Clapper Bridge
Tarr Steps, Exmoor, Somerset, England
AncestorStep-stone bridge
RelatedLog bridge
DescendantArch bridge, trestle bridge
CarriesPedestrians
Span rangeShort
MaterialStone
MovableNo
Design effortLow
Falsework requiredNo

A clapper bridge is an ancient form of bridge found on the moors of the English West Country (Bodmin Moor, Dartmoor and Exmoor) and in other upland areas of the United Kingdom including Snowdonia and Anglesey, Cumbria, Derbyshire, Yorkshire, Lancashire and Scotland.[1] It is formed by large flat slabs of stone, often granite or schist. These can be supported on stone piers across rivers, or rest on the banks of streams.

History

Although often credited with prehistoric origin, most were erected in medieval times, and some in later centuries.[2] They are often situated close to a ford where carts could cross. According to the Dartmoor National Park, the word 'clapper' derives ultimately from an Anglo-Saxon word, cleaca, meaning 'bridging the stepping stones';[3] the Oxford English Dictionary gives the intermediate Medieval Latin form clapus, claperius, "of Gaulish origin", with an initial meaning of "a pile of stones".[note 1]

Examples

The clapper bridge at Postbridge
The clapper bridge at Postbridge

A fine example, the Postbridge Clapper Bridge (illustration, left), can be found at Postbridge, on Dartmoor. Its slabs are over 4 metres (13 ft) long, 2 metres (6 ft 7 in) wide and weigh over 8 metric tons (7.9 long tons; 8.8 short tons) each, making the bridge passable to a small cart. It was first recorded in 1380 and was built to facilitate the transportation of Dartmoor tin by pack horses to the stannary town of Tavistock.

Other surviving examples include the Tarr Steps over the River Barle in Exmoor, and Stara Bridge over the River Lynher in east Cornwall.

Clapper bridge at Wycoller, Pendle, East Lancashire
Clapper bridge at Wycoller, Pendle, East Lancashire

Some larger clapper bridges, such as at Dartmeet and Bellever, have collapsed – their slabs swept away by floods, or raided for building or wall construction - and have since been rebuilt. However, there are many other smaller examples in existence on Dartmoor and still in use, such as those at Teignhead Farm (close to Grey Wethers stone circles), Scorhill and across the Wallabrook stream.

While the term "clapper bridge" is typically associated with the United Kingdom, other "clapper-style" bridges exist throughout the world. One example is the Anping Bridge in China, being over two kilometres long and one in Louisburg, Co Mayo in the Republic of Ireland.

References

  1. ^ French and Provençal clapier developed the additional significance of a rabbit warren. (OED, s.v. "clapper".)
  1. ^ "Achnamara, Clapper Bridge | Canmore". canmore.org.uk. Retrieved 28 February 2021.
  2. ^ A Guide to the Archaeology of Dartmoor (PDF). Dartmoor National Park Authority. 2003. p. 27. ISBN 1-84114-226-3. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 October 2008.
  3. ^ Archaeology of Dartmoor (2003), p. 59.