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National Progress (continued) page 5


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Our coasting trade carried on by means of steamers has undergone an astounding development during the twenty years now under review. In 1820 we had but nine steamers engaged in it, with a tonnage of 500. The next year we had 188 steamers, and thenceforth they went on doubling for several years. In 1830 the number of vessels was nearly 7,000, with a tonnage of more than a million; in 1840 it was upwards of 15,000, with a tonnage of nearly three millions; and in 1849 it was 18,343, with a tonnage of upwards of four millions and a quarter. This account does not include vessels arriving and departing in ballast or with passengers only, which are not required to enter the Custom House. Steam-vessels were not employed in this kingdom for conveying goods coastwise before 1820, nor in foreign trade, except for the conveyance of passengers, earlier than 1822. In the foreign trade the number of steamers increased gradually from that year till they reached the number of 4,000, with an aggregate tonnage of 800,000.

Among the improvements of the age, none were more important than the works constructed for the purpose of facilitating communication between England and Ireland. We have seen, in our account of the visit of George IV. to Dublin, how difficult, how tedious, uncertain, and perilous was that communication, even so late as 1821.; though the people of that time no doubt congratulated themselves that their facilities for travelling were so much greater than those of their ancestors. There certainly had been much gained in point of economy. In Roberts's " Social History of the Southern Counties" there is an account of a journey to Dublin performed in June, 1787, in a coach and four, accompanied by a post-chaise and pair and five outriders. The party reached Holyhead from London in four days, at a cost of 75 11s. 3d. The ferry at Bangor cost 1 10s.; the expenses of the yacht hired to carry the party across the Channel, 28 7s. 9d.; the duty on the coach, 7 13s. 4d.; boats on shore, 1 Is. Total, 114 3s. 4d. These expenses were much greater than the figures indicate, owing to the much higher value of money in those times, In order to avoid tossing perhaps for several days in the Irish Channel, parties proceeded to Holyhead, whence, the passage by sea was considerably shorter. When the traveller from Dublin arrived at Holyhead, he was landed upon the bare, bleak rocks, without any shelter or protection, or conveniences of any kind. " From Holyhead across the island of Anglesea there was no road, but only a miserable track, circuitous and craggy, full of terrible, jolts, round bogs and over rocks, for a distance of twenty- four miles. Having reached the Menai Strait, the passengers had again to take an open ferry-boat before they could gain the mainland. The tide ran with great rapidity through the Strait, and when the wind blew strong, the boat was liable to be driven far up or down the Channel, and was sometimes swamped altogether. The perils of the Welsh roads had next to be encountered; through North Wales they were rough, narrow, steep, and unprotected, mostly unfenced, and in winter almost impassable. The whole traffic on the road between Shrewsbury and Bangor was conveyed by a small cart, which passed between the two places once a week in summer. As an illustration of the state of the roads in South Wales, which were quite as bad as those in the north, we may state that, in 1803, when the late lord Sudeley took home his bride from the neighbourhood of Welshpool to his residence, only thirteen miles distant, the carriage in which the newly-married pair rode stuck in a quagmire, and the occupants having extricated themselves from their perilous situation, performed the rest of their journey on foot." Early in the century remedies for this state of things were slowly applied; packet stations were established, with proper landing-places, at Holyhead and Howth, under the direction of Mr. Rennie. Mr. Telford's services were called, into requisition for the purpose of constructing roads, all efforts of the postmaster-general, by prosecutions and otherwise, having failed to compel the local authorities to keep the roads in a passable state. Stage-coaches had been frequently overturned and broken down, and the Irish mail-coach took forty-one hours to go from London to Holyhead, the Irish mail arriving in Dublin on the third day. At length, owing to the exertions of Sir Henry Parnell, one of the Irish members, a board of parliamentary commissioners was appointed, of which he was chairman, and the new Shrewsbury and Holyhead road was constructed, the works extending over a period of about fifteen years. These works were conducted by Mr. Telford, who pursued the same system that he had adopted in the formation of the Carlisle and Glasgow road as regards metalling, cross- draining, and fence-walling; for the latter purpose using schist or slate-rubble work instead of sandstone. The new road passing along the slopes of rocky precipices and across inlets of the sea, it became necessary to build many bridges, to form many embankments, and cut away long stretches of rock, in order to secure an easy and commodious route. The select committee of the House of Commons, in 1819, expressed the strongest approbation of the manner in which this road was constructed, stating that the professional execution of the works upon it surpassed anything of the kind in these countries. " The science which has been, displayed in giving the general line of the road a proper inclination through a country whose whole surface consists of a succession of rocks, bogs, ravines, rivers, and precipices, reflects the greatest credit upon the engineer who planned them; but perhaps a still greater degree of professional skill has been shown in the construction, or rather the building of the road itself. The great attention which Mr. Telford has bestowed to give the surface of the road one uniform and moderately convex shape, free from the smallest inequality throughout its