No visit to Anglesey is complete without visiting its most famous village of Llanfairpwll as it is sometimes known or Llanfair PG. It’s situated on the Menai Strait near the Brittania Bridge opposite the town of Bangor which is on the mainland. It is thought that a settlement has existed here from as early as between 4000 and 2000 BC. It is the longest place name in the UK and the second longest in the world, translated it means “The church of Mary in the hollow of the white hazel near the fierce whirlpool and the church of Tysilio by the red cave”. The first ever meeting of the Women’s Institute (which began in Canada) was held in Lllanfairpwll in 1915 and quickly spread throughout the rest of the British Isles.
You can take your pick on how to reach Anglesey from the mainland, there is Brittania Bridge which was built in 1850 or Menai Bridge, the largest suspension bridge in the world at the time, built by Thomas Telford and completed in January 1826. Ireland joined the UK in 1800 and it became necessary for better links between Ireland and London for the members of parliament to travel at regular intervals. Previously, crossing the Menai strait had been by ferry but this could often be treacherous due to the tidal swell and strong currents between the island and the mainland so in 1819 the suspension bridge was designed and was a triumph of civil engineering. Sixteen huge chains held up 579 feet of deck allowing 100 feet of space underneath to allow tall ships to pass.
Thomas Telford was born in Ireland and became a stonemason after doing an apprenticeship at the age of 14 then moving to London to be promoted to first class mason under Sir William Chambers. He developed his design and project management skills while working in Portsmouth dock as a supervisor and went on to build more than 40 bridges and 3 churches in Shropshire before being appointed to the Ellesmere canal company. He was responsible for the building of Llangollen canal and Chirk and Poncysyllte aqueducts.
Before being appointed to the Menai bridge project Telford was responsible for 1000s of miles of road, 1000s of bridges, scores of churches, harbours and manses as well as the Caledonian Canal. He also did design work in Sweden. In 1811 he was appointed to survey the route from Holyhead to London and was later commissioned in 1815 to improve the whole route which included Waterloo bridge at Betws y Coed, Nant Ffrancon Pass in Snowdonia, Stanley Embankment at Holyhead and of course Menai Bridge.
In 1820 Thomas Telford was invited to become the first president of the Institution of Civil Engineers, the oldest professional learned society and qualifying body for the engineering profession in the world.
The other option nearer to Llanfairpwll to get from the mainland to Anglesey is by Brittania Bridge. In the mid-19th century rail travel was becoming increasingly popular and a rail link was needed from Holyhead to the mainland, it was considered to add a rail line across the Menai suspension bridge but was decided to be inappropriate, so a second bridge across the Menai Strait was commissioned. This time the great Robert Stephenson was commissioned to build the bridge and in 1846 construction began using a special tubular design.
At the same time Stephenson’s other tubular bridge was being built at Conway and by March1850 both had been completed and the new Chester to Holyhead railway was opened. The structure of the bridge changed in the seventies when a fire caused some damage, repairs took four years to complete. In 1980 a road deck opened above the railway and carries the A55 into Anglesey.
Stephenson and Fairbairn’s tubular design went on to influence many engineers including Brunel and its principles are still used today, the Conway Bridge still has its tubular structure intact after 150 years use.
Robert Stephenson son of George Stephenson was born in Newcastle upon Tyne and was privately schooled and studied engineering at the University of Edinburgh. He spent three years as a mining engineer in Columbia and then returned to work with his father. The father son partnership was very instrumental in the early days of the railway and apart from pioneering the Rocket they also built numerous other trains for the new railway network. Robert Stephenson was chief engineer on the new Birmingham to London railway link, the first city to city train link.
One of his friends was Isambard Kingdom Brunel and they often helped each other on projects. As Stephenson’s career progressed he became more involved with bridges and built many notable bridges around the world the most notable being Brittania Bridge and he also constructed the High Level Bridge at Newcastle upon Tyne and the Royal Border Bridge near Berwick upon Tweed.
Robert Stephenson like Thomas Telford also became president of the Institution of Civil engineers in 1855. He was also president of the newly formed Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
I haven’t always been very interested in how things are built or how they came about but on this trip I am discovering a new interest in these things, maybe because I am writing about them and need to know a bit more information about them before I write my own blog. Most of the information about the bridges was taken from the Menai Bridge and Brittania Bridge website.
A lot of people visit Llanfairpwll every year but there is not a whole lot of things to do there, the train station has a sign where everyone goes to have their picture taken and there is craft centre within the vicinity of the train station for you to purchase souvenirs of your trip, some of the products hand crafted locally.