Farndon Local History Pages

Farndon Bridge - Grade I Listed Building

Farndon Bridge

Farndon Bridge
Early 19thc print
Farndon Bridge
from an original painting of c.1790

Farndon Bridge
late 18thc, painted by Richard Wilson, early 19thc
Farndon Bridge
original print c.1840
Farndon Bridge
from an original etching by David Law 1897
Farndon Bridge c.1905

More illustrations of the bridge can be found here


Heritage England, official list entry

A Grade I listed medieval sandstone bridge links Farndon with its Welsh neighbour Holt on the opposite bank of the Dee. Built in 1339 and it was recorded as having ten arches in 1754 and on the fifth of which stood a large gate tower. This tower was demolished to bridge level in the late 18th century and two archs were lost on the Welsh side.

Location   River Dee crossing, below the High Street, Farndon - SJ 41173 54412

Year listed   1 March 1967

Detail    Bridge circa 1345, of red sandstone. Five arches over river, one flood arch on east (Farndon) side and two on west (Holt) side in Clwyd.

Abutments rebuilt and widened probably early C19. Cutwaters. Deep segmental arches have 2 rings of voussoirs, the inner ring recessed, the outer one chamfered. Projecting cyma-moulded band at road level. The western-most river arch (in Clwyd) has a single ring of voussoirs rising into the parapet above a flatter (20thc?) lower arch.

According to tradition, the bridge was fortified and this altered arch may replace a draw-span. The western (Clwyd) abutment, at an angle to the bridge, has a rebuilt eastern flood-arch. Moulded band removed from abutments/flood arches. Late 20thc mild steel rail of one bar on each plain, flush-coped parapet. Between the flood-arches and abutments the medieval bridge is unwidened and little altered.

Farndon: The History of a Cheshire Village, Frank A. Latham (Ed.)

Page 89-93;


Although the Romans were renowned for their road building, after their departure the art was lost and even in Medieval times the state of the highways was frequently referred to as being deplorable. Nevertheless, there is strong evidence to suggest that the principal road through Farndon was used as a saltway in earliest times and was used by the Welsh to obtain salt direct from Nantwich during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Indeed it seems that the route was once known as The Welshman's Way, as a charter of 1314 refers to 'common lands in Bulkeley lying between Walesmanswey, Peckforton, and Bickerton'. Another Bulkeley deed of the same date mentions 'common pasture from the way called Walchmonstreete'. It therefore appears certain that these were the old names for the road from Wales via Farndon and Broxton which runs up the hill as Salters Lane and round by Gallantry Bank and the old copper mines to Bulkeley.

Even in Medieval times highways consisted mainly of tracks with (in some cases) causeways or causeys by the side which were about four or five feet wide. These were paved with cobbles for horses but there were no special facilities for carts or waggons. Although, by the Highway Act of 1555, parishes were made responsible for their upkeep the methods used were of the crudest description. Ruts and hollows were filled in with sand or loose stones which were flung out again when the next cart passed over them. The art of road construction was only really rediscovered in the early nineteenth century, and even in 1753, it is recorded that a journey from Manchester to London took 11 days on foot. Stage coaches were, however, travelling from Chester to London in the reign of James II (1685-88), and it is known that there was a turnpike from Farndon to Broxton before 1820. There used to be a toll bar on the Barton Road and the toll house was rebuilt quite recently.

For those travelling from Nantwich to North Wales of course the great barrier has always been the River Dee which touches Farndon where the river has cut through the glacial drift and exposed the sandstones beneath. It has been said that in Roman times the river flowed in a more south-westerly course than at present,and its flow westwards would have been less restricted as the causeway at Chester had not been constructed.

