Category Archives: Cycling Around Britain

Newport Transporter Bridge – 1947 and 2016

After last week’s visit to Canterbury, I am continuing my travel around the country during the month of August, visiting some of the places my father photographed, and for this week I have travelled to the other side of the country to Newport in South Wales to visit the wonderful Newport Transporter Bridge. Looking at it today and back in 1947 when my father visited during National Service in the army when he was based a short distance away in Chepstow.

The Newport Transporter Bridge is a fully working bridge that uses a gondola to carry people and vehicles over the River Usk whilst providing a very high bridge clearance to allow shipping to continue to pass underneath, something that would not have been possible with a traditional bridge design.

So what does a transporter bridge look like? The following photos are my father’s from 1947 and my 2016 photo showing the transporter bridge from the east side of the River Usk. In both photos, the gondola is docked at the left side of the bridge, I will show this in more detail later.

Newport Transporter Bridge 11

Newport Transporter Bridge 34

The Newport Transporter Bridge was opened in 1906 to provide access from the city to a new steelworks being built on the east side of the Usk and to avoid the existing congested crossing of the Usk further upstream.

The challenge with providing a crossing was the need to provide sufficient clearance for shipping with the very large tidal range of the Usk. Newport was a very industrial city during the 19th and first part of the 20th century with many industries related to steel, shipping and with a large docks so there was a large amount of shipping needing to move up the river past the proposed location of the bridge.

In the next photo, we can see the western side of the transporter bridge in 1947 taken in Brunel Street which ran straight up to the bridge.  The West of England Tavern is the building on the left and the bus is a number 9 to the docks.

Newport Transporter bridge 2

The same view today. Brunel Street has been separated from the bridge by the new A48 ring road around the southern end of Newport. The pub is still there, however no more buses to the docks.

Newport Transporter Bridge 33

A view further back from the junction of Brunel Street and Alexandra Road.  The houses on the left are still there. I did try and take a photo from the same spot, however there is now a large tree in the gap between the houses which totally obscures the view of the bridge.

Newport Transporter Bridge 1

The majority of the design of the Newport Transporter Bridge was by the Frenchman Ferdinand Amodin who was a specialist in the design of suspension bridges and who had already worked on a transporter bridge near Bilbao in Spain. Amodin, along with Robert Haynes, the Borough Engineer of Newport were appointed as the joint engineers for the new bridge in 1901.

It was Robert Haynes who had spotted the designs that Amodin had worked on for transporter bridges and encouraged the council to support this form of river crossing as the only realistic method.

The contract to build the bridge was awarded to Alfred Thorne of Westminster (just managed to maintain a London connection in this post !) with work commencing in 1902 and the bridge opening in 1906.

The design of a transporter bridge consists of a large structure across the river at a height to provide sufficient clearance above the high tide state of the river. A tower is located on each bank with a high level span between them. This carries a walkway and also a “traveller” from which is suspended the gondola. The traveller is pulled along the high level span by a cable connected to a motor near ground level.

As the gondola is suspended from the traveller, as the travaller is pulled back and forth along the high level span, so the gondola carrying people and vehicles also crosses the river. A simple design, but one needing a complex bit of engineering to implement.

The Newport Transporter Bride in operation:

1947 view looking up one of the towers.

Newport Transporter Bridge 25

Thanks to Newport City Council and the Friends of Newport Transporter Bridge, the bridge is open and working from Wednesday to Sunday during the spring and summer period and a £3 ticket provides unlimited crossings on the gondola plus access to the high level walkway – incredibly good value (and you get a really good ticket).

Newport Transporter Bridge 50

Getting up close to the bridge and you realise what a wonderful example of very early 20th century engineering this is. Some key statistics:

  • The main span of the bridge is 197m
  • The height from the water level at high tide to the bottom of the span crossing the river is 54m and the top of the towers are 74m above road level.
  • The overall distance between the anchorage of the anchor cables on each side is 471m
  • The weight of steel in the span crossing the river is 548 tonnes which carries a traveller of 16 tonnes and the gondola and steel suspension cables with a combined weight of 34 tonnes
  • The anchor cables are attached to masonry anchorages that each weigh 2236 tonnes
  • The traveller and gondola are pulled across by two 35 brake horse power electric engines

My father climbed the bridge in 1947 and took the high level walkway across the river. This photo shows the western end of the bridge with the anchor cables running down to their anchorage points.

