A wooden bridge was probably built soon after the foundation of the town, and certainly already spanned the Teifi at Cardigan by 10th October 1136, when it collapsed beneath the weight of fighting men (or fleeing Normans!) during the Battle of Crug Mawr:
“…When the bridge over the river Teifi was broken down, it was a wretched spectacle to see the townspeople passing to and fro across a bridge formed by the horrible mass of human corpses and horses drowned in the river…”
Gerald de Barri (Geraldus Cambrensis) and Archbishop Baldwin preached at the bridge-head in 1188. A chapel was erected on the site soon afterwards, on a site later occupied by the engine shed of the Cardigan Railway terminus. Repairs to the bridge were conducted at Royal expense in 1228. Maelgwn, the son of Maelgwn ap Rhys, destroyed the bridge in 1231. The location of the bridge was moved to the present site as a result of this attack, having previously been close to the church. The bridge was probably repaired in 1247. The same year, Miles de Hope, the retiring Constable of Cardigan Castle, was attacked on the bridge and robbed by John the Welshman.
In 1598 George Owen of Henllys was accused that, as a commissioner nominated by the Council in the Marches to levy a rate for the repair of the bridge, he had appropriated the funds raised and sold inferior timber from his own woods for the work. During the course of construction, the new bridge had collapsed, according to George Owen and to James Bowen of Llwyngwair, not because of poor timber, but because of the force of the river “…for want of heft upon it…” Carpenters employed on the job confirmed that the oak, which came from Pencelli, bought from George Owen for 6s. 8d. per tree, was sound, and that all Owen had received was a fair price for the timber. In 1605 £9. 6s. 8d. came from the inhabitants of Pembrokeshire towards repairs to Cardigan Bridge. The bridge is illustrated on John Speed’s map of 1610. On 10th March 1639 Rees Gwyn wrote his will, leaving a sum of money towards the repair of the bridge.
The bridge was built in stone for the first time in 1639. In 1641 Peter Haylin described a “…stone bridge sustained by several Arches…” at Cardigan. On 4th January 1645 Col. John Gerrard ordered his Royalist troops to demolish the greater part of the bridge, in order to prevent relieving forces from assisting the Parliamentarian garrison in Cardigan Castle. On 22nd January 1645 the Parliamentarian forces of Col. Laugharne crossed it using faggots of wood. In 1647 the inhabitants of Cardiganshire and Pembrokeshire petitioned the House of Commons, stating that:
“…The bridge over the river Tivey, which was built about eight years ago at a cost of £1500, has been lately broken down by the enemy to the great hindrance to trade between the two counties…Pray that £500 may be speedily levied out of the delinquent’s estates in the county for that purpose…”
On 14th October 1647 probate of the will of Rees Gwyn left monies towards the repair of the bridge. In May 1666 Rees Gwyn the younger also left money in his will towards repairing the bridge. According to a plaque, W. Jones rebuilt an arch here in 1726. The brothers Samuel and Nathaniel Buck produced an illustration of Cardigan in 1741 which included a depiction of the bridge. In 1759 Andrew Brice referred to it as “…a good stone bridge…” In 1796 Rev. James Burgess described it as ‘…a handsome bridge of five arches…’ In 1808 Samuel Rush Meyrick curiously described the bridge as having seven arches. On 6th August 1830 John Morris was paid £20 for macadamising the bridge. In 1845 James Bowen oversaw £4 worth of repairs to the bridge on behalf of the Pembrokeshire authorities. In 1849 Cardiganshire allocated another £30 towards completing repairs. In 1852 £12. 7s. worth of repairs were conducted. The architect R. K. Penson conducted some repairs in 1857. In 1865 £35 was allocated towards repairs.
