Opening of Crumlin Viaduct

Crumlin Viaduct Handbook
Opening of Crumlin Viaduct

The Crumlin Viaduct, as most of our readers know by this time, stretches across a mountain gorge upwards of 230 feet deep, thus connecting two mountain tops together by means of a structure of singular grace and elegance, and in appearance so light as to make us think it impossible that a railway train could cross it with safety. But the viaduct not only connects these mountain tops, but the Newport, Abergavenny, and Hereford Railway with what is called the Taff Vale Extension. This railway will open up an hitherto inaccessible and extensive field for mining operations, and which will employ thousands of hands, besides going on to Merthyr and eventually to Swansea, the former a most important and populous district, which, like most other Welsh manufacturing places has risen within a few years with the development of the mineral wealth of the locality. Here everything edible has to be purchased, and a large and lucrative trade will now doubtless be carried on with the farmers of Herefordshire with this district. With the completion of the Worcester and Hereford Railway there will be direct communication between the central part of Wales and the Midland Counties.

The light and delicate appearance of the lofty structure afforded a theme for much discussion as to its stability; but all reasonable apprehension upon this point was removed by the severe trial to which it was subjected on Thursday, May 7, 1857, preparatory to its being opened for passengers and merchandise. The testing was conducted in the following manner, in the presence of Professor Gordon, of the firm of Liddell and Gordon, the engineers of the line; M W Carr Esq, the Company’s resident engineer; T W and H M Kennard Esqs, by whom the viaduct was erected; and several other engineers and gentlemen -

First, one engine was run on, then a second, a third, and so on until six engines and a waggon, weighing in the whole 380 tons, were placed upon one span of 150 feet in length. This immense weight rested, however, upon the two lines of rails which are laid along the viaduct; the test, therefore, as applied to each pair of girders, would be in the proportion of 190 tons to 150 feet, being a much heavier pressure than it will be possible, under ordinary circumstances, to bring upon the space indicated, and considerably exceeding the limit required by the Government Inspector. The utmost deflection observable was from an inch to an inch and a quarter. Upon that occasion Mr Carr, when the 380 tons were upon the viaduct, with a nerve that startled all present, got over the rails of the bridge, and clinging to the iron-work alone, minutely examined the works to discover if there was any giving way of the parts, so strong was his conviction of the safety of the structure. The Blaenavon Iron Company, so justly celebrated for the superior strength of their iron, made all the wrought iron used in the construction, and Messrs Kennard, of Falkirk, made all the castings.

Within a few days after the testing of the viaduct, Colonel Wynne, Royal Engineers, the Government Inspector, examined the structure, which was again tried in his presence, with the same satisfactory result, and he expressed his unqualified admiration both of the elegance of the work and its stability. It was, therefore, determined to open it for public traffic on Whit Monday, and these are the proceedings we intend to chronicle. There had been considerable preparations for the celebration, and excursion trains ran from various parts of the kingdom to the scene, which was taken advantage of by a large number of persons.

Photo © Ben Brooksbank (from Geograph, used under Creative Commons licence)

The numerous engines and trains running upon the Newport, Abergavenny, and Hereford, the western Valleys, and the Aberbeeg lines, were gaily decorated with ribbons, flags, and evergreens. Along the route there were evident signs of a general holiday; but the great centre of festivities was Crumlin Valley. The railway station had put on a gay appearance; the centre of the viaduct was spanned by an arch of evergreens and flowers, from which depended banners bearing the following inscriptions: “Long Life and Prosperity to T W Kennard” and “Long life to the firm of Kennard Brothers”. Two strings of flags stretched from the base to the summit of the bridge; and cannon were placed on both sides the valley, from which volleys were fired with but slight intermission throughout the day, and caused the mountains to reverberate with their thunder. It was very singular to listen to the firing of the cannon from this side, as the concussion made a distinct "leap" as it were under each arch of the viaduct, and then rolled away with a crackling noise through the atmosphere, just as we have heard some extraordinary loud thunder peals.

Having the required pass to enable us to go upon this famed structure which we are come to open, let us take a bird’s-eye glance at the world below. What Mrs Sigourney has so beautifully said of Niagara, may in some measure, be applied here -

“To the verge of its appalling battlement draw near,
And gaze below. Or if thy spirit fail,
Creep stealthily, and snatch a trembling glance
Into the dread abyss.
What then thou seest
Shall dwell forever in thy inmost soul,
Finding no form of language.”

What a magnificent prospect! There the Western Valleys line winds along the mountain gorge; the river Ebbw meandering by its side, and the canal in its sluggish course seems, in the distance, like some silver thread spread upon a dark ground. Houses of various descriptions, which have sprung up like the fabled Phoenix from the debris of ancient worlds, are grouped together in picturesque confusion; the mountains on either side rise to an altitude of several hundred feet (we are 207 feet above the houses below us) and beautifully wooded, almost to their very summits, except where the peaceful art of agriculture has asserted its rights on yonder southern declivity, in the distance up to its very apex; and these woods and mountains, now robed in verdant loveliness, make up a picture which it is difficult to banish from the retina of the eye or the tabula of the memory.

