Canterbury Archeological Trust

St.Dunstan's Bridge
Martin Hicks

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An archaeological watching brief was conducted in July 1993 during engineering works beneath the structure of St Dunstan's Bridge. Deterioration of bridge substructure was such that new strengthening supports for the bridge, including the insertion of a new toe-beam for the westem bridge abutment was considered necessary. The groundworks, undertaken at river bed level also included general repairs to eroded stonework.

Drawing of Westgate The West Gate is the sole survivor of six gateways giving access to the town. In all cases, except St.George's Gate, the original openings were of Roman origin. Roman Westgate was replaced as part of a wholesale refurbishment of the town's northern defences between 1370-90. The new gateway, possibly designed by Henry Yevele. was of revolutionary design incorporating circular towers, gun loops, `murder holes', a portcullis and battlements. A half bridge was built crossing the River Stour at this time possibly replacing earlier versions, perhaps extending back to the Roman period, whilst the rest of the crossing was taken up by a drawbridge. In the medieval arrangement, the superstructure of the bridge was made of ragstone blocks with a springer arch founded on a pier base set in the centre of the river.

The medieval bridge was demolished in the sixteenth century and replaced by a substantial twin-arched crossing of ragstone blockwork. The construction of the new bridge probably formed part of a larger scheme to convert Westgate into the city gaol.

By 1829, the Tudor crossing had fallen into decay and was replaced by a bridge with a single spanning arch. Blockwork from the previous construction was incorporated within the fabric of the nineteenth-century crossing, whilst the core was of brick. During the twentieth century, the Georgian structure was enlarged to its present size.

Prior to the building of the new toe beam. the river bed was excavated to a depth of 0.40 m. This was carried out by divers from underwater engineers, Sea Lift Limited using a high-powered water jet.

A 0.30 m. deposit of dark grey silt was removed exposing the upper level of the river bed deposits. At the cleared level, a large quantity of stone, brick and general debris was exposed. Set within the river bed in the centre of the river channel were two sets of foundations. Each foundation was 3 m. x 2 m. in size, consisting of large ragstone blocks bonded with mortar. These rectangular footings, set 1 m. apart, probably represented the remains of pier bases for the double-arched bridge, built in the sixteenth century.

Finds recovered from the river bed included nineteenth- to twentieth-century refuse and a live Second World War hand-grenade. After much excitement the latter was removed and subsequently blown up by the Royal Ordnance Corps.

See this place today Click on the logo to see this place today.   The information on this page is Copyright © Canterbury Archaeological Trust Ltd. 1995 Reproduced with permission.
The text and pictures were taken from Canterbury's Archaeology 1993/1994, The 18th Annual Report of Canterbury Archaeological Trust Ltd.

Peter Collinson Last change: 7th September 2008