On 5th November 1869 there were proposals to widen the bridge. On 8th July 1870 there were discussions held concerning the upkeep of the bridge. Cardiganshire claimed that Pembrokeshire were solely responsible for the upkeep! Pembrokeshire offered £500, on the condition that no further payments would be sought at any future time. This was announced at a Rolls Court on Chancery Lane, presided over by Mr. James of Pantsaeson, Monington. On 4th November 1870 it was proposed to widen the bridge by six feet.
On 9th June 1871 the bridge was being surveyed prior to widening. Alterations commenced in May 1872, widening the structure by six feet on the downstream side. Mr. Lewis of Carmarthen conducted the work to plans by J. Szlumper, the County Surveyor. On 31st May 1872 the following item appeared in the ‘Pembrokeshire Herald‘:
A meeting of the committee of magistrates of the counties of Pembrokeshire and Cardiganshire was held in Cardigan on Saturday, when the tender of Mr Lewis, contractor, Carmarthen, was accepted for the widening of Cardigan bridge, each of the above counties paying one moiety. The inhabitants of both counties will be gratified at the conclusion of this long pending affair; it will be a great boon to the public (pedestrians included), and considering the sad state of the bridge, it is next door to a miracle that accidents do not occur daily…”
Widening work was completed on 3rd January 1874. On 6th July 1877, £60 worth of damage was caused to the bridge by a traction engine. Steel bars were inserted into the bridge to strengthen it in 1878. By 14th April 1893 there was a urinal on Cardigan Bridge! On 1st June 1894 complaints were made about the inadequate pump and flushing system. On 18th March 1898 the Cardigan Borough Council debated the removal of the urinal from the bridge. Removal of the urinal was agreed on 8th September 1902.
On 18th October 1907 it was proposed to widen the northerly approach to the bridge, and this was done between 28th August and 8th October 1908 at a cost of £150. On 11th October 1912 the widening of the east side of the bridge was considered. In June 1925 a crumbling section of wall on the east side of the bridge, was repaired. On 4th January 1935 Cardiganshire County Council considered widening and strengthening the bridge. On 4th October 1935 there were calls for a new bridge to be built, 40 feet wide, or the widening of the upstream side of the existing structure. On 8th November 1935, it was agreed to widen the bridge to 40 feet on the downstream side.
On 10th January 1936 it was announced that the bridge would be widened the following year, to a width of forty feet, creating a 30ft carriageway. On 19th February 1954 investigations were made into a crack at the north end of the bridge. Experts declared it “…good for a century yet…” On 18th March 1960 it was proposed that a footbridge should be built immediately adjacent to the bridge. On 21st April 1961 the building of a pedestrian bridge across the Teifi was still being considered. By 2nd February 1962 vandals had flung coping stones from the parapet walls into the river. On 6th July 1962 repairs to the bridge were proposed as stones were falling and there were said to be cracks and gaps in the buttresses, and began within a week. There was said to be a hole in the masonry.
On 15th March 1963 the replacement of the bridge was being considered again. On 18th February 1966 a footbridge upstream of Cardigan Bridge was expected to be built “…within two years…” On 15th July 1966 replacing the road bridge was considered again. On 21st October the same year, it was announced that the construction of Cardigan Footbridge would begin before March 1967. It was still being discussed on 10th April 1970. On 28th December 1973 it was stated that work on the new footbridge was expected to commence soon. Exploratory borings began on 18th March 1975.
Cardigan Footbridge was “…well underway…” by 25th June 1976 and was officially opened by the Mayor of Cardigan, Cllr. Owen M. Owen on 23rd July 1976. On 27th August that year, it was revealed that the project had cost a staggering £350,000, for which the Rev. Canon Seamus Cunnane and others demanded an explanation. On 15th April 1977 the installation of permanent traffic lights on the bridge was considered. By 9th September 1977 the Welsh Office were planning to widen the bridge and the work began in December. Work was completed before 2nd June 1978 at a cost of £90, 000. The bridge was ‘listed’ in 1992.