Newport Transporter Bridge 28

Another view from the top of the bridge showing the bridge structure and Brunel Street below,

Newport Transporter Bridge 21

I have to admit that I attempted the climb, but it was a very hot day, I made the mistake of carrying my camera bag and iPad with my father’s photos on and we had already been for a walk so I only made it just over half way up before the direct sun started to take its toll.

The following photo shows the cables running down to the anchorage points today.

Newport Transporter Bridge 49

Looking along the high level span across the river.

Newport Transporter Bridge 22

1947 view of the gondola crossing the River Usk.

Newport Transporter Bridge 18

And a similar view today. The blue building in between the two legs of the opposite tower is the motor house. From here, cables run up to the top of the bridge and attach to the traveller.

Newport Transporter Bridge 45

Another 1947 view of the gondola as it crosses the river.

Newport Transporter Bridge 19

There is only one other transporter bridge in operation in Great Britain. A transporter bridge which opened in 1911 to roughly the same design still runs across the River Tees in Middlesborough. The original transporter bridge near Bilbao designed by Ferdinand Amodin is still in operation along with a single bridge in France and two bridges in Germany.

Looking from the top of the east tower across to the city of Newport.

Newport Transporter Bridge 9

Looking out from within the steelwork.

Newport Transporter Bridge 17

A series of views from the west tower looking over the city of Newport as it was in 1947.

Newport Transporter Bridge 5

Newport Transporter Bridge 6

Newport Transporter Bridge 8

My view across the city of Newport today. I could not get an identical view to the above photos as standing on the stairway up the tower with a camera, bag and trying to see an iPad screen in direct sunlight was not that easy – I should have printed the photos.

Newport Transporter Bridge 43

1947 photo from midway along the top of the bridge looking north with the River Usk at low tide. The edge of the steelworks is on the eastern bank of the river. This was the main justification for building the bridge and can be seen on the right.

Newport Transporter Bridge 7

The view today. The new bridge across the River Usk can be seen in the distance. This, along with the change in industry on the east bank of the river meant that the transporter bridge was no longer the main route across the river, however it is now grade 1 listed and maintained by Newport City Council so hopefully its future is assured.

Newport Transporter Bridge 44

1947 view of the east bank of the river. The buildings are part of the Orb Steelworks, opened in 1899 by Wolverhampton based John Lysaght Ltd. Prior to the opening of the transporter bridge, workers from the west side of the Usk had a four mile walk to reach the steelworks.

Newport Transporter Bridge 4

View from the transporter bridge walkway looking south, with the south east bank of the river on the left of the photo. It was on the river wall in the photo that the first photo of the transporter bridge at the top of this post was taken. I assume that the photo was taken at the weekend as there is a cricket match being played in the field.

Newport Transporter Bridge 14

Looking a bit further to the right with the docks starting to come into view.

Newport Transporter Bridge 32

The same view today from half way up the west tower. The far electrical pylon on the left in the photo below looks to be the same as in the above photo. These two photos also highlight the tidal range of the River Usk. The above photo looks to be low tide and the photo below is getting on for high tide and this rise in the water level had to be accommodated in the height of the transporter bridge so that shipping could still pass underneath at high tide.

Newport Transporter Bridge 48

Further to the right with a view of the docks.

Newport Transporter Bridge 15

The same view today.

Newport Transporter Bridge 47

The end of the docks. the city of Newport is to the right.

Newport Transporter Bridge 16

As my father took photos when it was low tide, he was able to photo the top of the foundations supporting the towers. The state of the ground on the riverbank required significant foundations and for each leg of the towers, the foundation was 6m in diameter with a depth on the east bank of 26m and 24m on the west bank.

Newport Transporter Bridge 12

The scale of the transporter bridge is very impressive and is difficult to appreciate in photographs. The following photo is looking up the stairway of the west pier. It is these steps that provide access to the high level walkway.

Newport Transporter Bridge 41

Boarding the gondola. This has space for four cars and covered seating on either side for foot passengers.

Newport Transporter Bridge 36

Leaving the east bank of the river. The ride across is remarkably smooth. A slight bump as the gondola arrives at the landing point, however the trip across is fast and smooth.

