Members and visitors assembled at Peniel Chapel on a glorious April evening to hear an interesting and comprehensive presentation on the subject of Thomas Telford and his North Wales bridges. Mr Bob Daimond was our speaker for the evening and spoke on behalf of Menai Bridge Community Heritage Trust. Mr Daimond moved to North Wales in 1974 and has had a long and distinguished career as a Chartered Civil Engineer.
We were told of Thomas Telford’s early life, born in 1757 into a poor family and growing up in the Scottish borders. He became an apprentice stone mason at the age of 14 and moved around the UK honing his skills and gaining experience. While living in Shropshire he built around 40 bridges and 3 churches including St Michaels, Madeley, the first octagonal church.
His connection with North Wales began in 1793 when he was appointed General Agent and Engineer to build the Ellesmere Canal and this connection continued with the building of Chirk Aqueduct and the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct the longest, highest navigable aqueduct in Britain at the time.
Thomas Telford is probably best remembered in our part of North Wales for his work on the “Holyhead Road”, (part of the road from London to Dublin), the Menai Suspension Bridge and the Conwy Suspension Bridge. He offered to build/improve the road from Shrewsbury to Holyhead for the sum of £394,000 and was chosen for this task due to his excellent reputation in Scottish engineering, including the construction of 875 miles of road, 1117 bridges, over 40 harbours, the Caledonian Canal, 32 churches, 40 manses and many other achievements.
Thomas Telford did not just build the Holyhead Road, which we now know as the A5, but built the infrastructure to support it such as tollhouses, tollgates and milestones, many of which can be seen today. Where appropriate he used existing structures such as the 7-arch bridge at Corwen. In 1819 work on the Menai Suspension Bridge began and the bridge opened in 1826, costing £185,397. The Conwy Suspension Bridge was built between 1822 -1826 at a cost of £51,000 and replaced the ferry at the same point
Thomas Telford died in 1834, highly regarded by his peers. Parnell, quoting Storch on the importance of the work of engineers’ states that “after giving protection to property and person, a government can bestow on a nation no greater benefit than the improvement of its harbours, canals, and roads”. Robert Southey described Thomas Telford as a “Colossus of Roads”. Perhaps a fitting epitaph for a man who has done so much for this part of North Wales.
– Diane Williams
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