Two hundred years of an iconic link between Wales and England will be marked at a ceremony to be held in Chepstow later this month.
The ancient grade one listed cast iron Chepstow Bridge over the River Wye was built by engineer John Urpeth Rastrick in 1816 and for many years was a crucial connection between Wales and the West Country until the Severn Bridge was opened in 1966. Very few five arch road bridges were constructed before 1830 and only Chepstow survives.
The bi-centenary ceremony will culminate Chepstow’s annual month–long festival on Sunday 24th July and will be organised by Chepstow Town Council in partnership with Monmouthshire County Council and the Chepstow Festival Committee. It will be a re-enactment of the original opening, attended by Monmouthshire’s Chairman, Councillor Jim Higginson, his opposite number from Gloucestershire, Colin Hay, the President of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Sir John Armitt CBE and the Mayor of Chepstow, Paul Pavia. Also attending will be 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 of which John Urpeth Rastrick was a managing partner.
The ceremony will set off from Beaufort Square at 1pm and the county chairmen will deliver speeches from the centre of the bridge two hundred years to the minute that it was officially opened by magistrates in 1816.
Later, lead engineers, councillors Higginson and Hay and the town mayors will unveil a bi-centenary plaque with performances from a local choral group and bands. This will be followed by an historic car procession and a riverside fair as well as further music and later, a firework display – a traditional end to the 15th Chepstow Festival.
County Councillor Bryan Jones, Monmouthshire County Council’s cabinet member with responsibility for highways said: “This much-loved and attractive bridge has connected two communities, two counties and two countries for two hundred years. I’m sure that Chepstow, the surrounding area and indeed the whole of Monmouthshire will enthusiastically embrace its bi-centenary celebrations.”
Mayor of Chepstow, Councillor Paul Pavia commented: “I’m absolutely delighted that the bi-centenary has fallen within my mayoral year and there’s no doubt that the commemoration of the opening of the bridge will be one of the principal civic events that I’ll have the privilege to take part in. A huge amount of work has been invested in the event by the town council and local volunteers, especially John Burrows of the bridge’s bi-centenary organising group, and I hope all our guests and local residents will enjoy and remember this historic day for years to come.”
Councillor Vernon Smith, cabinet member for highways at Gloucestershire County Council added: “When the bridge was built in 1816 it replaced a 10 arch wooden bridge which had been there for 500 years, and as you can imagine, it had needed constant repair. Once complete, it became the third largest iron arch road bridge in the world, so it was a very bold initiative for its time. Last year we helped to fund structural repairs and a repaint. It now looks fantastic for its 200th birthday and I hope it’ll be used for another two hundred years and beyond.”
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.