Tal-y-cafn has long been a crossing point between the east and west banks of the river Conwy. Cattle once swam across at low tide as they were driven to market. From medieval times to the late Victorian age, a ferry provided transport for passenger and livestock. It took the form of a floating platform attached to a rope.
The rustic scene of the ferry and countryside was painted by several artists in the 19th century. You can view a photo of the ferry here (People’s Collection website).
The Tal-y-Cafn ferry was replaced in 1897 by a bridge, which had steel spans resting on piers and abutments made of stone and concrete.
The masonry was retained when the current spans replaced the original in 1977. These spans were also built of steel, using the modular design patented by Archibald Milne Hamilton in 1935. He was a civil engineer from New Zealand. In the late 1920s and early1930s, he engineered a road between Iraq and Iran through Kurdistan. He used surplus army bridges for the road, but found that many bridge parts were incompatible. This gave him the idea of creating a set of standard components which could be fitted together in different ways, to suit the local circumstances. His system has been widely used by the military for bridges intended to last longer than temporary spans for assault operations.
In September 1944, Francesco Astolfo, an Italian Prisoner of War who had been working on a nearby farm, leapt from the bridge and drowned in the river. His inquest heard that the married 34-year-old was depressed, having heard nothing of his wife and children whom he believed had been killed during the war in southern Italy. He was buried on the Great Orme with an Italian priest officiating, his coffin draped with the Italian flag and many of his fellow prisoners in attendance. In 1953 he was re-interred at the Italian Military Cemetery in Surrey.
With thanks to Adrian Hughes, of the Home Front museum, Llandudno
Postcode: LL28 5RR