From the evidence it would seem that in 1316 the only way for travellers to cross the river would have been by ferry. This service continued until it became badly disorganised by the Civil War when a local man encroached upon the rights of the Grosvenor family by starting a new service by means of coracles. This resulted in a petition from the 'poor inhabitants of Farndon, Churton, and Aldford' to Sir Richard Grosvenor 'That they may enjoy the benefit of the said corricles till times be better settled that they may all resort without danger to your accustomed ferry'. The petition bore 30 signatures including those of Geo. Bostock, Lawrence Eaton (Rector of Aldford) and E. Bostock. It was delivered on 7th June 1645.

It is said that coracles, the one-man skin or canvas boats, were used for fishing at Farndon during the last century, and at Bangor on Dee in the early 1900s. The picture in Ormerod's history, dated 1817, suggests the importance then of catching salmon by netting, but a writer in 1800 considers that even by that year it had much diminished. Although hardly a 'fishing tale', the acute bend just above the bridge is still known as the Maiden's Arbour because, it is reputed, a mermaid was once seen there.

Regarding the present state of the river, Mr. Alan Weston, of the Welsh Water Authority, writes:—
The water levels in the Dee at Farndon have only been continuously monitored since 1973. At low summer flows the river levels are partly controlled by the level of Chester weir some 20 kms (by river) downstream. The river between Farndon and Chester at low flows is virtually a 'pond'. High spring tides sweep over Chester weir and can cause rises in water level of 0.5m or more at Farndon at low flows and typically affect the flow/levels to varying degrees for up to 30% of the time (mostly during the summer months).

At high winter flows the Holt meadows are flooded for a few days each year.

Typical water levels in summer are around 4.6 metres above Ordnance Datum Newlyn (a place in Cornwall) while winter flows can easily raise levels to 8.0 metres AODN. The depth of the water downstream of the bridge is around 1.5 to 2 metres at low flows'.

Everyone living in the parish will know about the Dee flooding. The biggest flood in this century is said to be that of February 1946 when the water stretched over the road on the Holt side. At this time cattle had to be saved from the river at Churton by the use of army 'ducks'.

There appears little doubt that the bridge between Farndon and Holt was built in the middle of the fourteenth century to allow for greater movement of cattle and traffic. It has nine arches and recesses were built above its cut-water buttresses; the recesses being sensibly provided for pedestrians to escape hastily from passing carts. The bridge was built with local sandstone and there is evidence to suggest that this was quarried from the vicinity of the old ferry crossing which was nearby. Obviously it was the builders' intention that their bridge would be strong and adequately constructed to withstand the passage of time. A tower and fortified gate were built for its defence and the reinforced arch below where the tower once stood is still known as the Lady's Arch, perhaps because this was once a small chapel dedicated to Our Lady.

Maintenance and the cost of repairs to its structure are not merely twentieth century problems for the custodians of the bridge, and records have been discovered that repairs have been regularly carried out over the centuries.

For example:— 6th March 1746.
'Mason worke done at ye battlement of Farndon bridge, at ye both ends nyest (nearest) ye town by William Sellers. Myself one days ls.6d. John Powell one day 1s.4d. for two new crisis and carriage 8d. for two cramps 8d., for time 6d., for 4 pound of lead 5d. Total 5s.1d. 22nd April 1747 An estimate of rebuilding ye foundations of one of ye pillars of farndon bridge, it being in ye hundred of Broxton and ye County of Chester. Carefully viewed by William Sellers, mason—ye foundations is being intierly washed away by forceable stream, that runs directly against it, for rebuilding that breach after a substantial manner, and I obligate myself to put twenty load of stone that (loon or lum) to preserve ye pillar which amounts to £6.5.6d.
(sgd) William Sellers. Sworne in court by J. B. Cryers'.

Reference has already been made to Thomas Pennant's comments on Farndon when he passed through in 1778 but he also mentioned the bridge 'of ten arches, with a vestige of a guard house in the middle, the date 1345 was preserved until very lately on a stone over the arch called the Lady's Arch'. It will also be remembered that a letter of 1767 noted the presence of a 'Guard House', which might indicate that the guard house and the date inscription disappeared in the early 1770s.

