Former canal bridge, North Road, Cardiff

button-theme-canalbutton_lang_welshbutton_lang_frenchFormer canal bridge, North Road, Cardiff

The western end of this pedestrian underpass was originally a bridge carrying North Road over the Glamorganshire Canal. You can see stone arch in the 1880s drawing below – shown here courtesy of Cardiff Libraries.

cardiff_canal_north_roadThe drawing shows the view south from the towpath where the canal ran alongside the eastern walls of Cardiff Castle. Notice the tower of St John’s Church in the background. The old postcard below (courtesy of Vena and Wynne Edwards) shows the bridge on the left after road widening.

The canal opened in 1794 to connect Merthyr Tydfil to the sea. It remained busy long after the advent of railways. The booming collieries and ironworks produced more than the early railways could handle, and many industrial facilities had been deliberately sited beside the canal. The Cardiff section of the canal was eventually filled in during the 1950s.

Another canal relic visible here today is the winding mechanism for a ground paddle (a sluice controlling a water channel). Nearby is a vertical iron post which protected tow ropes from chafing against stonework where the canal turned. Notice the slanting grooves etched into the post by abrasive wet ropes which had picked up grit from the towpath. The lowest grooves were made by the most heavily laden boats.

cardiff_north_road_canal_bridgeYou can see a horse and tow rope in the bottom right corner of the drawing. By the 1880s, steam power had been harnessed to many uses but boats remained horse-drawn on the Glamorganshire Canal. A steamboat test in the 1870s had shown that the canal wasn’t deep enough in the Pontypridd area.

In 1893, there were concerns that people who led and looked after the horses would lose their jobs, because a new steam barge had been built for the canal. Its engine had the power of 16 horses, enough to transport 17 tons of cargo and tow three unpowered barges.

The concerns soon turned to mirth. On its test run, the steamer ran aground after just a few metres, alongside Mill Lane. After it was refloated, the propeller quickly became choked with coconut matting, wire, rope and other junk. The boat was towed to Queen Street, where a diver cleared the propeller, and then continued slowly to Nantgarw. The embarrassed crew and guests had to endure witticisms from onlookers, some of whom asked for the steamer’s expected date of arrival in Pontypridd!

With thanks to Phil Hughes and Vena and Wynne Edwards

Postcode: CF10 3FD    View Location Map

Website of Cardiff Libraries

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To continue the Bute Park tour, continue southwards up the ramp to street level. Follow the castle walls around to the castle’s main South Gate, on Castle Street Navigation previous buttonNavigation next button