Swing bridge and Coed Helen, Caernarfon

Swing bridge and Coed Helen, Caernarfon

This bridge swings to one side to allow boats to enter or leave the harbour. It replaced a Victorian bridge which itself had replaced a ferry across the river Seiont. It leads from Caernarfon town to the parkland at Coed Helen.

Photo of original swing bridge at Caernarfon
The original swing bridge, courtesy of the RCAHMW and its Coflein website

The small building with castellated top, west of the bridge, was built in 1822 for the operator of the Coed Helen ferry. The Pritchard family of boat owners and builders ran the ferry from c.1859. In 1878 David Pritchard was praised for his prompt action to save a militiaman (volunteer soldier) who fell between the quay and boat while boarding. David died, aged 76, in 1884.

The first swing bridge, known as Pont yr Aber, was completed in 1899, amid arguing over compensation for loss of the ferry trade. A gas engine powered the swing mechanism. The bridge was too small to justify hydraulic power, which would have been ideal.

The metalwork was painted “stone colour” (off-white) to minimise heat absorption from sunshine. Excess heat would have distorted the ends of the swing span. White paint was rejected as it would soon have looked dirty. Tolls were levied on pedestrians and carriages.

The photo of the bridge, courtesy of the Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Wales, is part of a larger image from the D.O.E. Photographic Collection of the National Monuments Record of Wales.

The bridge was replaced by the current pedestrian bridge in 1970. You can still see some of the wooden supports for the original bridge as you cross.

A drive led from the ferry to Coed Helen house, thought to date from the early 17th century. The house belonged to a succession of influential families and is now part of a caravan park.

On the hill between the river and house stands a summerhouse, built in the 18th century. At various times, the military used the area for training and keeping watch on the Menai Strait. A battery of guns at Coed Helen was fired on important occasions, including in 1847 to salute Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and their children.

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Copies of the old photo and other images are available from the RCAHMW. Contact: nmr.wales@rcahmw.gov.uk

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