Clare Bridge

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Clare Bridge
De Clare Bridge.jpg
Clare Bridge Mid-Autumn
Coordinates52° 12' 17.90" N; 0° 6' 50.57" E
Official nameClare Bridge
Named forThe de Clare Family
OwnerClare College
Characteristics
DesignSemi-circular arch bridge
MaterialLimestone
Trough constructionBarnack
Total length22.86 Meters; 75 Feet
Width4.2672 Meters; 14 Feet
Piers in water3
History
Constructed byThomas Grumbold
Construction start1639
Construction end1640
OpenedThe Bridge is currently in use
RebuiltThe bridge was restored in 1969.
Statistics
Daily trafficBicycle and pedestrian bridge

Clare Bridge is the oldest bridge in Cambridge, this is also one of the earliest in England of classical design. Clare bridge is the oldest bridge on the river Cam and the only surviving pre-civil war bridge. Many of the other bridges were torn down by Cromwell’s troops and the stone used to re-fortify Cambridge castle. At the time, Clare bridge was the most recently built bridge over the river Cam. Built mostly of limestone, it spans the River Cam in three arches of 21ft. The bridge is 75ft long and 14ft wide between parapets, which consist of fine balustrades with large balls on top. Some of the stone is Barnack, recycled from an earlier construction. It's not entirely clear whether Grumbold was the designer or just a draughtsman. He was paid three shillings for a drawing of it. Structural repairs were carried out in 1972 to stabilise the deformation of the bridge, particularly the western arch, that has happened over its lifetime.

Surroundings

Clare Bridge gives access to the gardens on The Backs and is the first bridge at Cambridge in Classical style, and the oldest surviving bridge in the city. Loggan (1688, 1690) shows two open rectangular gardens west of the river, reached across the bridge, from which the raised axial path extends west towards Queen's Road, with informal, rectangular gardens to north and south. The area covered by the southern garden, labelled King's College's Meadow, does not seem to have been part of Clare gardens.

Clare Bridge Lore

Clare Bridge is decorated with stone spheres. One sphere has a wedge missing from it and there are many tales to explain this. The most popular is that the bridge’s builder was not paid in full and so damaged the sphere in revenge. Another explanation claims that two Fellows had a bet as to how many spheres there are on Clare Bridge and, to ensure he would not lose the bet, one Fellow removed a section from one of the spheres. What stories have you heard regarding Clare Bridge’s stone sphere? Next time you are walking over the Cam listen out to hear what the punt tour guides have to say.

References

  • Heyman, J., & Padfield, C. J. (1972). TWO MASONRY BRIDGES: 1. CLARE COLLEGE BRIDGE. Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, 52(3), 305-318.
  • Mihai, L. A., & Ainsworth, M. (2009). An adaptive multi-scale computational modelling of Clare College Bridge. Computer Methods in Applied Mechanics and Engineering, 198(21-26), 1839-1847.