whole breadth; the numerous land-drains, and, when necessary, shores and tunnels of substantial masonry with which all the water arising from springs or falling in rain is instantly carried off; the great care with which a sufficient foundation is established for the road, and the quality, solidity, and disposition of the materials that are put upon it, are quite new in the system of road-making in these countries." The road along the coast from Bangor by Conway, Abergele, St. Asaph, and Holywell was also greatly improved. But there was still great difficulty in removing the impediments at the Conway and Menai Straits, which Mr. Telford had the honour of overcoming, as we have seen in a former part of this work. Scientific details of the construction of these stupendous works would be out of place here; but the following graphic description of the hoisting of the first great chain across the Menai Strait will be interesting to our readers. " About the middle of April, 1825," says Mr. Smiles, "Mr. Telford left London for Bangor, to superintend the operations. An immense assemblage collected to witness the sight, greater in number than any that had been collected in the same place since the men of Anglesea, in their war paint, rushing down to the beach, had shrieked defiance across the Straits at their Roman invaders on the Caernarvon shore. Numerous boats, arrayed in gay colours, glided along the waters, the day - the 26th of April - being bright, calm, and in every way propitious. At half-past two, about an hour before high water, the raft bearing the main chain was cast off from near Treborth mill, on the Caernarvon side. Towed by four boats, it began gradually to move from the shore, and with the assistance of the tide, which caught it at its farther end, it swung slowly and majestically round to its position between the main piers, where it was moored. One end of the chain was then bolted to that which hung down the face of the Caernarvon pier; whilst the other was attached to ropes connected with strong capstans fixed upon the Anglesea side, the ropes passing by means of blocks over the top of the pyramid of the Anglesea pier. The capstans for hauling in the ropes bearing the main chain were two in number, manned by about 150 labourers. When all was ready, the signal was given to 'Go along! ' A band of fifers struck up a lively tune; the capstans were instantly in motion, and the men stepped round in a steady trot. All went well. The ropes gradually coiled in. As the strain increased, the pace slackened a little, but 'Heave away! now she comes! ' was sung out. Round went the men, and steadily and safely rose the ponderous chain. The tide had by this time turned, and bearing upon the side of the raft, now getting freer of its load, the current floated it away from under the middle of the chain, still resting on it, and it swung easily off into the water. Until this moment a breathless silence pervaded the watching multitude, and nothing was heard amongst the working party on the Anglesea side but the steady tramp of the men at the capstans, the shrill music of the fife, and the occasional order to 'Hold on!' or 'Go along!' But no sooner was the raft seen floating away, and the great chain safely swinging in the air, than a tremendous cheer burst forth from both sides of the Straits. The rest of the work was only a matter of time - the most anxious moment had passed. In an hour and thirty-five minutes after the commencement of the hoisting, the chain was raised to its proper curvature, and fastened to the land portion of it, which had been previously placed over the top of the Anglesea pyramid. Mr. Telford ascended to the point of fastening, and satisfied himself that a continuous and safe connection had been formed from the Caernarvon fastening on the rock to that on Anglesea. The announcement of the fact was followed by loud and prolonged cheering from the workmen, echoed by the spectators, and extending along the Straits on both sides, until it seemed to die away along the shores in the distance. Three foolhardy workmen, excited by the day's proceedings, had the temerity to scramble along the upper surface of the chain, which was only nine inches wide, and formed a curvature of 590 feet from one side of the Straits to the other! Far different were the feelings of the engineer who had planned this magnificent work. Its failure had been predicted; and, like Brindley's Barton viaduct, it had been freely spoken of as a 'castle in the air.' Telford had, it is true, most carefully tested every point by repeated experiment, and so conclusively proved the sufficiency of the iron chains to bear the immense weight they would have to support, that he was thoroughly convinced as to the soundness of his principles of construction, and satisfied that, if rightly manufactured and properly put together, the chains would hold together, and the piers would sustain them. Still there was necessarily an element of uncertainty in the undertaking. It was the largest structure of the kind that had ever been attempted. There was the contingency of a flaw in the iron; some possible scamping in its manufacture; some little point which, in the multiplicity of details to be attended to, he might have overlooked, or which his subordinates might have neglected. It was indeed impossible but that he should feel intensely anxious as to the result of the day's operations. Mr. Telford afterwards stated to a friend, only a few months before his death, that for some time previous to the opening of the bridge his anxiety was so extreme that he could scarcely sleep, and that a continuance of that condition must have very soon completely undermined his health. We are not therefore surprised to learn that when his friends rushed to congratulate him on the result of the first day's experiment, which decisively proved the strength and solidity of the bridge, they should have found the engineer upon his knees engaged in prayer. A vast load had been taken off his mind; the perilous enterprise of the day had been accomplished without loss of life, and his spontaneous act was thankfulness and gratitude."