During the Civil War Sir Marmaduke Langdale, the Royalist commander, crossed over the bridge into Wales just prior to the disastrous engagement at Rowton Moor which was watched by Charles I from the walls at Chester. Sir Marmaduke wanted the King to know as speedily as possible that he had crossed the river and was pressing on the Parliamentary troops. He therefore gave orders to Col. Shakerley to convey his message to the King. Shakerley had no wish to cross the bridge again so, instead, he galloped towards Chester and eventually crossed the Dee, in a wooden tub, his horse swimming by him.

Until 1866 all users of the bridge were required to pay a toll and the Toll Board of 1840 is today in the possession of Mr. J. Powell of Holt. From this it can be seen that the charge for a dog on a lead was ½ d., a horse 1d., and a cart and horse 2d.

Perhaps not everyone who has fought so valiantly to preserve the bridge in recent years will have read the book on the River Dee by J. S, Howson, the Dean of Chester, written in 1875. In his comments on Farndon bridge he says,
'Quite recently it escaped very narrowly from demolition; and we may congratulate all lovers of the ancient and the picturesque that the county authorities on one side of the stream could not agree with the county authorities on the other'.

How strange that less than a century later the same authorities cannot agree on a date on which to commence the building of a by-pass which would save the bridge from further destruction.

Howson also comments on the Lady Arch window,
'Above the 6th arch on the right hand side going towards Holt the parapet is much thicker and stronger. Looking over the side you will observe beautiful stone mullion windows'.

In October of 1901 the Rev. Owen has more to say about repairs. 'The bridge was under repair by the Cheshire County Council. The roadway was taken up and cement poured in. A workman threw into the stone breaking machine a very ancient carved cross. Great inconvenience was caused by the bridge being closed, but it was opened on Thursday'. One can only hazard a guess at the disruption that would be caused to both villages if such an occurrence happened today.

Among the many changes that have come about during the twentieth century is that of an increased flow of traffic in villages everywhere. The A534 which passes through Farndon and Holt and over the Dee is a main link between the Wrexham Industrial Estate and the M6, and this road is also heavily used by tourist traffic. After many years of being promised a by-pass the two communities of Farndon and Holt eventually held a public meeting at the Community Centre in February 1974 at which the chairman was Mr. Frank Nuttall. At the meeting a great deal of frustration and concern were expressed at the respective councils' reluctance to alleviate the villagers from the intolerable burdens of noise, pollution and danger to life. An action committee was formed of Mr. Parry, Mr. T. Walker, Mrs. B. Davies, Mrs. C. Bellis, Mr. P. Aubrey, Mrs. Cordery, Mr. Graham Palmer, Mr. David Griffiths, Mr. K. Allanson, Mr. J. Hillyer, Mrs. Enid Hughes and Mr. A. Stewart. Some of these have since left the committee and, in 1980, were replaced by Mrs. P. Fish, Mr. M. Kelly, Mr. B. Payne, Mrs. Clewley, Mr. W. Booth, Mr. Meacher Jones and Mr. and Mrs. Caplin. As yet, however, the problem remains unresolved.

The fabric of this picturesque medieval bridge is at present being repeatedly damaged. After a great deal of protest a width restriction of 9 ft. 6 inches was eventually imposed. But this only came after two vehicles were routed over the bridge which were in fact wider than it, and these could only be removed by ripping holes in the walls. Peaceful demonstrations and deputations to County Hall and even to Parliament, whilst raising support, have produced little constructive action from either Clwyd or Cheshire Councils. In 1970, as a safety measure, metal rails were added to the bridge wall, following an accident.

The possible loss of business to local tradespeople which a by-pass might bring must of course be considered, but today the villagers are becoming increasingly concerned about the effect heavy continental trucks have on the environment. In the present economic climate no by-pass can be started before 1987 and by then it may be too late to save the bridge.

Although disheartened, however, the Action Committee and the Parish Councils have not given up the fight to rid the villages of juggernauts and resistance to them will continue. The bridge has stood too long and survived too many battles for twentieth century traffic to bring about its final destruction.

