The old Llantysilio chain bridge over the River Dee in Llangollen was built in 1817 near the Horseshoe Falls, linking two major transport routes in North Wales, the Llangollen canal and the London-Holyhead Road (the A5). It was the brainchild of local coal merchants and dealers in limestone, slate and iron, Exuperius Pickering (1760-1838) and his son, also Exuperius (1785-1835). One or both was responsible for the building of the bridge having begun petitioning for such an improvement in 1814.
The construction of the chain bridge allowed them to monopolise the local coal trade as it gave them access to a cheap transport route across the River Dee, enabling coal from the canal to cross the river and avoid the tolls demanded when crossing the main bridge in Llangollen.
It was constructed with wooden decking suspended by wrought iron chains from below with a covering surface of earth and stone. Supported from the river bed by six oak pillars, by 1870 the bridge was in a bad condition and the structure was removed. It was replaced in 1876 by Sir Henry Robertson, a bridge and railway engineer and part owner of Wrexham’s Brymbo Ironworks. His design closely followed the original structure but the supporting pillars were made of iron rather than oak.
Severe flooding washed away most of the bridge in February 1928, although the supporting chains held fast. It was rebuilt in a style similar to Anglesey’s Menai Suspension Bridge in 1929 at a cost of just over £300, by Sir Henry’s son, also Sir Henry Robertson. Re-using chains from the original structure the new design was a great improvement and during the opening day celebrations, 45 employees stood on the bridge to demonstrate its strength.
This long-standing link between the canal and the railway line was eventually closed in 1984 due to safety concerns and was made inaccessible. The local town and community councils bought it for a nominal £1 sum to try to ensure its restoration and began raising funds to carry out the repairs in 2007. The Heritage Lottery Fund pledged £350,000 in 2013 and the chain bridge was dismantled for restoration.
Its recent re-opening re-establishes the link between the Llangollen canal and the railway line for a whole new generation to appreciate and use. It is believed that the chains on the bridge are the oldest known surviving suspension chains still in use, so it is credited as the oldest chain bridge in the world. As part of the Pontcysyllte World Heritage site it is an added and most welcome attraction to a day’s outing in Llangollen, which should now include a walk along the canal and over the bridge. We recommend visitors to the ProAdventure shop take time out to visit the bridge – it makes for an interesting diversion. Or, if you’re coming from the other direction, just drop in to say hello.