Britannia Bridge builders’ memorial, Llanfairpwll
Outside St Mary’s Church stands a memorial to people who died during construction of the Britannia Bridge, Robert Stephenson’s tubular railway bridge over the Menai Strait. See below for their names and details. The memorial also bears the names of two men who died in the bridge’s rebuilding in the 1970s (details below).
We have included details of Robert Jones, who is not named on the memorial although he died after falling from scaffolding at the Anglesey end of the bridge, where the ‘cathedral abutment’ was under construction. Some of the men who died were sailors, who had useful skills in handling ropes and scaling ladders.
Inscriptions state that the memorial is sacred to the memory of two Yorkshiremen. One was William Brooks (“Brook” on the memorial) of Dewsbury, who died of typhus fever on 11 October 1847, aged 26 (27 on the memorial). He had been principal accountant to the contractors for the bridge masonry. The other was brick maker Isaac Garforth of Mirfield, who died on 18 March 1850, aged 62
Construction of the Britannia Bridge from 1846 to 1850 involved a large labour force. Some of the workers are depicted in the drawing below, courtesy of the National Library of Wales.
Many of the workmen lived near the site in a community – on both sides of the Strait – known as Britannia Bridge, often with their families. Numerous adults and children died of disease during the construction project. In 1849 the settlement was described as “extremely filthy” by the Bangor and Beaumaris Board of Guardians, which was concerned about potential outbreaks of cholera and other diseases.
Several marriages also took place at Britannia Bridge, and children were born there. Two children are named on the memorial. One of them had been playing on a temporary railway when he was hit by a vehicle carrying stone. Many other children died at Britannia Bridge. The death toll in just one week in 1849 was as follows: Sarah Anne Bentley, aged 7 months, died of whooping cough on 20 March; Thomas Fleet, aged 10 weeks, died of “convulsions” on 22 March; and Elizabeth Anne Thomas, aged 30 months, died of whooping cough on 23 March.
A bridge worker called Hodgkinson had his baby daughter christened Britannia Ann Stephenson Hodgkinson in 1849. The ceremony took place in the middle of the Menai Strait at the Britannia Rock, on which the bridge’s central pier stands.
In 1848 coroner William Jones held an inquest on night watchman John Rowlands, aged 30, who was murdered while patrolling the bridge worksite on 28 July. His fellow watchman John Pritchard was tried for his murder in 1849 and acquitted.
With thanks to Gerwyn James and to the Royal Collection Trust and National Library of Wales
Britannia Bridge casualties
- William Blayloc (or Blaylock), a widower, December 1847. Died of internal injuries after a chain failed and a load of iron, which was being hoisted up to the scaffolding, fell on top of him.
- Samuel Davies, joiner, 6 February 1848, aged 40. Of Overton, Flintshire. Drowned soon after joining the bridge builders. Buried at Llandysilio churchyard, near Menai Bridge. Left a widow.
- Richard Edwards, 18 February 1848, aged 30. Of Fron-bach, Llandysilio. Died soon after being blown off the main scaffolding at the bridge’s Anglesey end. Left a wife and five children.
- Emma Greaves, 16 December 1849. Youngest daughter of James Greaves, of Lake Lock, near Wakefield.
- William Howard, March 1848, aged 6. Son of Arnot and Elizabeth Howard. Was run over by a lorry carrying stones along the tramroad at the Caernarfonshire end of the bridge.
- David Hughes, October 1850
- George Hughes, March 1848, aged 25. Of Chester. Died soon after falling c.45 metres from scaffolding as a result of woodwork giving way beneath him.
- Henry Jones, labourer, July 1848. Of Llangefni. Crushed by falling stone and rubbish. Left a wife and seven children.
- Robert Jones, November 1847, aged 23. Son of Henry Jones of Ty Coch, Llaneugrad, Anglesey. He fell from the main scaffolding at the Anglesey end of the bridge and died of head injuries about 20 minutes later. Not named on the bridge builders’ memorial.
- William Jones, labourer, February 1848, aged 24. Son of John Jones, of Llanddaniel; husband of Ellin Jones. Disappeared after crossing the Menai Strait to collect his 15 shillings of pay at 4pm. He was probably thrown from the boat when returning in the dark across the Swellies, the strong currents in the Strait.
- William Lewis, labourer, 27 March 1850, aged 30. Of Capel Graig. Slipped on snow while raising iron from a vessel at the Anglesey end of the bridge. He fell c.8 metres onto the deck of the vessel, then rolled into the water. Died at home the following day.
- George Moore, carpenter, December 1846, aged 30. Killed on Britannia Rock by a baulk (piece of timber) falling on his head.
- William Owen, 20 February 1973, aged 43. Of Bryntirion, Penisarwaun. Fell c.27 metres onto mid-channel rocks while the bridge was being rebuilt. A boat took him ashore but he was dead when he reached hospital. Left a wife and two daughters.
- Graham Parry, 15 February 1972, aged 24. Of Trefollwyn Goed, Rhosmeirch, Anglesey. Died after a fall while working on the bridge’s rebuilding.
- Owen Parry, sailor, 17 August 1849. Was thrown from a rope ladder to his death when a hydraulic cylinder burst, allowing the first of the giant iron tubes (which would eventually contain the railway track) to drop by a few centimetres. Owen Parry fell c.40 metres onto the tube and died that evening. Left a wife and five children.
- Robert Parry, November 1847
- John Thompson, plater, November 1849, aged 40. Killed when a plank fell c.90 metres onto his head from the centre tower. Buried at Llandysilio churchyard, near Menai Bridge. Left a wife and two children.
- John Williams, June 1849. While removing scaffolding from one of the piers, he fell from the top of the pier onto a platform almost 40 metres (60 feet) below. He died of his injuries two days later.
- John Williams, sailor, November 1849. He was one of nine men who were regulating a rope, to which a 14-ton cylinder was attached, as it uncoiled from a capstan. The rope slipped unexpectedly when a wet section of it reached the capstan, and John Williams was crushed by the rope coiled around his body. Several other men were injured.