A special day of celebration will be held on Saturday 10th August to mark two hundred years since construction began on Menai Suspension Bridge, which links the island of Anglesey to Bangor on the mainland.
The bridge was designed by Thomas Telford and construction began in 1819 and completed in 1826. Before the bridge was completed, the island had no fixed connection to the mainland and access to and from Anglesey was by ferry across the fast flowing and dangerous waters of the Menai Strait.
Because of the high banks and fast flowing waters of the Strait, it would have been difficult to build piers on the shifting sands of the sea-bed and, even if it could be done, they would have obstructed the navigation. Also, the bridge would have to be high enough to allow the passage of the tall ships of the day. In view of this, Telford proposed that a suspension bridge should be built and his recommendation was accepted by Parliament
Construction of the bridge, to Telford’s design, began with the towers on either side of the strait. These were constructed from Penmon limestone and were hollow with internal cross-walls. The problem of spanning the strait, a distance of nearly 600 feet, was solved by creating 16 giant chain cables made from iron bars, each of them weighing 121 tons.
In 1938 the iron chains that had held the roadway in place for over 100 years were replaced by steel ones, thus strengthening the construction – and, interestingly, the bridge remained open throughout the modernisation process.
There was a toll to cross the bridge when the bridge first opened. This was abolished in 1941 and has remained toll free since.
Menai Heritage, the independent charity that runs the popular Bridges Exhibition in Menai Bridge, will be holding two celebratory events on the shore of the Menai Strait to mark the day that the first stone was laid.
The events will offer an opportunity to learn about living in the 19th century and stimulate people’s imagination of what it might have been like to be standing on the brink of the creation of such an iconic Bridge to the Future.
Throughout the day, a History Fair will offer information and demonstrations of the skills needed in the 19th century for bridge building. There will also be an opportunity to hear how some local people at the time might have thought the Bridge was going to affect their lives.
Then just after noon at the foot of the Menai Suspension Bridge, to three cheers, a commemorative plaque will be unveiled by senior members of the Civil Engineering profession, assisted by Ms N Rh Jones, Chair of Menai Heritage, in a ceremony to commemorate laying the first stone.
The History Fair will be held at Prince’s Pier, Water St, Menai Bridge, 10 August 2019, from 10am to 4pm. The activities at the Fair will include:
- Anglesey Masonry – Demonstration of stone splitting with plug & feather technique
- Geomôn – Learning about limestone
- Menai Heritage – Demonstrations of lifting and moving stone
- Menai Heritage – Building a model bridge
- Bangor University Marine sciences – Underwater in the Strait
- Oriel Ger-y-Fenai – Prints of the bridges for sale
- Holyhead Maritime Museum – A sea captain and maritime tools, plus sales of Museum merchandise
- Maritime Volunteers (originally from the Clio ship) – Knot-tying and other maritime skills
- Cadarn Consulting Engineers – Draughtsmanship
- Menai Heritage – Books and merchandise, including the newly published book from Bob Daimond and Menai Heritage: “Menai Suspension Bridge The First 200 Years”