A 17th-century bridge has been revealed in the centre of Belfast, Northern Ireland – found encased inside its 20th-century successor. It was discovered during an ongoing archaeological survey, undertaken by IAC Archaeology Ltd as part of the city’s new £175m transport hub development.
According to local folklore, the Saltwater Bridge – which crossed Belfast’s Blackstaff River close to where it enters the arterial River Lagan – was on the route taken by King William III and his forces while en route to the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. It was subsequently replaced, however, by the Boyne Bridge, built in the 1930s.
As part of the archaeological survey, a series of cores were taken from the modern bridge. These confirmed that remains of the older bridge had been fully encapsulated by the later structure. As part of the stringent planning conditions for the Belfast Transport Hub (BTH), these older remains will be preserved in situ within the final development. While lockdown restrictions have prevented Translink, Northern Ireland’s public transport provider and developer of the BTH, from displaying the archaeological findings to local residents – who have been extremely vociferous in their objections to the proposed demolition of the 20th-century version of the bridge – there are plans to allow access once it is safe.
The archaeological survey also examined the site of a nearby building, which had been identified as ‘Brick Hall’ on a map dated 1790. Excavations revealed old foundations, as well as bricks and pottery, dating to the late 18th century. Archaeologists, however, remain unsure as to whether these artefacts are from ‘Brick Hall’ or a building known as ‘Rose Lodge’, which is shown on later, 19th-century maps of the area. Further post-excavation analysis will hopefully be able to clarify this.
TEXT: Mark Ashby.