It would be almost futile to attempt a calculation of the numbers present; trains continually arrive and depart, putting down their thousands ere they go. Some say 10,000, some say 15,000; we should say twenty thousand persons were present throughout the day.

In commemoration of the event, the divine afflatus of the poet was called into requisition, and numerous were the “songs suitable to the occasion” sung by itinerant warblers. As we are anxious that these good things should not be wholly lost to those not present, or forgotten by those too much absorbed by other things to listen to them, we transcribe a few lines -

“Hurrah! that glorious day has come,
Lad and lasses all in bloom,
Linked arm in arm away they run,
On the glorious First of June.
Why, Master John has left his plough,
And Molly her milking-pail,
Off to the Crumlin Valley
They are coming by the rail.

“Old Farmer Boodle and his wife,
Such a donkey-load of fat,
Why on that bridge, upon my life,
They look like our tom-cat.
There’s Nancy, too, togg'd out in blue,
Declares it’s very hot,
With one eye up the chimney,
And the other in the pot!”

In this production the lads and lasses of each surrounding district came in for a share of honour; and we need hardly say there was consequently no holiday for that august personage, the printer’s devil. A capital medal was also struck, with the picture of the viaduct on one side, and the particulars respecting the structure on the other, which were sold in large quantities.

Crown Street in Crumlin, captured in the 1910s, with the viaduct as its backdrop.

After the ceremony of opening the viaduct, Mr T W Kennard entertained his personal friends, to the number of 200, at an elegant dejeuner, which was spread in his new residence, Crumlin Hall, a building now in course of completion in the Italian style, under the direction of Owen Jones Esq of Crystal Palace celebrity.

At the conclusion of the repast, the Hon Major Fitzmaurice, returning thanks for the navy, said that no one could feel more pleasure than he did in responding to the toast, for he thought it was about the one hundred and first time he had had to return thanks for that august body; and they would allow that it was an extremely difficult task to say one hundred good things, one hundred different times, of any body of men, however amiable or accomplished they might be. (Laughter.) “With regard to their health, they were extremely well, and if they were not so facetious or as distinct in their individualities as the celebrated firm of “Brown, Jones, and Robinson”, they had enlisted into their ranks persons who outrivalled that firm in honour and integrity. As regards the honour done them, he could speak in no ordinary terms of the difficulties through which they had gone. He was a younger son, and his motto through life had been always to endeavour to advance in proportion to the difficulties he met with; it is the motto of the great Anglo-Saxon race, and they saw it exemplified in the proposition to join one mountain to another at such an altitude as made ordinary men stagger. (Applause.) It was said that to the dead Homer a monument was raised by that city in which the living Homer begged his bread; but Mr Kennard had the opportunity of enjoying it while in the full vigour of life. (Hear, hear.) If they gave him a monument, he would candidly say, “Let it be when I am living, and to my advantage”, for by a monument to the dead, “a man is seen not what he is, but what he should have been.” (Laughter.) He thanked Mr Kennard for the extreme pains he had taken to bring about this junction of Taff Vale with the Newport, Hereford, and Abergavenny Company. The Hon. gentleman went on at length in a humorous strain, individualising the Directors by contrasting them with celebrated characters, having similar names; he flattered himself with a long acquaintance with the Kennard family; he characterised the viaduct as one of the greatest works the genius of this country ever produced, and no person could feel greater pleasure in congratulating Mr Kennard upon the result realised than he and his brother Directors did. They had the great Britannia Bridge, the finest specimen of massive grandeur in the kingdom, and they would all say that Mr Kennard had provided a most fitting wife for him in the Crumlin Viaduct: she was all elegance and beauty, and true to her nature she had no bonnet upon her head, according to the modern fashion. (Much laughter.) It was a matter of sincere gratification to him to find that they were at last recognised as a great fact in the railway world. But there were various ways of recognising a fact. He was not a hundred miles away from a lady to whom a person used to say, that he constantly met his schoolmaster in the street, and that if he looked at him hard in the face he never recognised him. She replied that if he turned round the other side the recognition would probably be most complete. (Laughter.)

