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Llangollen Ancient Bridge
River Dee, Llangollen, Denbighshire, Wales, UK
Llangollen Ancient Bridge
associated engineer
Not known
date  1282, circa 1500
UK era  Medieval  |  category  Bridge  |  reference  SJ214422
ICE reference number  HEW 165
photo  © Richard Hoare and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Llangollenís medieval bridge, built for packhorses, is an example of early road engineering. It was reconstructed in around 1500, with further modifications over the ensuing centuries. The bulk of the bridge we see today survives from the 16th century sandstone reconstruction. The structure is Grade I listed and carries the A539 road over the River Dee (Afon Dyfrdwy).
The original bridge on this site was constructed in 1282, though it has been suggested that a timber bridge was erected here in the 12th century to facilitate northward access to Valle Crucis Abbey (SJ204441, founded 1201). It was rebuilt in 1345-6 probably on the instructions of Dr John Trevor, who was Bishop of St Asaph from 1346 until his death in 1357.
In about 1500, the bridge was reconstructed in sandstone. Its arches are set between piers with full-height pointed cutwaters that form recesses in the parapet walls, deeper on the downstream (east) side. At the time of reconstruction, the bridge was 3.7m wide between parapets.
It's known that some repairs or rebuilding took place in 1656 because a stone inscribed "RONDLE READE 1656" was found during a later bridge widening. Reade, the mason, was paid £250 for his work. The stone is now part of a building, the Old Tannery (SJ213418), in Hall Street.
Four of the original arches are visible, though according to sources in 1783, 1828 and 1914 (see bibliography), the bridge once had five arches of coursed stone. The four remaining arches are unequal. The south arch is the largest with a span, measuring 10.2m wide with a rise of 4m. The two central arches are of 6.8m and 7m spans. These three arches are pointed but the fourth arch is segmental and spans 8.6m.
On 11th May 1863, plans were passed for a new centrally-located railway station at Llangollen, which opened on 1st May 1865. The north end of the bridge had to be remodelled to accommodate the station and rail tracks. The fifth arch was reconstructed as a flat span with iron girders and clad in dressed freestone. The road level was raised towards the north and the parapets rebuilt. A round stone tower with a castellated parapet was added to the north east corner, rising two storeys above the roadway (dem. c.1939).
In 1873, the bridge was widened by 2.4m on the upstream (west) side, making it 6.1m wide. In April 1951, Llangollen Ancient Bridge was made a Grade I listed structure. Itís also a scheduled ancient monument.
By the 1960s, traffic congestion was becoming an issue. In 1968-9, the upstream side was widened by a further 4.9m, to 11m wide. The new work is of concrete.
The bridge is sometimes referred to as one of the Three Jewels of Wales (Tri Thlws Cymru). The identity and whereabouts of the two other Jewels remains a mystery! It is also named as one of the Seven Wonders of Wales in an anonymous verse from the 18th or early 19th century ó along with Pistyll Rhaeadr waterfall, Wrexham steeple (St Giles), Snowdon, Overton yew trees (St Mary the Virgin), St Winefredís well and Gresford bells (All Saints).
Research: ECPK
"An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Wales and Monmouthshire: IV - County of Denbigh", Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments in Wales and Monmouthshire, 1914
"The History of North Wales", compiled by William Cathrall, J. Gleave & Sons, Manchester, 1828
"A Tour in Wales [1778 & 1781]" by Thomas Pennant, H.D. Symonds, London, 1783
reference sources   CEH W&WCEH Wales

Llangollen Ancient Bridge