Tintagel Castle Footbridge shortlisted for RIBA Stirling Prize

  • The new Learning Centre at Walmer Castle has also been shortlisted for RIBA Stephen Lawrence Prize
  • English Heritage commitment to the best of new architecture recognised

The footbridge at Tintagel Castle in Cornwall has been shortlisted for the Royal Institute of British Architects’ (RIBA) Stirling Prize for the UK’s best new building. Commissioned by English Heritage, the bridge – designed by Ney & Partners engineers and architects William Matthews Associates – reunites for the first time in more than 500 years, the two halves of Tintagel Castle. The bridge consists of two cantilevers that reach out and – almost – touch in the middle. At the centre, a narrow gap represents the transition between the mainland and the island, the present and the past.

Spanning a 190-foot gorge on the North Cornwall coast, the footbridge follows the line of the original historic entrance route – a narrow strip of land, long lost to erosion – between the castle’s 13th-century gatehouse on the mainland and its courtyard on the jagged headland, or island, jutting into the sea. So significant was this historic crossing that it gave rise to the place’s name, the Cornish Din Tagell meaning “the Fortress of the Narrow Entrance”. Legend has it that the King of Britain, Uther Pendragon – transformed by the wizard Merlin into the likeness of the Duke of Cornwall – stole across this passage into the castle, where he spent the night with the Duke’s wife, Ygerna, who later gave birth to the future King Arthur.

The delicate and structurally ingenious bridge complements the coastal landscape, unlocks for the visitor the history of the castle, and provides step-free access to the island – opening up the historic site to people who hitherto were unable to enjoy it. Prefabricated in Plymouth and then erected on site, the bridge features local materials, including oak and Cornish slate quarried only 5km from the site. Commissioned by English Heritage following an international design competition, the footbridge formed part of a larger programme of works by the charity at the site which included improving the footpaths around the castle, helping to limit the impact of visitors on the site’s unique archaeology and ecology. The Julia and Hans Rausing Trust generously donated £2.5m towards the project, the largest single private donation received to date by English Heritage.

This week also saw English Heritage’s new learning centre at Walmer Castle and Gardens – designed by Adam Richards Architects – shortlisted for RIBA’s Stephen Lawrence Prize for the best project with a construction budget of less than £1m. The single storey brick building provides a dedicated space for school visits and community groups. The learning centre is the first addition to the Kent castle – where the first Duke of Wellington died in 1852 – for 145 years. The centre was created as part of English Heritage’s wider programme, generously supported by the Heritage Fund, to reconnect the gardens at Walmer Castle, including restoring and re-opening a lost quarry garden.

Kate Mavor, English Heritage’s Chief Executive, said: “The footbridge at Tintagel Castle is emblematic of our ambitions as a charity, to bring history to life in imaginative ways. New design – if done with great care and thought – can unlock old buildings. The bridge at Tintagel makes the castle whole again while the learning centre at Walmer has helped us to put education right at the heart of the castle.

“We are delighted that the brilliant work by Ney & Partners and William Matthews Associates at Tintagel and Adam Richard Architects at Walmer has been recognised. We’d also like to thank our donors – The Julia and Hans Rausing Trust at Tintagel and the Heritage Fund at Walmer – for their backing, without which neither of these projects would exist. With the help of our supporters, English Heritage will continue to invest in sensitive and uplifting new design at our sites to ensure their fascinating stories can be done justice.”

English Heritage became a charity in 2015 and as part of a new strategy to revive the sites in its care, to make them more accessible, and to open up more spaces within them, the charity has been commissioning sensitive contemporary design which respects and complements the historic context. The footbridge at Tintagel Castle and the learning centre at Walmer Castle are some of the fruits of this programme but so too is the visitor centre and museum at Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire (by Simpson & Brown Architects and winner of a RIBA Yorkshire Award in 2017) and the café at Mount Grace Priory, also in Yorkshire (by Mawson Kerr Architects).

Towards the end of the year, English Heritage will be unveiling a new roof deck and internal walkways at Clifford’s Tower in York. Designed by the RIBA Award winning practice Hugh Broughton Architects, the timber structure sits within the shell of the celebrated York landmark, and will help visitors to better understand the history of the tower and offer them unrivalled views of the city’s historic skyline.

For more information on the Tintagel Castle Footbridge, visit

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