Frank A. Latham (Ed.), Farndon: The History of a Cheshire Village, (1981)

Wikipedia entry

Farndon Bridge or Holt Bridge (also known as the Farndon/Holt or Holt–Farndon Bridge)[1][2] (Welsh: Pont Rhedynfre or Pont Holt), crosses the River Dee and the England-Wales border between the village of Farndon, Cheshire, England and the town of Holt, Wrexham, Wales (grid reference SJ412544). The bridge, which was built in the mid-14th century, is recorded in the National Heritage List for England and by Cadw as a designated Grade I listed building[3] and scheduled monument.[4][2][1] It is built from locally quarried red sandstone and had eight arches, of which five are over the river. On the Farndon side there is one flood arch and two flood arches are on the Holt side.[3]

Documentary evidence states the bridge was built in 1339 by St Werburgh's Abbey in Chester. Originally it had ten arches, with a large gate tower on the fifth arch from the English side. The tower was demolished to road level in 1770 and at some time two of the arches on the Welsh side were lost.[5] The area is reputedly haunted by two sons of a Welsh prince who were drowned in the river at this point by their English guardians, John de Warenne, 6th Earl of Surrey and Roger Mortimer de Chirk.[6]

During the English Civil war, a brief skirmish occurred near the bridge in 1643 when Parliamentarian forces advanced towards the Royalists holding Holt on the western side of the river.[7]

John Warwick Smith (26 July 1749 – 22 March 1831), a British watercolour landscape painter and illustrator, produced a painting of the bridge and the landscape around, which has been reproduced since for use on postcards.

Access is controlled by traffic lights, permitting road traffic to cross using the single-lane carriageway. Two narrow footpaths on either side of the road are provided for pedestrians. However, due to the bridge's age, it is closed intermittently for surveys to be conducted on its structure. In the early 1990s the bridge was restored and renovated and at the same time an archaeological survey was carried out.[8] In the summer of 2018 the bridge was closed for significant structural repairs.[9]

1. "Holt Bridge;farndon Bridge, Holt, Wrexham (24043)", Coflein, RCAHMW, retrieved 29 September 2021
2. Historic England, "Farndon Bridge (1006758)", National Heritage List for England, retrieved 29 September 2021
3. Historic England. "Farndon Bridge (1279428)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
4. Pastscape: Farndon Bridge, English Heritage, archived from the original on 15 July 2012, retrieved 29 March 2008
5. Ward, S. S, "A Survey of Holt-Farndon Medieval Bridge", Cheshire Past, Chester Archaeological Service, pp. 14–15, retrieved 29 March 2008
6. Holland, Richard (30 July 2009). "BBC – North East Wales – Wrexham's Bridge of Screams". BBC. Retrieved 24 August 2014.
7. "CHESHIRE HISTORIC TOWNS SURVEY: Farndon Archaeological Assessment" (PDF). /www.cheshirearchaeology.org.uk. Retrieved 14 June 2018. "An account of the Battle of Farndon Bridge, a Civil War skirmish that took place in 1643, states that the Parliamentary side ‘...advanced that night to Farne, which is a little towne on the Cheshire side – over against the Holt in Wales where the enemy kept a garrison’ (Latham ed. 1981, 27). The east window of St Chad’s Church contains 17th century glass depicting Royalist figures (CSMR 1791/1/1). ""
8. Royden, Mike. "Farndon-Holt Bridge". Farndon Local History. Retrieved 29 September 2021.
9. Holmes, David (22 May 2018). "Farndon Bridge to close for major repair work". Chester Chronicle. Retrieved 29 September 2021.

Cheshire Past

In the early 1990s the bridge underwent repair and renovation. The Chester Archaeology Service undertook a survey of the structure. A short report by Simon Ward appeared in the first edition of Cheshire Past - click below.



Visit the Royden History Index Page listing web sites designed and maintained by Mike Royden
No pages may be reproduced without permission
copyright Mike Royden
All rights reserved