The Menai Suspension Bridge


The Menai Suspension Bridge

This bridge had the longest span in the world, 176 metres, when it opened in 1826. It was designed by Thomas Telford as the crowning glory of his road from London to Holyhead. The road scheme’s expense was justified by the importance of the sea crossing from Holyhead to Dublin. The bridge also transformed the local relationship between Anglesey and the mainland, since it was now possible to cross the Menai Strait in almost any weather. Previously the crossing depended on ferryboats navigating across the swirling currents, and countless lives were lost.

menai_suspension_bridgeThe bridge’s bold design was Telford’s response to the demands of the Admiralty, which insisted on 30 metres of headway to enable sailing ships to pass under the fixed crossing. Telford exploited the relatively high ground on both sides of the Menai Strait at this point, which coincides with one of the narrowest stretches of water along the Strait. Even so, significant stone approach viaducts and pillars had to be built on both shores before work could begin on installing the iron chains from which the road deck was suspended. Each of the 16 chains was secured at one end before the other end was hauled manually up to the top of the pillar on the opposite shore.

The tower holding up the chains at the Anglesey end of the span rests on a small island called Ynys y Moch ("island of pigs"). Drovers rested livestock there before the island was flattened for the tower's foundations.

The bridge’s first keeper, for over 25 years, was Henry Fisher, who had been a supervisor during the construction. Click here for our page about his grave in Menai Bridge.

High winds damaged the bridge during construction and in its early decades, with the deck itself crippled in 1839. A steel deck was installed in the late 19th century, with further improvements made in 1908. The bridge was upgraded from 1938 to 1940 to cope with the growth in volume and weight of vehicles. The pavements on which the Wales Coast Path crosses the Menai are also later additions.

You can view early artefacts from the bridge, along with documents and films, at the Thomas Telford Centre in the former National School in Menai Bridge.

Telford’s smaller suspension bridge at Conwy did not undergo such extensive modernisation. Now a National Trust property, it gives an idea of how the Menai bridge would once have looked.

During the Second World War, a Wellington bomber was flown under the bridge “to win a bet” by Ken Rees, who later took part in the “Great Escape” from Stalag Luft III and eventually ran the Sandymount Club in Rhosneigr, Anglesey.

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