Monument record MYO4801 - Old Ouse Bridge


There may have been a bridge on this site from the 9th century AD. This bridge was replaced in 1154 when it collapsed due to the crowd standing on it who were waiting to see Archbishop William. The bridge lasted until 1564 when it was partly destroyed in a winter flood. The new bridge was higher with two central arches and private and public buildings on it and was in turn replaced in 1810.


Grid reference Not recorded
Map sheet Not recorded
Unitary Authority City of York, North Yorkshire


No mapped location recorded.

Type and Period (3)

Full Description

Ouse Bridge replaced the Roman bridge which crossed the river between Tanner Row and the Mansion House. It cannot be said with certainty when the main river crossing was moved c.250m downstream to its present site. Archaeological evidence suggests that the Roman crossing was potentially in use until the 10th century. This is suggested by the fact that Roman building underlay modern Micklegate and their alignment is shared by structures of the Anglian period. At the Queen's Hotel site excavations showed that 10th century building fronted onto Micklegate, suggesting that this is the period in which the new crossing was created. The 10th century bridge was likely of timber construction and this position was chosen as there was a natural narrowing of the river channel. The river crossing at this point is perhaps associated with the developing occupation on the north side of the bridge to the south-east of the Roman fortress, partly laid out in the early 10th century. The bridge is likely to have been of wooden construction and may well have lasted until its replacement in stone in the 12th century.

The rebuilding of Ouse Bridge has been associated with William Fitzherbert who was appointed as Archbishop of York. On 9 May 1154 the welcoming crowd on his arrival in York was so great that the timber structure of Ouse bridge collapsed throwing many people into the river but no lives were lost. This miracle was attributed to William, who was canonised on 8 June 1227 and the Ouse Bridge miracle is depicted in many example of York's ecclesiastical art e,g the St William window in York Minster. There is little foundation for this miracle and it is thought likely the bridge was rebuilt c.1170-1180 based on architectural evidence from the bridge and the chapel. The medieval bridge had six arches with the central arch used for navigation. The narrower arches called the King's Bow and the Queen's Bow were let for fishing. The arch at the east end of the bridge was called the Salthole and beside it were steps down to the King's Staith. The bridge was lined with houses and shops by the early 14th century. By 1435 there were 55 buildings on the bridge. Grants of pontage for the repair and maintenance of the bridge were made in 1403, 1406, 1409 and 1411. It was repaved in 1502 and in 1526-7 ten trees were brought from Fountains Abbey for repairs. In 1392/3 Richard II licenced the purchase of land and tenements for the maintenance of Ouse and Foss bridge and the income and expenditure is recorded in the Bridgemasters Account books overseen by two bridgemasters until the position was disbanded in 1626/7.

The bridge had a chapel dedicated to St William, and surviving masonry dates the earliest parts to c.1170-1180 with evidence for rebuilding or repair in the mid thirteenth centuy. The first documentary reference to the chapel is 1233 as the civic chapel with door to the adjoining council chamber. The chapel was dedicated to St William c.1228. The council chamber stood at the west end of Ouse Bridge adjoining the chapel. The north fa├žade is shown In many paintings with three gables with a square headed window in each. The only clear view of the south elevation is from 1776. There are no known illustrations of the interior, but documentary accounts indicate the council chamber was on the upper floor with seats for the alderman, sheriff and a dais at one end of the room for the lord mayor. There was a separate chambers for the lord mayor and the town clerk and a sperate courtroom for the sheriffs. Beneath the council chamber were two civic prisons referred to as le Kydcote in a will in 1396. They were divided for men and women and were on two levels, the lowest being for the Sheriffs. A debtors prison stood opposite the council chamber on an extension of the bridge arch built to support it, probably built c. 1574 and rebuilt in 1724. The bridge also had a Maison Dieu (see Monument 4800).

By January 1563-4 there were concerns over the bridges safety and the city planned to use stone from Holy Trinity Micklegate and the chapel of Foss Bridge in repairs. In January 1564/5 after a frost and sudden thaw the river flooded and the central pier and arches of the bridge collapsed, bringing down 12 houses and killing 12 people. A council meeting on 10 April 1566 agreed to rebuild the bridge with a single large central arch/ John Todd, carpenter, built the frame for the arch and Christopher Walmesley appointed as master mason. Stone was taken from St George's chapel and the chapel on Foss Bridge as well as Holy Trinity, Micklegate. New stone was acquired from the quarries at Tadcaster. The construction of the new arch was complete by November 1566. Measurements taken in 1807 by Joseph Halfpeny indicate the central arch was 81ft wide the keystone was 26ft 3ins in height and 16ft 9inches wide. In 1795 the bridge was in need of repair and was too narrow and steep for the traffic using it. It was initially proposed to widen the bridge in 1808 and a competition held for the best design. The work was awarded to Peter Atkinson. An Act of Parliament for the work was secured but the survey showed the bridge to be in poor repair and a rebuilding was proposed (see Monument 1773).

Information taken from Wilson, B and Mee, F. 2002. 'The Fairest Arch in England'. Old Ouse Bridge, York and its Buildings. The Archaeology of York Supplementary Series

Stell, P.M. 2003. York Bridgemasters' Accounts. York Archaeological Trust

NMR Information

BF060292 OLD OUSE BRIDGE, YORK File of material relating to a site or building. This material has not yet been fully catalogued.

NMR, NMR data (Unpublished document). SYO2214.

Sources/Archives (1)

  • --- Unpublished document: NMR. NMR data.

Protected Status/Designation

  • None recorded

Related Monuments/Buildings (2)

Related Events/Activities (1)

Record last edited

Feb 4 2020 10:04AM


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