SPAN­NING THE

Wales On Sunday - - NEWS - JAMES MCCARTHY Re­porter james.mccarthy@waleson­line.co.uk

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

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