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Traffic across the strait and Anglesey increased in the early 19th century after the Act of Union of 1800, when Ireland joined the United Kingdom. Travellers to the ferry port of Holyhead, where ships left for Ireland, had to make the dangerous crossing after a long and arduous journey from London. Soon plans were drawn up by Thomas Telford for ambitious improvements to the route from London to Holyhead, including a bridge over the Menai.
One of the design requirements for the bridge was that it needed to have 100 feet of clear space under the main span, to allow for the passage of the tall sailing ships that plied the strait. This was done by designing a suspension bridge, with sixteen massive chains holding up a 579 foot length of road surface between the two towers. Although small suspension bridges had been built before, none approached the scale that Telford proposed for this one.
Despite much opposition from the ferry owners and tradesmen in the ports, construction of the bridge started in 1819. The stone used for the arches and piers was limestone quarried from Penmon Quarries at the north end of the strait, then carried down by boat. The ironwork came from Hazeldeans foundry near Shrewsbury. To prevent the iron from rusting between production and use on the bridge, the iron was immersed, not in boiling wine as the White Knight suggested above, but in warm linseed oil.
The bridge has been modified and reconstructed many times over the years. The road surface was damaged in severe winds in 1839 and needed repair. The wooden deck was replaced with a steel one in 1893. With the coming of modern vehicles the previous weight limit of 4.5 tons per vehicle became an impediment. Overweight vehicles would have to carry their loads over in two or more trips. In fact, even bus conductors would regularly have to ask some passengers to walk across. So, between 1938 and 1940 the old iron chains were replaced with new steel ones, all while traffic continued to cross. In the autumn of 1999 the bridge was closed for several weeks to completely replace the road surface and strengthen the bridge. This is the earliest coloured steroview photograph I have seen. The separate twin road bridges have been replaced by a single road bridge. To stand in the roadway today is waiting for an accident to happen. Gone are the days when the only traffic was only a horse and cart. You would have been lucky to see the Royal Mail Coach racing at speed to catch the Mail Boat at Holyhead.