The suspension of the remaining fifteen chains was accomplished without difficulty, the last being raised and fixed on the 9th of July, 1825, when a band played the National Anthem amidst the cheering of many thousand persons; whilst the workmen marched in procession along the bridge, and the St. David's steam-packet passed under the chains towards the Senithy rocks and back again, thus re-opening the navigation. The bridge was opened for public traffic on the 13th of January, 1826, when the London and Holyhead mail coach passed over it for the first time, followed by the commissioners of the Holyhead roads, the engineers, several stage-coaches, and a multitude of people. The length of the bridge is 1,710 feet - nearly the third of a mile - the distance between the points of suspension of the main bridge being 559 feet; the total weight of iron was 2,187 tons, in 33,265 pieces, and the total cost of the bridge and its approaches was 120,000. A similar suspension bridge was thrown over the estuary at Conway. The works commenced in April, 1822, and were completed in 1826.

Holyhead, formerly a small fishing village, has grown into a considerable town, in consequence of its being the nearest and most convenient place of embarkation for Ireland. Here terminate the great parliamentary roads from London and Chester. It is the terminus of the Chester and Holyhead Railway, in connection with which two mail packets start for Kingstown daily. Immense sums have been spent in constructing the pier, and in making Holyhead a harbour of refuge. The works inclose an area of 316 acres, and a depth of at least six and a half fathoms of water. The pier extends nearly 1,000 feet, and upon it is an arch of Mona marble, commemorative of the visit of George IV. in 1821. At the extremity of the pier is a lighthouse, exhibiting a white light fifty feet above sea level. On South Stack, an isolated rock, three miles west, is another lighthouse, whose light is produced by twenty-one lamps, with powerful reflectors, and is 212 feet above high water mark. The railway trains run down to the pier, so that passengers can step into the steamers at once, without the necessity of troubling themselves about luggage. At Kingstown, which is connected by a railway with Dublin, trains running every half-hour, and a special train running alongside the mail boats, the conveniences for the embarkation and landing of passengers are still greater. A commodious harbour is inclosed by two piers, extending about half a mile into the sea; and to crown the contrast between the past and the present, passengers may go through from Dublin to London in eleven hours, at a charge of 3 Is. for first class and saloon, and 2 4s. 6d. for second class and saloon. The City of Dublin Steam Packet Company has upon the line four splendid mail packets, which leave Kingstown every morning and evening, and perform the passage to Holyhead in three hours and forty-five minutes. Besides the mail boats, there is a large passenger traffic in other steamers from all the principal sea-ports of Ireland to England, while cattle and goods of all sorts are conveyed daily in steamers to Holyhead, Liverpool, Fleetwood, Bristol, and Glasgow, so that the Channel, instead of keeping up the separation between the two islands, serves more effectually to unite them by facility of intercourse and identity of interests.

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Pictures for National Progress (continued) page 5


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