Architect: Thomas Telford (1819-1826)
Photograph: E. de Mare (1950s)
Source: RIBA Brtitish Architectural Library Photographs Collection
Many of the technical advances necessary for Britain to become the ‘Workshop of the World’ occurred during the late eighteenth century, towards the end of the Georgian period. Farming was revolutionized; factories sprang up; viaducts, locks and tunnels enabled a canal network to be realised and distances were dissolved by the transformation of the nation’s roads through tarmac, toll houses and bridges.
The engineer Thomas Telford (1757-1834) was instrumental in this. He was employed to link up Britain from end to end, rationalizing the road network. Steep gradients were no more: roads ran on embankments or through cuttings; bridges became ever more ambitious. Telford’s greatest achievement was the completion of the London to Holyhead road. The greatest obstacle was the Menai Straits, between Anglesey and Snowdonia. Tides here were fast and treacherous. Telford’s solution was to carry the road high up using the latest engineering – a suspension bridge. Completed in 1826 after seven years of construction, it put North Wales and Ireland within easy reach of the capital.
This photograph, by Eric de Mare, reveals the might of Telford’s genius. Such is the scale of this structure, only part of the bridge is captured,. Its brick piers emerge out of the inky water of the straits, climbing high up to the road. Massive, even monumental, these are reminiscent of an Egyptian temple: perhaps, like their predecessors they will stand for millennia.