Keys to the Past

Local History

Piercebridge (County Durham)

The small village of Piercebridge lies on the river Tees. Although not an important site today, in the Roman period it was an important river crossing. Indeed the remains of the bridge built by the Romans can still be seen. It carried the Roman road, known as Dere Street, across the river. Dere Street was the main road north in this part of the country and led up to Hadrian's Wall. Piercebridge was not the only example of a Roman fort on a river crossing in this area; there was fort at Greta Bridge to the west.

The Romans defended the river crossing by building a fort at the site. It is likely to have been first constructed sometime in the latter part of the 1st century AD, soon after they arrived in the area. However, the only remains seen during archaeological excavation at the site are probably of early 4th century date.

As with many Roman forts, a small civilian settlement, known as a vicus grew up outside the fort itself. It probably supplied many goods and services to the soldiers. It may also have traded goods further afield; cargo may well have been carried up the Tees to this point by boat. Aerial photographs of this area have shown the cropmarks of about 30 buildings. Excavations by archaeologists in 1973 found the remains of two rectangular buildings. One contained a hypocaust and dated to the 3rd century AD. Workshops including kilns and metalworking areas have been found. Many other remains have been found nearby including much Roman pottery, carved altars and gravestones and several burials, including one in a lead coffin.

Despite the importance of the site in the Roman period it soon fell out of use in the early 5th century, once the Romans gave up control of the country. There may have been an Anglo-Saxon settlement in the area, but there is little firm evidence. Unlike many other Roman forts in the north-east it did not end up with a name with the word 'chester' in. This was the word Anglo-Saxon's used to described old forts, particularly Roman ones. This suggests that the purpose of the remains here was not understood by the Anglo-Saxons in the area. Instead, the place became known as Piercebridge, a name first recorded in about 1050. It probably means Percy's Bridge. The medieval settlement was never very important. It did not have its own parish and had only a small chapel.

The modern bridge over the Tees was built in 1789 and has three stone arches. It replaces an earlier bridge which was swept away by a great flood. During the English Civil War a group of Parliamentarian troops, under Lord Fairfax, was defeated by a small Royalist force when they tried to cross the bridge.

The parish church of St. Mary was built in 1873 and is known to contain two war memorial rolls of honour listing those of the parish who served and fell in the First World War. One of these memorials was created in 1916 before the war had ended, so the other memorial has two additional names on it reflecting a further two men who had died by 1918.

Reference number:D6859
Event(s):Heart of Teesdale Project Heritage Audit; North of England Civic Trust

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Please note that this information has been compiled from a number of different sources. Durham County Council and Northumberland County Council can accept no responsibility for any inaccuracy contained therein. If you wish to use/copy any of the images, please ensure that you read the Copyright information provided.