top of page



The bridge was originally built in 1170 during the reign of Bishop Hugh de Puiset. This connected the Borough of Elvet, run by the Prior, to the Market Place, where the Bishop collected a large amount of income by taxes. The bridge improved travelling between Elvet and the main peninsula, as the river need not have been forded as Framwellgate bridge was already built at this time. It is probable that tolls were collected for the crossing of the bridge as baggage trains still crossed the river by means of the old fords.

Elvet bridge had 8 arches [22[, although Clack states 11 from the Elvet side up to near the Magdelene steps. Underneath the arches became filled with debris, shops, and the gaol etc.

When the city had fortifications, the bridge was guarded by turrets; and before the Reformation the bridge had two Chantry Chapels. They were called St James (town side) and St Andrews (Elvet side). The chapel of St Andrews was formed in the late 12th century. Having chapels on bridges were commonplace as bridge building and repair were regarded as religious duties in medieval times. [44]

During the 18th century the building was used as a school for a time and in the 19th century, it was a blacksmith’s forge 21, the weight of whose equipment caused the floor and part of the building to collapse. Below the chapel are the only visible remains of the original 12th century bridge fabric. It was extensively repaired at the time of Bishop Foxe (1494-1501) who granted an indulgence in 1495 of forty days to all who contributed to the cost of the repair.

Between Magdelene steps and Elvet Bridge, a medieval gate pierced the city wall in former Souterpeth (shoemakers street) 19.

Books quote a neat fountain inserted into the wall at the foot of Elvet Bridge 1. Another book states that the Gaol and Castle itself that were connected underground via the tunnel 7.

It was damaged in the flood of 1771 when the river rose 8' 10" higher than normal and carried away ¾ of the arches. When the bridge was being widened to double its breadth in 1804-1805 7, a noble of the reign of Edward VI was found.

Durham bridges: Text
Durham bridges: Image


Framwellgate bridge was the first of the Durham bridges to be built. It spans the northern stretch of the river, giving access to the Borough of Crossgate and further on to towns and cities to the north such as Newcastle.

Bishop Ralph Flambard was responsible for the foundation. Although Bishop Flambard contributed greatly to the buildings of Durham, such as the bridge, he also founded Palace Green by clearing the houses. He was known locally as the 'Torch' as he constantly took money from the people, for the then King William II 14.

This first bridge built by Flambard in 1128 originally had two arches. It was swept away by floodwater in 1400, thus for a time a ferry service had to be restored 35. The bridge was rebuilt by Bishop Skirlaw (1388-1398) at the end of the 14th century. The Silver Street side of the bridge was guarded by a gateway surmounted by a tower, marked as Bridge Gate on the Ordnance Survey of 1915. There was a postern or small private door at the point where steps now lead down to the riverbanks. One reference state that a chapel dedicated to St Mary Magdalen stood here 6. This gateway was removed in 1760 21, and the associated battlements in 1828 before the bridge itself was widened in the early 19th century 19.

When the packhorses were used as the mode of transport, they used to cross the river via the fords between Millburngate and Walkergate. The wear further down the river was built to keep the river deep around the Castle for defence purposes. From Walkergate the packhorses either entered the city via Back Silver Street coming out at the Queens Head Hotel, or along Paradise Lane to bypass the city. Paradise Lane crossed Claypath and came to another ford situated near Elvet Bridge. The entrance to the Dungeon Prison beneath Elvet Bridge could be seen from this lane.

When on November 17th, 1771 the Wear rose 8' 10" higher and swept away the old Prebends bridge, one of the Abbey Mills and two houses at the end of Framwellgate bridge were also swept away.

In 1849 when the river was low and no wind present, bubbles appeared on the surface near to Framwellgate bridge. They were found to be flammable by Lloyd Wharton who arranged for the bubbles to be collected and a light was lit. It lasted for a few weeks, the gas probably coming from a coal strata below14.

Two notable buildings on the Silver Street side of the river were the Castle Hotel 11 (which gave accommodation) on the south side of Silver Street just across the bridge; and there was a Mustard Mill at the junction of Silver Street and Framwellgate bridge 3.