Newport Transporter Bridge 38

The operating position on the gondola.

Newport Transporter Bridge 39

Looking up from the gondola to the traveller. The steel cables running up from the gondola attach to the traveller and as the traveller is pulled along, the gondola smoothly follows.

Newport Transporter Bridge 40

The gondola halfway across the river.

Newport Transporter Bridge 37

It is really good to see the Newport Transporter Bridge still in full operation and I can only hope that Newport City Council continue to have the funds to support this wonderful example of early 20th century engineering.

The link to the Newport City Council page on the transporter bridge is here, and the Friends of the Newport Transporter Bridge can be found here.

If you happen to be in South Wales, stop off at Newport and see one of the last examples of this method of crossing a river in action.

alondoninheritance.com

Canterbury – 1948 and 2016

As covered in my recent posts, one of the aims of the Festival of Britain was to show that after a long period of war, austerity and rationing there was a brighter future ahead. The other impact of the period since 1939 had been the lack of any opportunity for holidays, to travel and to explore either Great Britain or abroad. The only travel came with being in the armed forces or the associated war effort with the dangers and hard work that these activities involved.

If you were young in the late 1940s and early 1950s travel options were limited, foreign holidays were still some years in the future, British holiday camps were being converted back after years of war use and for most people, any spare cash was in short supply. A relatively cheap option was touring the country by foot or cycling and in this period, membership of organisations such as the Youth Hostel Association and the Cyclist Touring Club reached their peak.

This was the option taken by my father, cycling across both Great Britain and Holland with friends and staying at Youth Hostels. National Service also took him out of London and whether cycling across the country or in the army during National Service, his camera was always with him during this time.

For the month of August, I am going to leave London and return to a sample of the places he visited, and for this week’s post we have travelled into the county of Kent to explore the city of Canterbury.

Canterbury is best known for the Cathedral and the murder of Thomas Becket in the 12th century after which Canterbury was a destination for pilgrims with Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales telling a series of tales by each of the pilgrims on their way from London to Canterbury in the 14th century.

It is an old city, the foundation of the See of Canterbury by St. Augustine dates from the year 597 with an earlier Roman town (Durovernum Cantiacorum) occupying the site of an even earlier settlement.

A city wall surrounded the centre of Canterbury, originally the walls of the Roman town with many changes to the build and configuration of the walls and gates in the following centuries. Today, large sections of the wall remain, and it is on the road approaching one of the gates that we will stop and compare the scene.

This is St. Dunstans Street looking towards the Westgate. I will not put any text between these two photos as close together it is possible to see how remarkably similar the view is between 1948 and 2016 – 68 years since my father took the original photo.

Canterbury 13

Canterbury 19

On the left is the Falstaff Hotel. Hopper’s Bakeries next to the Falstaff is now a Coral betting shop. At the end of the street is the Westgate, one of the gates that connected the roads leading into Canterbury with the centre of the city.

Architecturally, the scene has not changed. One difference is the amount of street furniture that now seems to clutter all streets, no matter what town or city you visit. Compare the pavements of the two photos and the empty pavements of 1948 look much better, they are easier to walk and do not detract from the surrounding buildings.

There is a member of the armed forces in the 1948 photo. A few years after the war and it was still very common to see people in uniform walking the streets of the country’s towns and cities.

Another view of the Falstaff Hotel.

Canterbury 14

Canterbury 20

I much prefer the earlier colour scheme to that used today and the sign hanging from the hotel in 1948 was much more representative of the hotel name, Falstaff being Shakespeare’s cowardly knight who spends too much time eating and drinking. Dating from the 15th century and originally called the White Hart the coaching Inn changed to the current name in 1783. The original entrance on the left of the 1948 photo which would presumably have led back to a yard and stables area in now the main reception for the hotel.

At the end of St. Dunstan Street is the Westgate, which has the distinction of being the largest intact city gatehouse in England and the remaining gate of the seven that originally provided access through the city walls. The Westgate dates from around 1380 and is in excellent condition so must have been repaired many times over the intervening centuries but is still a fine example of a medieval gatehouse.

Canterbury 15

Canterbury 21

Pass through the gate and into St. Peter’s Street and this is the view of the Westgate from the other side.

