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The feature below was first shown on my website on 10 February 2003

John Ball

Images of Wales




The Old 'New' Bridge at Pontypridd
Glamorgan


Photography by John Ball - June 2000
Images scanned from colour prints taken with a
Sigma SA-300 35mm single lens reflex camera.

Historical background

Pontypridd is situated near the confluence of the rivers Rhondda and Taff where a bridge was erected over the Taff. The name Pontypridd, is thought to be derived from Pont y Ty Pridd meaning 'the bridge of the earthen house', a reference to a nearby house with distinctive walls of earth. Various bridges had been erected at this spot, at least since the late 16th century, but it was William Edwards's 'new' bridge, built between 1746 and 1757, which finally lost the association with the earthen house. Indeed, even when Edwards's bridge was over 100 years old, both the town of Pontypridd and a nearby railway station were still known as "Newbridge" (see my 1850s map of Glamorgan). By the 1870s the name Newbridge fell into disuse because of confusion with Newbridge in Monmouthshire.

New bridge circa 1875
Above: A 19th century engraving by R. Roberts of William Edwards's
bridge over the river Taff at Pontypridd.

The engraving is undated but was produced circa 1875. It shows the scene as it was in the late 18th century, soon after the bridge was constructed.



The bridge in the 21st century

Bridge at Pontypridd
Above: William Edwards's 250-year-old bridge across the Taff, viewed looking
downstream from Sion Street on the east bank of the Taff.

Immediately behind the old bridge is a modern road bridge carrying vehicular traffic across the Taff.



Church from west
Above: Edwards's bridge viewed from Berw Road on the west bank of the Taff.

Rev William Edwards was a self-taught local stonemason. He had made two previous unsuccessful attempts to construct a bridge across the Taff. His final and successful attempt rises 35 ft above the river and is 140 ft long. The span forms a segment of a 170 ft diameter circle. It is frustrating that the proximity of the modern road bridge makes it impossible to obtain a clear shot of the old bridge.


Bridge at Pontypridd Bridge at Pontypridd
Above: Two close-up shots of the picturesque, single-arched old bridge.

The distinctive circular holes through structure (seen above right) were an important design feature by means of which Edwards was able to reduce the weight of his bridge without compromising its load-bearing capacity. There is said to be a ninefold echo under the bridge but I was unable to confirm this!


Bridge at Pontypridd Left: Steps leading over the old bridge.

Rev William Edwards constructed a stone bridge of similar design across the River Tawe at Pontardawe near Swansea. Like the bridge at Pontypridd, the Pontardawe bridge still exists, but no longer carries any traffic, pedestrian, equine, or otherwise.


River Taff, Pontypridd
Above: The River Taff looking upstream from the western end of the old bridge.
Sion Street is on the right (eastern) bank of the river.

Read more about Rev William Edwards and his bridges on the Rhondda-Cynon-Taff Heritage Trail website.


Sources

  • The Blue Guide to Wales, edited by Findlay Muirhead, published in 1922 by Macmillan, London
  • A Pocket Guide - The Place-Names of Wales by Hywel Wyn Own, published in 1998 by the University of Wales Press, Cardiff; ISBN 0-7083-1458-9
  • The Complete Wales - A Ward Lock Red Guide edited by Reginald J. W. Hammond, published in 1966 by Ward Lock & Co. Ltd., London and Melbourne

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