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Bradshaw’s Guide

Menai Bridge

Menai Straits Suspension Bridge. Taken between ca. 1890 and ca. 1906. Original: Library of Congress

Two miles from Bangor, across the narrow channel which cuts off Anglesea, is best seen from the water below, above which it rises 100 feet, at high tide. It was built by Telford, between 1819 and 1826, to complete the coach route to Holyhead. From pier to pier (each 153 feet high) the main part of the bridge is 550 feet long, and 20 broad, including a carriage road of 12 feet. The first mail coach drove over this in a wintry storm. It is suspended from 16 chains, each having: a total length of 1,715 feet, and fastened into 60 feet of solid rock on each side. The total weight of iron is 650 tons; it would bear about 1,300 tons. It is still the longest suspension bridge in this country, but is exceeded by those at Freibourg, in Switzerland (870 feet between the piers, and 167 high), across the Dordogne, near Bordeaux, and over the Danube, at Pesth.

The Britannia Tubular Bridge. This magnificent structure was made to carry the Chester and Holyhead Railway across the Menai Straits. Like the beautiful bridge at Conway, it is on the tubular principle, but on a much grander scale, and is one of the most ingenious, daring, and stupendous monuments of engineering skill which modem times have seen attempted. As this gigantic and amazing structure now spans the Menai, connecting the two opposite shores of Carnarvon and the Isle of Anglesea, we may justly express our admiration of it by calling it Mr. Stephenson’s chef d’œuvre, but this would scarcely do justice to the remarkable bridge or its great, architect, we therefore think it proper to add the following details:–

The idea of carrying a railway through a vast tube, originated with Mr. Robert Stephenson. It having been found extremely difficult to construct an arch of the immense span required; and as chain bridges were not sufficiently firm tor the purpose of railway traffic, Mr. Stephenson suggested the application of iron tubes to pass from pier to pier. These tubes may be described as the double barrel of a gun on an immense scale, through which the trams pass and repass, at unslackened speed, as if it were a tunnel through solid rock on land, instead of being elevated a hundred and four feet above the sea. The suggestion of Mr. Stephenson was adopted, and the Britannia Bridge now forms an imperishable monument to his fame. The construction of the bridge, however, attracted crowds of engineers and others to watch the progress of the stupendous work, and to behold the means by which Mr. Stephenson triumphed over all the difficulties he had to encounter in a task of such magnitude. They saw, day by day, with the liveliest satisfaction, the patient putting together of the tubes, the marvellous facility with which they were floated, and the wonderful machinery by which they were elevated to the destined altitude, until the whole was completed and the first trains run through it without its deflecting more than an inch, and there it still stands, scarcely bending to the heaviest trains, stretching itself as it basks in the warmth of the noonday sun, gathering itself back under the chill of night, bending towards every gleam of sunshine, or shrinking from every passing cloud.

The Britannia Bridge takes its name from a rock which rises about, the middle of the stream, and which is bare at low water. Without this advantage the erection of the pier would have been impossible, in consequence of the strength of the current and the local difficulties. The Britannia pier is built on this rock, and even with this advantage from, nature the span from each of the principal piers is 463 feet; the entire length of the bridge, 1,560 feet; and the headway at high water 100 feet, which leaves sufficient room for ships to pass under. We close our description with a brief summary of the leading statistics.

It is a wrought iron tube, made of plates riveted together; 104 feet above the water, 1,513 feet long, 14 feet wide (enough for two lines of railway), 26 feet high in the middle, and 19 feet at the sides, with a total weight of 11,400 tons. The total quantity of stone contained in the bridge is 1,400,000 cubic feet; the timber used in the various scaffoldings for the masonry platforms, for the erection of the tubes, &c., was 450,000 cubic feet. The centre pier is 230 feet high; through this it passes by an opening 45 feet long, which, with 460 feet on each side, makes the main part of the bridge 965 feet long. There are two other piers of less height. At each end are carved lions, 25 feet long. Summer heat lengthens the whole fabric about a foot. It was begun in 1846, and the first train went through on the 5th of March, 1850. The great tubes being first riveted together, were floated out on pontoons, and then raised by hydraulic presses into their place. These presses were shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851. A pillar, near Llanfair Church, is a memorial of the only accident which occurred in the prosecution of this remarkable work. From Bangor it is approached by the Belmont tunnel, 2,172 feet long.

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