Two bridges cross the River Coquet at the north end of the village of Warkworth, which occupies a promontory formed by a tight loop in the river. If approaching the village from the north along the A1068 you sweep almost without noticing over a bridge which opened to traffic in 1965. Immediately to its west is the medieval bridge it replaced, complete with the defensive tower at its southern end that makes it the only surviving fortified bridge in England.
The origins of the medieval Warkworth Bridge are unusually clear. John Cook of Newcastle, who died in 1379, left the sum of 20 marks towards the building of a new bridge at Warkworth, on the condition it was built within two years. Presumably it was, as otherwise the money was meant to go towards a bridge over the River Tyne at Bywell. The plaque within the arch of the defensive tower, placed there to commemorate the opening of the most recent bridge on 8 July 1965, states that the fortified bridge you see today replaced an even earlier stone arched bridge on the same site. It is unclear why a replacement was needed, or when the earlier stone bridge this one replaced was built.
Equally unclear is whether 20 marks, or about £14, would have paid for the whole of the structure. Using average earnings as the basis for comparison, this equates to around £90,000 in today's money. It seems possible that the local landowner, Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland, who was building a new great tower at Warkworth Castle at the time, also provided some of the funding. While Warkworth Castle guarded the front door of the promontory on which Warkworth stood, Warkworth Bridge guarded the important north facing "back door".
The bridge that emerged measures some 61m long overall, or 43m between the piers at either end of the crossing. The roadway is quite narrow, being some 3.5m wide between the parapets. It is difficult to imagine that this was in use by vehicles as recently as 1965. There are two arches, separated by a massive central pier made all the larger by the cutwaters which project from either side to ease the flow of water. At roadway level the cutwaters provide triangular refuges for pedestrians, though today the bridge is only open to foot traffic. The riverbed beneath the bridge is paved with stone to prevent erosion of the bridge foundations.
The bridge tower at the southern end originally funnelled all traffic through the arch in its lower storey, which was also gated. This end of the bridge was later widened, presumably to ease congestion under the arch. The bridge tower has a guard chamber on the west side, and there was a room at first floor level, complete with windows allowing an outlook in all four directions. The upper storey is now little more than a roofless ruin, with the walls reduced nearly as far as the base of the windows. It would seem that once the bridge was built it was continuously manned, under the supervision of a custodian, until some time in the 1700s.
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Grid Ref: NU 247 063