Thomas Telford

Thomas Telford 1757 – 1834


Menai Bridge

Thomas Telford was responsible for the early 19th century improvements to the main line canal at Birmingham. Having surveyed the original Brindley contour canal across the Birmingham Plateau he declared it “little better than a crooked ditch” and set about carving a straight line across the route. The result was the largest earthwork in the world at the time – a little over 70 feet deep and a mile long – now known as the Galton Valley. It was crossed by the magnificent Galton Bridge, at the time the longest single span bridge in the world. Among his other improvements to the canal system were the Engine Arm feeder canal that crosses the new line and carries water supplies to the old main line across the dramatic, cast-iron Engine Arm aqueduct, a scheduled ancient monument.

Telford is also known for his audacious improvements to the old Roman road of Watling Street (the A5) that led from London to Wales. His engineering feats include the masterpiece of the Menai Bridge, a suspension bridge that carries the road across the Menai Strait and onto Anglesey to open up the western port of Holyhead. The Menai Bridge was built between 1818 and 1826 at a height of 153 feet, a length of 1388 feet and a main span of 580 feet.

Waterloo Bridge

Another of his A5 works is the magnificent Waterloo Bridge over the River Conwy at Betwys-y-Coed inscribed: “This arch was constructed in the same year the Battle of Waterloo was fought. 1815”

See also: Cantlop Bridge


19th Century Justice

Life was tough in the 19th century and vandals were treated harshly. When Thomas Henry Burrow decided to mess around with the local canal he found himself in more trouble than today’s young thugs would do. Not only was he fined for wasting water but he was expected to publish this public apology in his local newspaper.

Wastage is still a problem on today’s canal system and many lock pounds are drained overnight during the long hot evenings of summer because local roughs enjoy watching the water run. Today it is expensive to put right and takes a lot of time and effort by canal bank staff but there is little disturbance other than preventing a few holidaymakers from passing a flight when they want.

In the 19th century, however, it meant that traders could not ply their boats along the canal until the pounds were refilled and time was money. Many boatmen were not paid for their trip if they were late to deliver.