The Hon. Major Fitzmaurice again rose to propose the health of Mr Kennard, and spoke in highly eulogistic terms of the works on the line from Hereford to that place as completed under Mr Liddell, the engineer of the line, and of the difficulties they had to encounter. He recollected that the Emperor of Russia wanted a railway from Moscow to St Petersburg. The engineers drew out a plan of the most practicable kind, and submitted it to that monarch, but he said, “This is not my line”, and drawing his pen in a straight line from one city to the other he added, “That is my line.” This was all very well for a despot, but the Newport, Abergavenny, and Hereford Company were not in that position. Many engineers looked upon the idea of a viaduct over Crumlin as particularly absurd and ridiculous, and Mr Kennard had immense difficulties to encounter. If he failed to make the viaduct, the Newport, Abergavenny, and Hereford Company failed with him, for they would have been shut out from Merthyr Tydfil, Cardiff, Rhymney etc; but such was his skill and talent, that they succeeded by iron bands and the screw-nut in making a railway 210 feet above the level of the river. (Applause.) Let them search the world - he had seen three quarters out of four - and tell him where was such a structure as the viaduct, mainly dependent upon the great talent and skill of those who planned, and the untiring energy of those who constructed it. (Applause.) He concluded by asking the company to drink long life and happiness to Mr Kennard, and may he realise a splendid income from the noble advertisement then to be seen. (Great applause.)

Mr T W Kennard, after a few preliminary remarks, said he appreciated in the highest degree the kindness that had received the toast which bad been so excellently proposed by Major Fitzmaurice, and he felt that it was perfectly impossible for him to return proper thanks. The completion of the building was a source of the greatest gratification to him - to see the work, in which he had been engaged so long, completed, which he was enabled to do by the great readiness of all connected with the work, down to the most humble labourer. He was exceedingly glad to see the company around him, and he hoped that it would not be the last time he should see those faces on every side. (Applause.) It was incumbent upon him to say a great deal upon that occasion, but he craved their indulgence; it would, however, be wrong of him to sit down without calling attention on that occasion to the very valuable assistance he received in this matter from the engineer, Mr Liddell. (Applause.)

Mr T Brown proposed the health of Mr Rennie, the great contractor, whose abilities and straightforwardness he eulogised. The enterprise of Mr Rennie was not only shown in the manner in which he assisted them to make their payments, but in the construction of the Newport docks, after they had been given up by an inefficient contractor. (Applause.) Mr Brown subsequently coupled with the toast, the name of Mr Logan.

A light engine crosses the viaduct in June 1959.
Photo © RCTS  photo archive (FAI0535)

Mr Rennie in accepting the invitation of his friend Mr Kennard, to that banquet, had no idea that his health would have been drunk; for although connected with the railway from its very commencement, he did not think he had done anything to deserve the kind commendation Mr Brown had given him. Mr Rennie reviewed railway affairs from the year 1847 downwards, when people thought railway shares property to which they might look forward in future; but after that a cloud came over the prospect, and railway speculators suffered more than any other class of men. Mr Brown was invited at that time to come to the rescue of the Newport, Abergavenny, and Hereford Railway Company; he saw the difficulties that surrounded it; he knew that the district required a railway, and if it could be shown how it was to be done he was prepared to assist them. The result was, that he put down £40,000, and from his assistance they might really say they had the line from Hereford to Crumlin, and even to Quaker’s Yard. (Applause.) He really did believe that, if Mr Brown had not come forward at the time, the Newport and Hereford line would not have been made. The Board had, in his opinion, shown much discretion in appointing their engineer, who had by his skill added to his own future prospects, as well as been advantageous to the company. Too high a compliment could not be paid him for the honesty of his intentions in looking rather to the future than getting a large sum out of the company, and for the stability which characterised all the work. It was also due to him that he rose the viaduct from the parliamentary height of 120 feet to 200 feet, and had showed them what really could be accomplished. He concluded by hoping that all engineers might be actuated by the same honest spirit as Mr Liddell. (Cheers.)

Mr R F Davies rose to give the health of one whose name was respected wherever it was known - that of the father of their worthy host. (Cheers.) He was a man that, taking him for all in all, his like was seldom seen. (Applause.) He (Mr D) spoke from an intimate acquaintance - and the ladies would bear him out, and say, that so good a son could only come from so good a father. (Applause.) They were met to celebrate the completion of a great work that required a great mind to plan, and a good backer to enable it to be carried out, and that backer Mr Kennard had found in his father; who seemed to say, amid much discouragement, that his boy having begun the work, should not stop. Every ton of cast-iron in the bridge was made by him at his extensive works at Falkirk; and as a Monmouthshire man, he could not but admire the indomitable perseverance both of father and son, and the county of Monmouth must rejoice that they had such men amongst them. (Applause.)

Mr R W Kennard MP, returned his sincere and hearty thanks. They could easily understand that a work of such magnitude had been a matter of the deepest interest to him. He had ever looked forward with the greatest confidence; he had seen that day in the distance, and it was now his pride to find that what the most eminent engineers had looked upon with doubt, had been accomplished by his dear son. He felt it as a triumph to his family, and he should remember the opening day of the Crumlin Viaduct as one of the proudest of his life.

Several other speeches were made on the occasion.

A few days afterwards a dinner was provided by Messrs Kennard Brothers, for the men employed in erecting the viaduct, numbering above two hundred.

Reproduced from "the local newspaper" of June 1857

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