Crumlin Viaduct – History

Crumlin Viaduct – History

Crumlin Viaduct.
The viaduct at Crumlin was originally built to carry the Taff Vale extension of the Newport, Abergavenny and Hereford Railway across the River Ebbw at Crumlin.

In May 1845 the Welshman Newspaper featured a report in connection with the Welsh Railways and the Vale of Neath, it stated that ” In addition to the Welsh Midlands Railways, a new railway company has been formed and has been favourably received, the company in question is  “The Newport Abergavenny and Hereford Railway” with proposed extensions to Monmouth, Brecon and Merthyr Tydvil. The extent of these new lines will be no doubt a national importance to the great Glamorganshire Coalfield.  The new company would add 148 miles of railway at an estimated cost of £2,500,000. In addition there were various extensions and branches which were not included.

The Company.
The Newport Abergavenny and Hereford Railway – Committee of Management.

Chairman – The Honourable W. E. Fitzmaurice MP. Chesham Street, Belgrave Square.
Deputy Chairman – T. Chisholm, Chapel Street, Grosvenor Place; Mr John Barnes Esq, Chorley Wood House, Herts; Mr James Brand Esq, New Broad Street; Mr John Brightman Esq, Cornhill, London; Mr John Chapman Esq, Leadenhall Street; Mr Henry Garrett Key Esq, Tokenhouse Yard; Mr John Lawrie Esq, Charles Street, St James’s; Mr William Mountford Nurse Esq, Upper Gore, Kensington; Sir David Scott, Bart, Porchester Terrace, Bayswater:

Bankers – London – Union Bank of London;
Abergavenny – Messrs Bailey’s & Co;
Hereford – National Provincial Bank of England:

Solicitors – Messrs Johnston, Farquhar and Leech of London;
Messrs F. and L. Bodenham of Hereford; Messrs Gabb and Secretan of Abergavenny; Mr Alex Waddington Esq of Usk: Offices – No 65 Mooregate Street:

On Wednesday 30th October 1845 a meeting of the the Newport Abergavenny and Hereford Railway Co shareholders was held at their offices at 65 Moorgate Street Monmouth. Chairman Capt Fitzmaurice explained on the intention of purchasing land for branch lines etc.

The Planning of the Viaduct.
On March 4th 1853, the company held a half yearly meeting at the London Tavern, the Hon W. E. Fitzmaurice was in the chair and it was related to the members that the directors were actively acquiring the land for the Taff Vale extension. The contract had been let for the erection of the viaduct and shortly for the works.

On August 22nd 1853, a conference of railway promoters (influential people in connection with the Monmouthshire Railway Co and the Newport, Abergavenny and Hereford Co) was held at the Westgate Hotel, Newport. Mr Crawshay Bailey Esq MP; Mr Charles Conway Esq; Mr Thomas Greatrex Esq and Mr William Jenkins Esq with the secretary & chief engineer all on behalf of the Monmouthshire Railway Co and the Hon Capt Fitzmaurice; Mr Thomas Brown Esq; Mr Robinson Esq; Mr Thomas Pritchard Esq; and Mr Liddell Esq for the Newport Abergavenny and Hereford Co. It was arranged for the Abergavenny Co to make use of all the sheds and stations through to Newport on a percentage taken by the former.

It was also arranged for the Newport, Abergavenny and Hereford Co to purchase the Glyn Pond which would enable the company to improve their gradients along the line between Pontypool and Crumlin from 1 in 40 to 1 in 56. Also at this time there was an engineer purchasing land and trial pits were being sunk between Pontypool and Crumlin to test the stratification along the proposed route.

On November 25th 1853 a job was advertised at the works Crumlin for smiths, fitters, model-makers and moulders. Applications must be from men of good character, with references from last employers with proof of last wages etc. Apply to Mr A. Sinclair.

