What’s a Clapper Bridge?

Print anything with Printful

Clapper bridges are early stone bridges made by laying large slabs of rock on stone piers, with most found in the UK. They were likely evolved from stepping stones and were used to make it easier for people to cross rivers. Some historic preservation organizations work to preserve them.

A clapper bridge is an early form of stone bridge made by laying large slabs of rock on stone piers. Classically, clapper bridges were built near fords, placing them near established routes, and some were quite large. Most clapper bridges are found in the UK, although various clapper-style bridges can be found in other regions of the world, including remote areas such as China. You can see some clapper bridges on walking tours of certain regions of Great Britain, especially Devon, where you can see several intact clapper bridges.

This bridge design is believed to be of prehistoric origin, although most surviving clapper bridges date only to the medieval period. To make a clapper bridge, construction crews had to haul and cut rocks to create piers, then find large slabs of rock to lay across the piers. Some clapper bridges were wide enough to accommodate a wagon, while others were designed for pedestrians or riders only, with the wagons fording alongside the clapper bridge. Typically, niceties such as rails were missing, and many clapper bridges were established in very shallow water, so a fall would not have been catastrophic.

The term “clapper” derives from the Anglo-Saxon cleaca, “springboard bridge”, which provides some hints at the origins of the clapper bridge. This design likely evolved from stepping stones once used by pedestrians to cross rivers, with some clever engineer realizing that stepping stones could be made into a bridge with the use of slabs or rock or wood.

Clapper bridges made it easier for people to move around, allowing pedestrians to easily cross rivers without getting wet and often allowing cyclists to do the same. These bridges began to fall out of use as sturdier methods of bridge construction were developed, and no doubt many clapper bridges were destroyed to make room for new bridges historically, allowing people to use the roads and paths by which they had familiarity to reach various locations.

Some historic preservation organizations work to preserve clapper bridges so that future generations can enjoy this piece of human history. Clapper bridges are also not uncommon in private homes and gardens, where people may enjoy the rustic look of a traditional clapper bridge in preference to more modern designs, especially in an older style garden. Modern versions of the clapper bridge can be secured with concrete or mortar to make them more secure.

Protect your devices with Threat Protection by NordVPN

Skip to content