Pont Trefechan, Aberystwyth

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Pont Trefechan

This bridge, which has three broad arches, was designed by Sir James Weeks Szlumper in 1886. It carries traffic and pedestrians over the river Rheidol from southern Ceredigion. Szlumper was Cardiganshire’s chief surveyor, and later its sheriff. He was involved in construction of many railways, including the narrow-gauge Vale of Rheidol Railway which is now a popular tourist ride from Aberystwyth to Devil’s Bridge.

Pont Trefechan replaced a bridge which had been damaged by the river in flood. The earlier bridge, by John Nash, was built of stone in 1797. Bridge Street, continuing the road northwards from Pont Trefechan, was a key route into the town even in medieval times. This is reflected in the arrangement of Bridge Street’s buildings on former burgage plots (rectangles of land at right angles to the street).

In February 1963 university students staged a protest here, blocking the road to vehicles. This was the first of many protests organised by Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Society) in its campaign for greater protection for Welsh. The society was formed in Pontarddulais, near Llanelli, in 1962 in response to a radio lecture by playwright Saunders Lewis about the language’s fate. His lecture was itself a response to publication of statistics from the 1961 census which showed that the proportion of Welsh speakers had declined to only 26% of Wales’ population.

The society, based in Aberystwyth, continues to campaign for the language. Since the 1960s many of its members have received criminal convictions, and some have served prison sentences, for acts of civil disobedience as part of the campaign. Bilingual road signs, the Welsh-language TV station S4C and the Welsh Language Act 1993 could be regarded as fruits of the society’s sustained activity.

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