In December 1853, the fixing of the first column of the viaduct which was entirely iron was performed by Lady Isabella Fitzmaurice. Later  a function was held at the Navigation Hotel, Crumlin for the management and workers at the Crumlin Viaduct Works. The hostess was Mrs Richards, the party was to celebrate Christmas. Mr T. W. Kennard Esq in the achievement of the commencement of building the worlds largest railway viaduct and the erection of the first pillar of the Crumlin Viaduct. There were between 200-250 people sat to eat roast beef and plenty of cwrw-da (good beer).

There were a large body of artisans dressed in blue jackets and the navvies attired in white smocks. Also present were Mr Dawltrey (Vice-Chairman and Operative); Mr A. Sinclair,  (Manager of the works) ; The Rev Isaac Hughes, incumbent of the parish; Mr Fletcher, (Clerk of the works); Mr Kirby, (Superintendent of works at the Tunnel); Mr Robert Rogers, (Foreman of the works) and Mr Waite (Superintendent of the Viaduct); During the evening it was arranged for a resident surgeon to be retained at the works. At the end of the night the Queen, Prince Albert (Prince of Wales) and other members of the Royal Family were toasted and it was announced that all workers present upon the completion of the viaduct would be presented with a commemorative silver medal with an inscription and the workman’s name.

One of the chief constructors of the viaduct was a Mr John Deale, a native of Cardiganshire but lived at Abercarn, he later lived at Glen View, Crumlin. Another one of the men who worked on the bridge during the construction was Mr Hatherall from Hafodyrynys, he later went to South Africa to help construct other bridges and later came back to work at the Llanhilleth Colliery.  Another was Mr John Maxwell, his work was so admired by the engineer that he was selected to work on bridges in Buenos Aries, South America and Turkey, repairing locomotives and to work on the Varna and Ruckshuck Railway in India. In later life he lived at 3 Glen View, Crumlin.

On the 14th July 1854, tenders were put out for painters to paint the structure of the viaduct. Also to builders to construct a number of workmen’s houses at Crumlin.

Messrs Kennard of Scotland had a large contract to supply from their Crumlin Works “Shot & Shells” they moulded and forged 32 and 64 pounder’s and nine inch shells, this ammunition was for the artillery on the front at Crimea during the Crimean War.

Irish Navvies Disturbance.
In September 1854, six Irish navvies in the employ of Mr Firbanks at Hafodyrynys, visited the Greyhound Beershop and decided to create a disturbance, the gang assaulted everyone they approached, they later entered the Hafodyrynys Public House, caused more damage and went on to further rampage through Crumlin. They severely beat-up Mr Scrivens a farmer and attacked Mr Moses the timekeeper on the line, though Mr Moses produced a gun and shot one of the navvies about the legs, upon hearing this commotion the English navvies along with the miners and masons banded together and took chase upon the Irish, they caught two and gave them a good beating, the others escaped. The next morning the miners in the valley came out in large numbers and grouped up with the English navvies and masons to go and sort out the Irish, though news quickly spread and large bodies of the Trevethin and Newport Police force arrived at the scene and averted a full blown riot.

On December 2nd 1854, the first cross-girder of the great viaduct was lifted into place.

The Completion of the Viaduct.
In September 1855, it was reported that the last girder is now raised to its position and that a great number of people assembled to witness the operation. The contractor Mr T. W. Kennard, Mrs Kennard, Capt H. M. Kennard and Mr Kennard of the Falkirk Works at Scotland were present for the occasion. It was arranged to form a procession and walk through the village, up the Kendon valley and across the viaduct to the other side of the valley using the wooden walkway that had been laid across the bridge. Mr Kidd (Manager) assembled the group along with Mr & Mrs Kennard, and the Kennard brothers; Mr Knowles of Newport; Mr Henry Pryce (Railway Company’s Inspector); Mr Thomas Hards (Foreman at the Works); Mr Wilson (Cashier); Mr Maynard (Draughtsman); Mr Cooke (Storekeeper); Mr J. M. Scott; Mr Richards; Mr, Mrs and Miss Rickards; The Rev James Hughes and Mrs Hughes of Llanhilleth:

After the walk up the valley they came to the bridge and Mr Kennard was the first to cross, leading the procession he walked across the loose narrow planked foot-way without trepidation and was loudly cheered upon reaching the other side. As the rest of the group moved onto the viaduct and reached half way, a number of cannon on the surrounding hills poured forth thunderous peals which reverberated through the valley and through many cheers from the workmen again and again discharges of cannon resounded from height to height. After a few speeches in Welsh the procession descended the hill singing “Cheer Boy’s Cheer” the group assembled outside the Navigation Hotel were they drank beer supplied by the hosts Mr and Mrs Lewis Richards, Mr Kennard told the workmen they should gather and congratulate each other on the work they so successfully accomplished:

In August 1856, the viaduct was open but in an unfinished state. At this point in time it was just an attraction to tourists and the public.

The Safety Testing.
Friday 1st May 1857, the Crumlin Viaduct was completed and the safety test were in commencement for the preparatory to it being opened for passengers and merchandise. Mr Carr the resident engineer crossed the viaduct in a heavy locomotive.

On Wednesday 6th May, six engines each weighing 50 tons were lined up and were driven over the viaduct by Mr Carr and Mr Kennard.

On Thursday 7th May, the following day, the six locomotives and tenders were loaded with chains and rails, altogether weighing 340 tons with three locomotives on each line they were run over the viaduct with Mr Carr, Mr Kennard and Mr Thomas Brown Esq at their controls, under the enormous weight the average deflection on all the spans was less than 1 and a half inches. The testing was done under the careful examination of Professor Gordon of the firm Liddell & Gordon, engineers of the line, Mr Carr and Mr Kennard Esq’s.

On the 15th May 1857, Col Wynne the government inspector paid a visit to Crumlin where he minutely examined the viaduct and performed the same rigorous tests by running the same 6 heavily laden locomotives two abreast back and forth over the bridge. He declared the Crumlin Viaduct safe for use and it was opened for mineral and passenger traffic.  The first passenger train to cross was driven by Engineer Mr Charles Langham of Panteg, Pontypool, a very experienced engine driver for the Newport Abergavenny and Hereford Railway Company.

The Official Opening.
June  1857 the opening of the viaduct saw train after train arriving at Crumlin from Tredegar, Ebbw Vale, Hereford, Blaina, Usk, Pontypool, Abersychan and Blaenavon, the crowds were estimated between 15,000 to 20,000 with some saying as many as 30,000. Each train was welcomed by the firing of cannons, nine in all, placed on the brow of the hill. The shots were fired throughout the day accompanied by shots from cannons that were placed in the grounds of Mr Kennard’s residence the opposite side of the valley.

During the early part of the day the crowds were barred from walking along the viaduct by Lieut Gordon the superintendent of the Monmouthshire Constabulary and ten men of the force under his command, P.C.s Ward, Major, Phillips, Williams, Price, Prichard, Preece, Hopkins, Harding and R. Jones. Throughout the day the newly formed force of constables had to be very vigilant to prevent any accidents along the viaduct by the many walkers. When the trains came for the return journey home the many revellers who had paid extra for a first class ticket found that their return was so rushed and cramped that they were forced to travel back in third class carriages or on open trucks.

The Near Catastrophe of 1859.
In October 1859, while a routine inspection of the viaduct took place the examiners attention was drawn to seemingly loose girder work around each of the abutments where the cross-girders were bearing. Mr Price of the Newport, Abergavenny & Hereford Co, was alerted and Mr McDonall one of the engineers was called to repair and alter the suspected defective work on the great bridge. Word spread of the dangers and the workmanship of Mr Kennard was brought into question. Mr McDonall asked for advice from Mr Liddell who at the time was unavailable so he carried on with the work of adding an extra 18 inches to the cross-girders to ensure they had plenty of bedding within the stone abutments each side of the valley.