Canterbury 6

Canterbury 22

Canterbury is a wonderful city for walking. The Cathedral and the surrounding streets attract the majority of a very busy tourist trade, however walk down the many side streets with names such as Beer Cart Lane and a quieter Canterbury can be discovered.

The architectural writer, Ian Nairn visited Canterbury in 1960 as part of a trip to a number of British towns and cities for a series of articles for the Listener magazine. These were later published in book form as Nairn’s Towns. He describes Canterbury as the “Happy City”, praising the post war reconstruction of parts of the town with the rebuilt St. George’s Street being described as “a real attempt to match old and new honestly and sensitively” and that “St. George’s Street is not a collection of masterpieces, it is just a street where every building is decent“. The damage to Canterbury was due to the so called Baedeker raids when towns and cities were chosen for their historical and cultural significance with the Baedker name coming from the Baedeker range of guide books. Although there was damage to much of Canterbury and many lives were lost, there was no damage to the Cathedral.

When Nairn returned to Canterbury in 1967 he criticises some of the reconstruction that had been carried out since his earlier visit, and walking round some parts of Canterbury today it is easy to see why, however these areas are the exception and Canterbury is an example of what towns could be like with careful planning.

Walking up from Westgate and taking one of the side streets to the left we approach the Cathedral. In front of the entrance to the Cathedral precincts is the Buttermarket, a small square at the junction of Sun Street, Mercery Lane and Burgate. Writing about his wartime visit to Canterbury, the journalist H.V. Morton wrote in his book “I Saw Two Englands” – “Old streets, like Mercery Lane, cannot have changed much since the Middle Ages in appearance or in their function. They exist to sell cheap souvenirs which prove that the purchaser has been to Canterbury. These shops sold leaden medallions of the head of St. Thomas; now they sell postcards and ash-trays emblazoned with the city arms“. Canterbury has always been a city of pilgrimage and tourism.

On one side of Buttermarket is Christchurch Gate, the entrance to the Cathedral precincts. Originally built between 1504 and 1521, the main changes to the gates were the removal of the tops of the towers in 1803 and the earlier removal of the statue of Christ and the original wooden doors in 1643.

The tops of the towers were rebuilt in 1937 (you can see that they still look very new with sharp edges in my father’s photo from 1948) and the statue of Christ was replaced in 1990, you can see the empty place in the 1948 photo and the new statue in my 2016 photo.

This was the scene in 1948, looking across the square at the Christchurch Gate entrance to the Cathedral and on the right the Cathedral Gate Hotel with a war memorial on the left. My 2016 photo follows.Canterbury 5

Canterbury 17

I could not get to exactly the same spot for my 2016 photo as this corner of the square is now covered in tables from the adjacent pub, so the above photo is the nearest I could manage without upsetting too many people drinking and eating. Again, there has been hardly any change in the buildings, the main change is the degree that tourism and the numbers of people visiting Canterbury has impacted the town, however it must bring some prosperity to the town and critically important funds to maintain the Cathedral.

My father did not take any photos of the inside of the Cathedral, however a visit to Canterbury is not complete without a visit to the Cathedral. A church has been on the site since St. Augustines arrival in 597 with the earliest parts of the current Cathedral being built in 1077 and continuing to grow over the following centuries. The nave was completed by the end of the 14th century, the south-west tower in the 15th century and the duplicate of the south-west tower being added in 1832.

Walking into the Cathedral and looking along the length of the nave there is a forest of columns leading the eye to the far end of the church.

Canterbury 28

The High Altar with the Trinity Chapel at the back.

Canterbury 26

The Trinity Chapel, built over 800 years ago for the shrine of St. Thomas Becket which stood where the single candle burns today. The shrine was in this position from 1220 to 1538 when King Henry VIII ordered its destruction.

Canterbury 25

Within the Trinity Chapel are the tombs of King Henry IV who died in 1413.

Canterbury 24

And the Black Prince who died in 1376.

Canterbury 23

Looking around the Cathedral and there are carvings from across the centuries. If this happened now we would call it vandalism, but seeing a carving made by an individual over 300 years ago provides a link with whoever stood here tracing this out in the fabric of the building.

