RISING from the mists of the Usk, it was a startling vision of the future. Staring from gas-lit homes, Pillgwenlly residents would have been amazed as the electricity-powered Newport Transporter Bridge towered over them.
The first journey was started by Viscount Tredegar, who opened the bridge on September 12, 1906.
There were cheers and “the din of detonators” as the current was started and the gondola began moving at a stately pace from the west bank.
“The motion was at first almost imperceptible and the journey was continued to the other side without the slightest vibration or swaying,” reported the Cardiff Times and South Wales Weekly News.
The approaches of Alexandra Road and Mill Parade were decorated with flags and bunting, as was the bridge. The eastern tower paid tribute to its French designer, Ferdinand Arnodin, by flying the republic’s tricoleur.
Bridge expert Mike Lewis is Newport council’s culture and continuing learning manager.
“Think about what that bridge means and what it meant in 1906,” he said.
“It was a big, big, structure in a town where most buildings were below four storeys.
“It was powered by electricity at a time when most people’s homes were lit by gas and heated by coal.
“This was the future incarnate on their doorstep.”
The bridge cost £98,000 to build and has never recovered its costs. It still runs at a loss.
Mr Lewis said: “If you go to the base and stand and look up you get this sense of awe.
“It is an interesting juxtaposition of something that looks modern with this steel structure and then you have this quaint gothic gondola.
“Someone once said it’s like ‘a temple of steampunk’.”
Numerous stories structure.
In 1927 Alfred Sheppard and Thomas Evans dived from the gondola to rescue a woman who had thrown herself from it, while in 1968 a plan was hatched to sell the bridge to the United States.
At 9am on August 4, 1984, a group of miners hijacked the gondola.
Picketers boarded in a minibus surround the stocked with a stove, food and sleeping bags.
An NUM official said at the time: “We had enough food to last for two weeks if necessary.
“We positioned the platform over the deep water channel to make sure that boats could not get underneath it, to stop them bringing coke for Llanwern into the wharves.”
The plan was foiled by police in a surprise midnight operation.
In 1918 it was a penny to cross but today it’s £1.
“Driving it is remarkably similar to driving a tram,” Mr Lewis said.
“You push a lever forward and back and it goes. The motor itself brakes. The current is drawn away as you approach the bank.”
When the bridge is open visitors are able to walk over the top.
“Some people find it a bit of a challenge and others are blown away by the views from the top and that sense of mild peril when you step out onto the open grating,” Mr Lewis said.
Far beneath your feet the murky river depths are visible and Newport appears tiny.
“We’d like to put one of those glass floors in,” Mr Lewis said.
David Hando is chairman of the Friends of Newport Transporter Bridge. “It’s almost unique,” he said.
“There are only three in Britain and eight in the world.
“It’s an amazing piece of engineering and it looks very elegant.” The structure is now Grade I listed. “When the bridge was built it was built in part to persuade John Lysaght to build a steelworks here,” Mr Hando said. “He wanted a steelworks away from his Wolverhampton base.
“He was p persuaded to come to Newport because of the promise to build a bridge from the residential side on the east bank.
“Had it not been built they would have had to walk up two miles to the castle and then two miles down to work – passing about 28 pubs along the way.”
Workers came from Wolverhampton for jobs in Newport.
“Some came by bike and some walked all the way,” said Mr Hando.
“But they were coming to a rugby area and they were Wolverhampton Wanderers fans.
“They wanted a professional football team to support so, with the help of Mr Lysaght, set up the original Newport County in 1912.”
Wolves played in old black.
“That is why Newport play in black and amber,” Mr Hando said.
The original Newport County went gold and
Newport Transporter Bridge
The Duke of York on the gondola. He and d his party were on their way to a rugby by match in Cardiff on March 8, 1924 24