Old Wye Bridge, Chepstow
|Old Wye Bridge, Chepstow|
|Material||Cast iron, stone|
|Number of spans||5|
|Replaces||Earlier, wooden bridge|
The Old Wye Bridge or 1816 Bridge at Chepstow crosses the River Wye between Monmouthshire in Wales and Gloucestershire in England, close to Chepstow Castle. Although there had been earlier wooden bridges on the site since Norman times, the current road bridge was constructed of cast iron during the Regency period in 1816, to designs initially by John Rennie but greatly modified by the bridge builder, John Rastrick.
The bridge crosses a river with one of the highest tidal ranges in the world. It carried the main A48 road between Newport and Gloucester until 1988, when a new road bridge was opened downstream alongside the railway bridge. The road bridge now carries local traffic between Chepstow and Tutshill. It is a Grade I Listed Building.
Before the Roman period, the crossing of the Wye farthest downstream was at Tintern. The Romans built a crossing some 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) upstream of the current bridge at Chepstow, and this is thought to have continued in use for centuries thereafter. However, after the Normans established a castle at Chepstow (then known as Striguil), a wooden bridge was constructed across the river at or close to its current site. The first records of a bridge at Chepstow date from 1228.
The wooden bridge is known to have been replaced several times. Rebuilding was made difficult by the tidal range, requiring 40 foot high timber piers, perhaps the highest in the country at the time. Records from 1399 describe it as "feeble and ruinous", and a new bridge built in 1546 was described less than thirty years later as having "fallen into great ruin and decay and likely to fall." In 1576, an Act (the first to make specific reference to Monmouthshire) was passed making Gloucestershire and Monmouthshire responsible for the repair of their respective halves. Neglect continued, however, and in 1605 it was agreed that the bridge be maintained by a special tax levied on the residents of the two counties. For the next two centuries each county appointed a surveyor responsible for either end of the bridge. The bridge was purposely destroyed during the Civil War in 1644, but was rebuilt by 1647. In 1785, the wooden piers on the Monmouthshire side were rebuilt as four stone arches, but the Gloucestershire half remained timber until 1815.
In 1810 the bridge was again declared to be "in decay" and dangerous, and local magistrates commissioned engineer John Rennie, the architect of Waterloo Bridge in London, to design a new bridge. Rennie's designs were considered to be too expensive, but action was eventually taken after a ship collided with the wooden bridge, demolishing part of it and causing six deaths. In 1814 the contract to build the bridge was let to the Bridgnorth firm of Hazeldine, Rastrick & Co., at a cost of £17,850, less than half that of Rennie's estimate. The bridge was designed by John Rastrick, and was made of cast iron in five arches, with a centre span of 34 metres (112 ft), intermediate spans of 21 metres (69 ft), and outer spans of 10 metres (33 ft). The bridge was opened on 24 July 1816, with an elaborate ceremony.
The bridge today
The bridge is described by architectural historian John Newman as "a supremely elegant composition of five shallow segmental lattice arches carrying the gently curved roadway... This superstructure rests on reassuringly strong tapering piers of squared ashlar...". Ornate ironwork on the bridge marks the boundary point between the two counties of Gloucester and Monmouth. The cast iron lamp posts were bought from Sheffield City Council and installed in 1969.
Carrying the main road between Gloucester and south Wales, the bridge became a notorious bottleneck and was strengthened several times. It was superseded, except for local traffic, by the A48 road bridge opened in January 1988. The bridge now carries local traffic on the unclassified road between Chepstow and Tutshill. It is controlled by traffic signals at each end. It was given Grade I Listed Building status on 24 March 1975.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Wye Bridge, Chepstow.|
- Ivor Waters (1972). The Town of Chepstow. ISBN 0-900278-12-9.
- Ivor Waters (1955). Chepstow Parish Records.
- Rick Turner and Andy Johnson (eds.), Chepstow Castle - its history and buildings, Logaston Press, 2006, ISBN 1-904396-52-6, p.212
- Chepstow Town Council: Bridging the River Wye. Accessed 12 February 2012
- Robert Taylor, Taylor's Illustrated Guide to the Banks of the Wye, 1854
- Structurae: Chepstow Bridge. Accessed 12 February 2012
- John Newman, The Buildings of Wales: Gwent/Monmouthshire, Penguin Books, 2000, ISBN 0-14-071053-1, p.184
- Chepstow Town Council: Town Trail. Accessed 16 February 2012
- British Listed Buildings: Road Bridge over River Wye, Chepstow. Accessed 12 February 2012