Canterbury 27

My father walked the grounds of the Cathedral which cover a wide area and includes the King’s School and it was whilst walking around the grounds of the school that I found the location of the following photo of the King’s School war memorial.

Canterbury 12

The same location today. Apart from the car and the scaffolding seen through the arch to the left, the scene is the same across the 68 years. Look at the square base to the round pillar on the left – the same flints can be seen within the stonework.

Canterbury 18

My father also took the following photo within the King’s School grounds, however despite a long walk around the grounds I could not find the location, although I am sure it is still there. It will have to wait for a return visit.

Canterbury 4

Outside the city walls is St. Augustine’s Abbey, founded at around the same time as the Cathedral and continuing as a Benedictine Monastery until the dissolution in 1538. During the following 400 years the Abbey buildings were used for a range of different purposes, including a brewery, were part sold, some building were destroyed and finally some considerable damage by bombing in 1942.

A number of the buildings are now used by the King’s School with the rest now under the care of English Heritage.

I ran out of time to visit the Abbey, although my father did visit and took these photos in 1948 and I suspect the Abbey is still much the same.

Canterbury 3

Canterbury 2

Canterbury 1

In two of my father’s photos from Canterbury were the following of a locomotive. This is the Invicta built by Robert Stephenson in 1829 to run on the Canterbury and Whitstable Railway.

Canterbury 10

The Canterbury and Whitstable Railway was the first railway in the world to provide a regular, steam powered passenger service. It opened in 1839 and was also known as the Crab and Winkle Line as it also provided a route for the produce from the fishing town of Whitstable to be taken into the centre of Canterbury.

Canterbury 9

The Invicta was fully restored in 1977 and is now in a much more secure location, on display in the Canterbury Heritage Museum.

There is much to see in Canterbury and during a day visit I did not get the opportunity to photograph all the locations in my father’s photos. Too much time spent walking the centre of the town, exploring the Cathedral and the grounds of the Cathedral and school, finding an excellent second hand bookshop and last, but by no means least, an excellent pub.

I will need a return visit to photograph the locations of the following.

The city walls:

Canterbury 7

A wider view of the city walls, gardens and cathedral tower.

Canterbury 8

Mound and 19th century monument in the Dane John Gardens. The mound is the site of a Norman motte and bailey castle.

Canterbury 11

The Canterbury Heritage Museum. The building in its current form dates from 1373, having been a medieval alms house from about the year 1200. The museum is still much the same as in 1948 and is now the home of the Invicta locomotive.

Canterbury 16

Canterbury is a fantastic city to explore. With some exceptions, the centre of the city has not suffered the level of post war destruction or out of place architecture that has turned many other towns across the country into identical shopping centres. Canterbury is still a town with its own identity.

I still find it strange to stand in almost the same place as my father did 68 years ago and photograph much the same scene as in many of the photos of Canterbury.

Finding out about each of the above photos identified several individual topics that could each fill a large post, for example, the history of the Invicta and the Canterbury and Whitstable Railway is fascinating.

As I found out, Canterbury requires more than a single day to explore and I will be returning to find the sites I did not get to and to discover more of what Ian Nairn called – the Happy City.

alondoninheritance.com

Route 159 – Marble Arch to Shrewsbury

Imagine you are a young Londoner in the late 1940s. Apart from a very brief period being evacuated to the countryside, you spent the whole of wartime in London. National Service then gave you experience of the world outside of London. You want to travel and explore but money is still very tight, international travel is still limited, petrol rationing is still in force, what would you do?

For many Londoners the answer was a bike and the Youth Hosteling Association. Membership of the YHA had reached 100,000 during the war and continued to rise for the first few years after the war due to challenges with travelling outside of the UK and the need for a cost-effective method of travel within the UK.

Cycling magazine had published a series of routes centred on London giving directions and distances across the country. The title of this week’s post is the route covering the 160 miles from Marble Arch to Shrewsbury, route number 159.

Main roads just after the war were very different to roads today. This was before the Motorway network, most long distance goods transport was still via train rather than lorry, and petrol rationing (which did not end until May 1950) restricted the amount of private cars on the road.

