Waterloo Bridge, Betws y Coed
A cast iron bridge built in 1815 by Telford as part of the Holyhead Road improvements.
Charles Alexander Stevenson
Period of construction:
1800 - 1849
Transport Trust plaque:
Waterloo Hotel, LL24 0AR
Betws-y-Coed is where the River Conwy meets its three tributaries flowing from the west, the Llugwy, the Lledr and the Machno. Much of it was built in Victorian times as it became a major coaching centre between Corwen (to the east) and Capel Curig (to the west) on the Irish Mail route from London to Holyhead. This led to the improvement of the roads south to Blaenau Ffestiniog and north to Llanrwst and Conwy. Construction of Betws-y-Coed railway station in 1868, heralding the arrival of the railway line from Llandudno Junction railway station, resulted in a marked population growth.
Thomas Telford, a talented Scottish engineer, was commissioned to improve the London to Holyhead road. The port at Holyhead was the start of the sea crossing to Dublin and this route gained importance with the Act of Union of 1800. The journey across Wales was difficult and dangerous. Improving the transport connections with Ireland was important.
By far the greatest part of the work involved was from Shrewsbury to Holyhead. Telford surveyed the route and presented his plans to Parliament in April 1811, and funds were authorised in 1815. Seven turnpike trusts already controlled the route, and Telford negotiated the amalgamation of these to take control of the entire road.
The route from London to Shrewsbury was relatively easy. It was the 106 miles from Shrewsbury to Holyhead that presented the challenge. Telford shaped the route, taking much of the existing path used by the turnpike trusts but reducing the steep grade in places, bridging rivers and generally taking great care to ease the passage of travellers. It is a tribute to his work that the route of the A5 follows the same path almost without change. The design was such that modern heavy trucks and high-speed traffic can travel five times faster than the stage-coaches of his times, without danger or excessive gradients. Telford adopted some of the techniques used by the Romans, layering the roadbed first with large stones, then covering with gravel and paying attention to good drainage.
Finding a way through Snowdonia was hard enough, but a major challenge remained - replacing the ferry across the dangerous Menai Straits between Bangor and the Isle of Anglesey. Strong currents notwithstanding, the Straits had to be kept clear for shipping, meaning that the bridge needed 30 m. (100 ft.) clearance for the masts of sailing ships. Telford's solution was the elegant Menai Bridge, a suspension bridge. Not only did he design the route and arrange the contractors to build it, but he came up with his own design for the elegant milestones on the route, and designed the wrought-iron toll gates and the toll-houses.
In 1923, the bridge was strengthened by concreting the inner three ribs and adding a 18cm reinforced concrete deck. This was cantilevered to provide new footways and allow the roadway to be widened.
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Visible at all times.
How To Find:
Located on the A5 south east of Betws y Coed at a point where the A470 joins. The Waterloo Hotel is close.
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