NewportTransporter.com – History

The need for a Bridge

In 1896 John Lysaght from Wolverhampton announced his attention to build a steel works in Newport and so he was attracted to a site on the east bank of the River Usk. As most of the workers came from the west bank of the river and the only crossing at the time was the Newport Town Bridge. Tunnels and high level bridges were rejected because of the financial cost and traditional moving bridges were considered unsuitable.

The Borough Engineer of Newport at the time, R.H.Haynes had heard of the work of the French Engineer Ferdinand Arnodin and his ‘Aerial Ferry’ which appeared to meet Newport’s needs. So the council went over to Rouen to inspect a similar Transbordeur designed by Arnodin, the borough elected to proceed without delay.

Parliamentary approval was obtained in 1900; Haynes and Arnodin were joint engineers on the project and in 1901 detailed plans were undertaken. In 1902 the construction of the bridge began and after 4 years of building the Transporter Bridge, it was opened on the 12th September 1906 by Viscount Tredegar at a cost of £98,000.

Operation

Arnodin produced a maintenance plan for the bridge, in this he proposed a programme of replacement of parts including the cable to extend the life of the bridge, which the cost could be spread over time. In the programme of replacement he wanted to replace parts that still had useful life. We can only conjecture as to whether, had this advice as been taken there would of been no problem with the bridge today and whether the whole life cost would of been different.

Arnodin was 60 when the Transporter Bridge opened in 1906 and he died in 1924. As the bridge lost money from the beginning his programme was not followed and a certainly lower standard of maintenance than he expected.

From 1906 the bridge operated from dawn to dusk everyday, with Sunday morning reserved for routine maintenance. By the closure of the bridge in 1985 the total workforce was 11. Although the bridge charged tolls, the bridge never paid its way and by 1919 was costing the council around £6000 a year.

Closure 1985

In 1985 wire breakages within the cables resulted in permanent closure. Before repairs of the bridge could be done a detailed structural survey was undertaken. A need to comply with CADW Welsh Historic Monuments requirements, without affecting the essential character and appearance of the bridge.

A £3 million scheme to refurbish the bridge began in 1992. The funding was provided by the European Regional Development fund and former Gwent County Council (now Newport City Council). The refurbishment of the bridge was carried out in the following stages which was done by (Gwent Consultancy);

  • Stage 1: Stairs and walkways replaced. Tower legs repaired and repainted.
  • Stage 2: Replaced anchor and suspension cables which included anchorage repairs. Replaced worn and damaged cable hangers and pins.
  • Stage 3: Gondola and Motor House refurnished, Main boom repaired and repainted, mechanical and electric works undertaken and floodlights installed.

The bridge reopened in 1995 and The Friends of Newport Transporter Bridge (FONTB) was formed. The bridge survives as a small part of the local transport system and has become on the best loved landmarks in Newport and a major tourist attraction.

Centenary

On the 12th September 2006 the Transporter Bridge was 100 years old and to celebrate the mayor of Newport City Council Miqdad Al Nuaimi, unveiled a special plaque on the gondola of the bridge. There on the day was TV crews from BBC Wales, local newspapers and councillors which they came down in an old Leyland Bus owned by Newport Transport.

During the weekend of 16-17th September 2006 there was also a festival called the Crowpoint Festival in Coronation Park, Newport to celebrate 100 years of the Transporter Bridge and over 14,000 people turned up over the weekend.

Closure 2008

In January 2008, it was announced that Newport Transporter Bridge would have to be closed because major faults was detected. The essential repairs needed, will cost more than £150,000 in capital funding. It was also announced in August it was going to cost more than £2 Million pounds to complete the repairs to the bridge not the pervious figure announced. But on Friday, 5th September 2008 at around lunchtime the bridge was put into emergency action after floods stopped hundreds of employees getting to and from work in Stephenson Street, after the road was closed off due to flooding.

Re-Opening (Friday 30th July 2010)

The Newport Transporter Bridge re-opened after a £1.2 million restoration of the high level rail which support the Gondola and paint the bridge.

Closure 2011

The bridge was closed on 16 February 2011, because of operational problems, but re-opened again on 4 June.

Other Information

The Bridge forms part of the classified highway network and is also where route number 4 of the National Cycle Network crosses the River Usk and route 47 begins. It was the focal point of the local millennium celebrations of 2000, where fireworks were fired from its length, and has been featured in several movies including Tiger Bay in 1959 staring Hayley Mills and television shows.

To travel across the bridge is free for all kinds of bikes and pedestrians, but the fare for cars is 50p up until January 2011 when it went up to £1. The walkway across the top of the bridge structure is open to the public on bank holidays. The bridge is used for charity events such as zip slide and abseils.

Appearances in popular media

The bridge provided the setting for some scenes in the 1959 British crime drama film Tiger Bay and also featured in an early scene in the 1972 experimental film The Other Side of the Underneath by Jane Arden which was reissued on DVD and Blu-ray by the British Film Institute in 2009.