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Newport Branch Talk, 2024 March 26th

Newport Branch Talks, 2024 March 26th

The Newport Transporter Bridge by Gavin Jones.

Newport’s most iconic landmark, the Transporter Bridge, is now almost 120 years old and at the moment a project, partially funded by the National Lottery, is in the process of renewing and extending the visitor centre in order to stimulate tourist interest.

Our speaker gave an enthusiastic and detailed account of the Bridge’s history and revealed many interesting facts, many probably new to the audience.

The story starts in 1896 when Lysaghts were building the Orb Steel Works. They were to be located on the eastern side of the river whereas the main population- and hence most of the potential workers- lived on the west. The only crossing available was via the old Town Bridge and this was inadequate for the volume of traffic to follow and so discussion occurred on how to solve this problem. Various solutions were considered- a tunnel, a swing bridge, a normal bridge but with the carriageway highly elevated. These were necessary because the Bristol Channel, and consequently the river Usk, had a huge tidal rise and fall (second biggest in the world). Hence any bridge would have to allow for this when considering how ships could still navigate the river after the crossing was completed. All the solutions mentioned so far were far too expensive and so a new French idea was considered and, after a visit to the bridge at Rouen, finally adopted- a Transporter Bridge. This conveyed loads in a gondola suspended below the high boom of the bridge and pulled across by electrically driven cables. The gondola could be moved out of the way at the side of the river when ships were to pass.

The construction was supervised by Ferdinand Arnodin from France and Newport’s chief engineer Robert Haynes. The bridge was finally opened by Godfrey, Lord Tredegar in 1906. Its costs (converted to modern currency values) was £14 million. Now only eight such transporter bridges exist in the world (only six still functioning) and Britain has three- at Middlesbrough, Newport and the defunct bridge at Warrington.

Some interesting facts which Gavin revealed were:

(a) It is the largest of the eight bridges.

(b) Its gondola can carry 13 tons (6 cars or about 120 people). It is the fastest of all the gondolas and can travel at 10’ per second and so cross the river in 90 seconds.

(c) There are 278 steps from the ground to the upper boom, which one can then walk across to the other side- with some splendid views.

It is hoped that the Heritage Centre will be opened and the bridge fully functioning in 2025/26. Gavin would be grateful if those who attended his talk would visit and comment.

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