A concerned person who wanted to remain anonymous alerted the clerk who aided in the acquiring of the plans of the alteration. These plans were presented to the company and expert advice was sought. Mr H. M. Kennard upon hearing of the problems, visited Crumlin and told the examiners that if the alterations went ahead there would be serious concerns to the stability of the viaduct and the works. Mr H. M. Kennard also heard how his brother’s name had been tarnished owing to the way he had allegedly left the bridge defective and not safe! Mr H. M. Kennard then made a scathing attack on the resident engineers and wrote an open letter in the newspaper damning the company in the way they treated his brother and calling his excellent work into question.

Mr H. M. Kennard had contacted his brother who had been in Europe building other bridges and upon his return also made a scathing attack on the engineers and wrote an open letter in the newspaper damning the company as well. He explained he had left the great viaduct in a safe and sound condition, the cross-girders were embedded sufficiently for the expansion and contraction of the ironwork of the span. At no time was-or-would the bridge be in danger. The 18″ inch expansion gap was for that purpose and during the long hot summer of 1859 the girders were varying in length considerably but were well within their bearing limits. Mr Kennard told that if the engineers had proceeded in fixing this gap, the next expansion or contraction would have buckled the viaduct and it would have had catastrophic consequences to the public with many lives lost.

The later years.
In December 1888, it was announced that the old viaduct works were going to be acquired and re-opened as a tin works. This didn’t seem to go ahead as in July 1889 they were taken over by the Cwmbran Patent Nut & Bolt Company. Mr E. G. Morgan and Mr Thomas Bennett (Managers). They were producing nuts and bolts for trams, bridges and the mining industry. In February 1890 they placed a job vacancy advert for 12 girls wanted to work at the foundry.

In March 1893 Mr Parfitt of Ebbw Vale took over part of the Crumlin Viaduct Works, he employed many men in his engineering dept.

The Derailment.
One Saturday night in December 1898, as a train was crossing the viaduct a wheel came loose on one of the trucks causing a derailment, several yards of line was ripped up and parts of the bridge was demolished, a breakdown gang was immediately sent to the scene to repair the damage and close the one line. It was stated that if it had happened during the daylight hours with such high volumes of traffic above and below the valley there would have been a tragic outcome.

In September 1905, Mr John Clark announced he had taken over the smithing dept at the Crumlin Works and placed ads for his services for shoeing horses in the district.

The Subsidence Problem.
In June 1902, there were fears over the present and future stability of the Crumlin Viaduct owing to mining in the close proximity. It was said that the engineers, designers and builders in the 1850’s did not envisage such aggressive mining activity and growth of the Crumlin valley. This activity was now undermining the foundations of the great bridge. Negotiations were started under the authorisation of Mr Ingles of the Great Western Railway Co and Mr Arthur Lawrence a mining engineer in the planning of obtaining the land and mineral rights in the area to stop any further mining around the viaduct. It was debated in the House of Lords by Lord Hawkesbury under ” The G.W.R. Viaduct Bill – The Provisions for the Protection of the Bridge”. Mr Moon K.C.; Mr Honoratus Lloyd and Mr Trevor Lewis acted for the promoters: Mr Acworth acted for Mrs Angelina Symons and other landowners.

The Painting Contract.
In August 1912, the craftsmen employed painting the viaduct stated it takes 15 tons of paint to give the structure two coats and that this work took place every seven years. Also a large number of people took advantage of the char-a-banc service from Newport and the lower portion of the valley to go and watch the painters at work.

The Later Years.
In 1966 the feature film Arabesque starring Gregory Peck and Sophia Lauren had scenes filmed around and on the Crumlin Viaduct. In the same year the viaduct was in the process of being demolished. 

The Crumlin Viaduct was later demolished, the stone abutments are still in place each side of the valley and can still be seen today.

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