Durham bridges: Text
Durham bridges: Image


The Water Gate at the end of the Baileys gave access to a ferry in the 13th or 14th century. This was replaced by a stake and plank footbridge in 1574, whose successor completed in 1778 stands a little downstream. This ferry service was operated by the Convent to give the Lay Brothers access to their mills, fishponds, and orchards around South Street and Crossgate 35.

The present Prebends bridge was started to be built in 1772 by the Dean and Chapter. This was in place of the footbridge that was used as a horse bridge 21, which was washed away by the flood of 1770. The bridge was built from free stone quarries at Durham. An entire fish was found embedded in a large block of stone in 1776 22. The building took place from 1772 to 1777.

The current Water Gate at the end of the Baileys was built in 1778 to coincide with the opening of the replacement Prebends Bridge 5.

Crossing the river at this point it is difficult to imagine that an Act of Parliament was passed in 1759 to make the Wear navigable up to Durham. The idea of making the river navigable up to Durham was for the primary interest of the coal owners. Sunderland was becoming an increasing exporter of coal to London and by 1750 its trade had increased to a half of that of Newcastle. Pits such as Lumley could cut the cost of coal if barges could sail up to its wharfs and transfer the coal to coasters.

However, the shifting sands at the mouth of the River Wear were difficult, not helped by the coasters dumping their rock ballast there. Craft could in the 17th century penetrate 12 miles upstream to Newbridge near Chester le Street. Many people supported the scheme: The Dean and Chapter (as they were vast landowners of lands between Durham and Chester le street and hoped more mining would result; (John Tempest paid £17,000 for the grand lease of the Rainton Mines from the Dean in 1771); the various landowners who were eager to increase pit output and have more pits; and the general public as they hoped that coal prices would fall 23.

For keels of 20 tonnes to pass the 8 miles between Biddick and Cocken Ford the cost would be £7,000 but for the 6 miles between Cocken and Durham the cost would be £20,000, as solid rock would need to be cut and locks installed. Tyne based merchants were opposed, but the Act was passed in 1717. First work carried out was to put piers at the river mouth, but this reduced the estuary size hence tides could no longer penetrate as much as before with the added quays along the 'ways 2 foot was lost in river height at Newbridge. This original plan was dropped but another was raised in 1746 and the river was to be made navigable up to Newbridge by June 1759. The repair of flood damage and neglected structures (a new pier needed to be built) again allowed nothing to be done on the river23.

Two methods were looked into; Lowering the bed of the river which would cost £9,000 or erecting a dam and locks to give a depth of 7' above the shallows and 33' upstream at Newbridge at a cost of £6,694. After further delays the lock scheme was accepted, but by May 1761 a further inspection revealed the site of the new lock would flood Lambton's Harraton Colliery. A Canal issue that was raised was not taken up by investors 23.

By September 1825 however, the introduction of passenger rail travel had stopped any thought of river travel.

Durham bridges: Text

Lost businesses

List of businesses as listed in 1923 [6] and the current businesses 100 years later in 2023. 

The Public Houses and Hotel that are no longer functioning can be seen at reference [33]

G Brooke, Nurseryman and seedman in 1923

19-Twenty restaurant in 2023 at 20 Elvet Bridge

Campbells, Millinery, ladies outfitter in 1923 

Woven, menswear in 2023 at 21 Elvet Bridge

Bramwells, Jewelers in 1923

Still going strong in 2023 at 24 Elvet bridge

London Vaults, Public House in 1923

Capriccio, cafe in 2023 at 26 Elvet Bridge

Prince George Hotel, Public House in 1923

Paddy's Pizzeria in 2023 at 87 Elvet Bridge

F G Hoy, Hosier and Mans outfitter in 1923 at 90 Elvet Bridge

Ship Inn, Public House in 1923

Mixology, Cocktail House in 2023 at 93 Elvet Bridge

E Brooke & Sons, Fruiterers and Florists in 1923

Morgan Douglas, Estate Agents & Lettings in 2023 at 94 Elvet Bridge

H Dyson & Son, Durham rock and sweets in 1923

Tango, restaurant in 2023 at 96 Elvet Bridge

Criterion, Public House

corner of Framwellgate Bridge & Crossgate in 1923

Robt. McLean, Tobacco in 1923 at entrance to Framwellgate Bridge

Durham bridges: Welcome
Durham bridges: Members Page
bottom of page