This historic bridge over the River Trent near Derby was built in the 13th century to span the river and the surrounding marshes. The bridge was part of an ancient highway between Derby and Coventry that was the main route between the two cities since well before the Norman Invasion of 1066.
Swarkestone Bridge is built of sandstone and, including its associated arched causeway, is just under a mile long. It has 17 arches, 6 of which remain totally unaltered since medieval times. The impressive structure is longest stone bridge in England.
The bridge has proved itself of strategic importance throughout the ages. For about 300 years, it was the main crossing of the Trent in the English Midlands and the only crossing between Burton on Trent and the City of Nottingham. The road over the bridge was the main road into Derby from London until the 18th century.
In January, 1643, the stone bridge was the location of a battle during the English Civil War. The bridge was captured by the Parliamentarians, who significantly outnumbered Royalist defenders.
Perhaps even more significant, in 1745 Swarkestone Bridge was the southernmost point of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s advance toward London in his attempt to claim back the British Crown for the house of Stuart. Some say that when his spies found no evidence of support from the south, the rebels turned back to Derby and then retreated to Scotland to face their final defeat at the Battle of Culloden.
There are numerous stories about the bridge being haunted by ghosts, ranging from Civil War horsemen through Jacobite rebels to the many who had drowned in the river at the bridge. At this historic site you can also see evidence of defenses (tank traps, etc) built during the Second World War.
Know Before You Go
If you are a scuba diver the river under the bridge provides an unusual, if shallow, dive site. Re-enactors dressed as Jacobite rebels and troops loyal to King George take part in parades, wreath laying, and recreations of battle on the first weekend of December each year (Prince Charlie was in Derby on December 4, 1745). The commemorations take place over both days of the weekend with the focus on Swarkestone on Saturday and Derby City on Sunday.
Because of its age, the bridge is a tight squeeze for modern traffic of the combustible engine variety. If one chooses to cross it, be comfortable with the close proximity of oncoming traffic, including buses and large trucks. Not recommended for pedestrian passage.