Chepstow celebrated its iconic ancient iron bridge at a ceremony on 24th July – two hundred years to the minute that it was opened. The ceremony replicated the original 1816 event with a colourful procession from the town’s Beaufort Square to the bridge, followed by speeches, choral singing and a procession of historic vehicles. Music was provided by the town band and a samba-style combo.
The ancient grade one listed cast iron Chepstow Bridge spanning the River Wye was built by engineer John Urpeth Rastrick and remained a crucial connection between Wales and the West Country until the Severn Bridge opened in 1966. Very few five arch road bridges were constructed before 1830 and only Chepstow survives.
Present at the event were the President of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Sir John Armitt CBE, the Chairmen of Monmouthshire and Gloucestershire county councils, Jim Higginson and Colin Hay, and the Mayor of Chepstow Paul Pavia. Also attending was the Mayor of Bridgnorth in Shropshire – the contract for the bridge was won in February 1814 by the Bridgnorth foundry of Hazeldine, Rastrick and Brodie and John Urpeth Rastrick was a managing partner.
Sir John with other senior engineers, Councillors Higginson and Hay and the town mayors later unveiled a bi-centenary plaque. This was followed by a riverside fair as well as further music and a firework display to bring the 15th Chepstow Festival to an end.
In thanking Sir John Armitt for attending the event Councillor Higginson said: “The Old Wye Bridge has stood firm over turbulent waters for 200 years and allowed safe passage for us between Wales and England and between Monmouthshire and Gloucestershire. It is a most elegant structure – and a true credit to the engineering profession represented here today. It combines style with strength and utility. It is a wonderful sight as well as a vitally important bridge for the main road from Gloucester to Newport and Cardiff and for bringing our riparian communities together.”
Mayor of Chepstow, Paul Pavia added: “I’m absolutely delighted with the celebrations today – they couldn’t have gone better. It was a privilege to have Sir John Armitt, this country’s most eminent engineer, commemorate this event with us and to re-enact the role of John Urpeth Rastrick. He, like Rastrick, has had extensive experience working on major railway projects in this country and he knows all too well, the major contribution that Rastrick made to UK railways and bridge building. I was particularly pleased to see so many local businesses and organisations taking part in the parade, all cheered on by hundreds of local residents lining the route right down to the bridge and across the river front. It was a spectacular sight and one which will live in the memory for many years to come.”
Chepstow Bridge is jointly maintained by Monmouthshire and Gloucestershire County Councils. Essential repair works carried out last year will ensure its continued use for years to come.