On 18th August 1994 it was revealed that erosion was damaging the bridge through undermining. On 11th February 1998 it was revealed that the bridge needed £900,000 worth of stabilising works, which began later that year. On 16th June 1999 it was revealed that over £1 million was to be spent on reinforcing the bridge. In August that year, ‘Alun Griffiths (Contractors) Ltd.’, began work on stabilising the bridge, which involved laying concrete slabs between sheet pile walls to both sides of the structure. Unhappily, the 17th Century timber and stone under-piece beneath each arch was mechanically removed, and concrete was laid down instead. Part of the parapet wall was damaged by vandals in late 2002 and this was repaired early in 2004. The footbridge was repaired in 2011.
In 1992 the bridge was described by CADW:
“…Probably early C18 road bridge, widened 1872-3. Blue lias rubble stone 5-arch bridge with recessed cut-stone voussoirs to arches, cutwaters on both sides, those on west obscured in 1872-3 widening. On east side cutwaters are carried up full height to form pedestrian refuges, except for one to south of centre which is capped short with plaque above ‘This arch was built in the year 1726, W Jones’, but plaque may be reset as cutwater is shown full height in mid C18 prints. A small flood arch is at south end.
On west side original arches can clearly be seen under 1872-3 more elliptical arches, springing from the cutwaters. Similar cut stone voussoirs…”
‘Cardigan Shire’, map, John Speed 1610
The South View of Cardigan Castle & Priory (illus.), Samuel & Nathaniel Buck 1741
Cardigan Castle in Cardiganshire (illus.), Eastgate
Cardigan Castle in Wales (illus.), Metcalf
Cardigan Castle (illus.), J Ryland
Cardigan Castle (illus.), J Greig 1786
Cardigan Castle (illus.), J Newton Aug 1786
Bridge & Castle, Cardigan (illus.), Rook & Co 26/08/1801
Cardigan Castle (illus.), Petit 1804
The History & Antiquities of the County of Cardiganshire, Samuel Rush Meyrick 1808
Cardigan (illus.), J Wood 1812
Cardigan (illus.), W Radclyffe c1830
Map of Cardigan, J Wood 1834
Cardigan (illus.), Cox 1840
Cardigan & Tivy-Side Advertiser 1869-72; 1877-78; 1893-94; 1898; 1902; 1907-08; 1912; 1917-
18; 1921; 1925; 1935-36; 1954-55; 1960-63; 1966; 1970; 1973; 1975-78; 1994-95; 1998-99
Pembrokeshire Herald 1872
Letter-Head (illus.), Bridge Warehouse, Cardigan c1875
O. S. Map 1887 etc
A Guide to Cardigan & District, William Edward Yerward James 1899
Ancient Bridges of Wales & Western England, F Jervoise 1936
Brut y Tywysogion: Peniarth MS20 Version, T Jones 1952
History of the King’s Works Vol. II, H M Colvin 1963
George Owen of Henllys – A Welsh Elizabethan, B G Charles 1973
Western Telegraph 1980
Plans – Cardigan Footbridge 16/07/1975
The Journeys of Sir Richard Colt-Hoare Through Wales & England 1793-1810, M W Thompson 1983
Pembrokeshire County History Vol. III, ed. Brian Howells 1987
A Guide to Cardigan 1989
Cardigan & the Lower Teifi Valley in Old Photographs, Dyfed Cultural Services 1989
The Gateway to Wales, W J Lewis 1990
Those Were The Days: Volume 1, Donald Davies 1991
The 1992 Cardigan Guide
Buildings of Architectural or Historic Interest – Cardigan, CADW 1992
The 1993 Guide to Cardigan
Conquerors & Conquered in Medieval Wales, Ralph A Griffiths 1994
The Cardigan Guide 1994; 1996; 1997; 2000-2001
Cardigan ’95, 1995
The Official Cardigan Guide 1998; 1999
Letter – Alun Griffiths, Contractor – re Cardigan Bridge 01/08/1999.
© Glen K Johnson 02/07/2013.