So for this week, let’s head out from London, along the old A5 and see how the area around Shrewsbury has changed.

old road

Our first stop is just to the south of Shrewsbury and the ruins of part of the old Roman town of Wroxeter (or ‘Viroconium’), which was the fourth largest city in Roman Britain, almost half the size of Roman London. The town was established in around 58AD and lasted for about 500 years during and for sometime after the Roman occupation.

Wroxeter was on Watling Street which started in the channel ports of Dover and Richborough, to London then up-country following a route with parallels to the original A5 (before the current A5 which has been considerably re-routed). Wroxeter also had a quay on the River Severn which gave the town access to the sea.

I would imagine there would have been considerable travel between London and Wroxeter during Roman times.

Much of the town still lies below ground, however the ruins of the Municipal Baths have been excavated and exposed.

This is how they appeared in the late 1940s:

old wroxeter

And in 2014 as an English Heritage site. Much the same as you would expect for something that has already lasted for over 1700 years.

new wroxeter

Leaving Wroxeter, we continue on the old A5 (now the B4380) and cross the River Severn at Atcham. This is an unusual river crossing as whilst a new, wider bridge was built in 1929 to support increasing levels of traffic, the original bridge built in 1774 was left in place and can still be crossed on foot.

My father took the following photo of the original bridge, with the new bridge in the background in the late 1940s. A summer photo with a slow flowing River Severn and a spot of fishing taking place just into the river.

old bridge

Again, the scene is virtually the same today as my 2014 photo shows. Apart from some minor changes to the river bank and the sand banks in the river, nothing has changed, however I did not have the luck of finding someone fishing in the river.

new bridge

Next we reach Shrewsbury, and one of the first landmarks we pass, just prior to crossing the River Severn to enter the main part of Shrewsbury is Shrewsbury Abbey. The following was the late 1940s view of Shrewsbury Abbey:

old shrewsbury cathedral

And the 2014 view from roughly the same position is below:

new shrewsbury cathedral

A few changes to road layout and street furniture, however very similar to the scene some 65 years ago.

The Abbey is close to the River Severn and unfortunately suffers from flooding relatively frequently. The Abbey was founded in 1083 although today only the nave survives from the original Abbey as it suffered much destruction and damage during the dissolution and the post-reformation period and also during the Civil War as Shrewsbury was a Royalist town.

To enter the centre of Shrewsbury we now cross the English Bridge. Again, this was on the original pre-A5 road from London and Thomas Telford used this bridge as part of the route from London to Holyhead for onwards sea travel to Ireland. The bridge is named the English Bridge as it is facing the road route into the heart of England, whilst the bridge on the opposite side of Shrewsbury continuing the road onwards is called the Welsh Bridge as it is facing the onwards route into Wales.

Although the present bridge is a 1926 rebuild of the bridge completed in 1774, a bridge has been on the site for many centuries.

The following is the late 1940s view of the bridge from the side of the River Severn closest to the centre of Shrewsbury:

old english bridge

And the following is my 2014 photo from roughly the same spot. Incredible how, some 65 years later, the view is almost identical.

new english bridge

And now after cycling 160 miles after leaving central London along the original A5 road with light traffic and through some beautiful countryside, we now reach our destination, the centre of Shrewsbury.

Shrewsbury is a very historic market town and county town of Shropshire. The centre of Shrewsbury has many timber-framed buildings from the 14th and 15th centuries and a street plan that is largely unchanged since the medieval period.

This is how one of the main road junctions appeared in the late 1940s:

old shrewsbury street

And again in 2014, apart from minor changes, very few differences in some 65 years.

new shrewsbury street

The timbered building in the centre of the picture is Henry Tudor House, built in the early 1400s and originally a collection of different shops and houses. Henry Tudor (Henry VII) sought refuge here on his way to the battle of Bosworth. This is where the Tudor dynasty replaced the Plantagenet dynasty as Henry’s army killed Richard III.

This is recorded by a sign on the front of the building:

plaque shrewsbury

And as proof that many of the original lanes and steps have survived, here is Bear Steps in the late 1940s:

old bear steps

And as they remain in 2014:

new bear steps 1

Although many of the views are very similar over a period of 65 years, as with London, the way of life would change dramatically. Roads, transport, tourism would not be the same again. The days of long distance cycling for pleasure and to experience countryside and towns would be soon long gone.

alondoninheritance.com