Old bridge, Pontypridd
This bridge had the longest span in Europe when completed in 1756. Remarkably, it was the work of a self-taught stonemason, a devout man called William Edwards (1719-1789) who hailed from nearby Groeswen.
The bridge was commissioned by the Glamorgan Quarter Sessions to replace a dilapidated timber bridge. The cost, £500, was covered by a rate on the Hundreds of Miskin and Senghenydd. The contract required Edwards to maintain the bridge for seven years. His first attempt was a conventional bridge of three arches, but this was destroyed within two years by the river in flood. The intermediate piers were unable to withstand the forces of the water and debris. His first two attempts to build a single span over the river also failed.
His fourth bridge design featured three round holes through the masonry on each side of the bridge, greatly reducing the structure’s weight. The bridge still stands today. The significance of its 44-metre span wasn’t recognised until the Duke of York returned from a European grand tour in 1764. In a magazine article, he praised the Rialto bridge in Venice, with its 30-metre span. In response, a reader’s letter pointed out the wider span of the Pontypridd bridge.
The river's destructive force also demolished bridges downstream in Cardiff, as you can read here.
The Pontypridd bridge’s elegance attracted artists including JMW Turner, and the bridge served its intended purpose of allowing farmers to walk their livestock to market in Caerphilly. However, the road’s narrowness caused traffic congestion, and the descent from the crown each side was too steep for horses with carts. In 1857 a level bridge was built alongside, resting on intermediate piers in the river.
Building four bridges for the price of one left Edwards in debt, but this was paid off by members of the local gentry who recognised his genius. Having learned many lessons on the Pontypridd contract, he and his sons built at least 10 other bridges, better suited to horse-drawn vehicles. Surviving bridges can be seen at Usk (Monmouthshire), Dolauhirion (Carmarthenshire) and Pontardawe (Swansea).
Postcode: CF37 4PE