was so old then that it needed modernisation. This bridge has seen all of our history cross it during it's life. Thousands of peasants taking their produce to market, sheep, horses, cattle, highwaymen, royal processions, armies, pilgrims, travellers, and latterly some early motor cars backfiring loudly and chug chugging their way up the hill after crossing over.

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