The emphasis on ‘width’ strongly suggests that the ‘first bridge’ may have been, simply, a pack-horse type bridge. These were narrow, low sided and intended for pack horses, horse drawn sledges, riders, livestock and pedestrians. They were seldom more than a couple of metres wide and the parapets were low so as not to interfere with the horse’s panniers but, on the other hand, high enough to prevent the animal stepping off the edge. Some, including the famous  Pontypridd bridge (not strictly a pack-horse bridge), had a very steep entry and exit [Figure 3 opposite] – and this, of course, was one aspect of the Rhydfendigaid bridge which really did disappoint Edward Richard. However, despite all the limitations of this type of structure, one would imagine that it was quite adequate for the traffic needs of the time ; after all, there were very few wheeled vehicle travelling through Rhydfendigaid in the mid 18th century. [10] :

. . . to widen it . . . doubling the width not only made it wide enough to allow coaches and carts to pass each other, but in effect also provided a new bridge at half the cost.


Of course, the term ‘new’ is often used loosely in everyday language when referring to something that has been renovated or revamped. Gwyndaf Rees (above) refers to an improved bridge as a ‘new’ one (above) ; he says that doubling the width of an existing stone bridge led to a ‘new bridge at half the cost’.


So it is not unreasonable to assume that the ‘new bridge’ referred to in Yr Eos and by John Hughes was, in fact, the original, but radically changed to improve its functioning and appearance. This view is supported by the Quarter Session records for April 1809 [12] which refer to repairation and amendment – not a new bridge. The entry for that session held at the Shire Hall, Cardigan on the 12th of the month reads as follows :

Significantly, the above figure of £100 is less than the actual cost of the ‘original bridge’, which was £126 in 1760. This again supports the view that the 1810 bridge was, in fact, an extension of the original, that is, an amendment as the records suggest. There is no information relating to what was actually done, but it is clear from John Hughes’ account that, in addition to increasing the width, the height of the parapets was also raised :

Interestingly, it seems the ‘humpback problem’ was not entirely resolved in 1810. Despite all the improvements, eleven years on there is note in the Quarter Session Records stating that a certain Lewis Morgan was paid a sum  of twenty five pounds . . . for filling up the ends of Rhydfendiged Bridge. Over a century later those ends had to be further filled-in (again to trim the humpback) so as to accommodate the 1930s sightseeing buses (charabancs) ; they were apt to become wedged and stuck on the uppermost section of the bridge. This seems to have been the last noteworthy amendment to the Rhydfendigaid bridge. However, further changes and improvements are needed if it is to continue carrying large, heavy modern lorries and cars and, also, ensuring safe passage for pedestrians.

Until the late 1700s, Ceredigion had very poor roads and was said to be the most remote county in Wales . . . There were very few wheeled vehicles in Ceredigion before about 1780. The majority of people walked, or rode on horses or ponies. Goods, including thousands of tons of lead ore, were transported in panniers on ponies while agricultural produce was dragged on sledges.

Ei chanllaw sy'n codi

Yn fwynaidd i fynu,

I ddihor dim drosti

I am indebted to Mr E.D. Evans for drawing my attention to the copy of Yr Eos in the Reference Section of the Cardiff Public Libraries

Ordered that the Treasurer of the county pay . . . John Jones of Penybont . . . the sum of one hundred pounds to be by him paid and applied towards repairing and amending a certain bridge over the River Tivy called Pont Rhydfendiged presented to be out of repair at the Easter Quarter Sessions, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Nine.

Unlike ‘Edward Richard’s bridge’, it was wide – wide enough to allow three substantial carts or carriages to pass each other, without the wheel hubs being damaged.

There is no record of when or where Clod I Bont Rhydfendigaid’ was published, but it is known that John Hughes was educated at Ystrad Meurig in the days of John Williams (the headmaster referred to above, affectionately called Yr Hen Syr), and that he must have been in his last full year at school in 1809. It is possible that he may have continued his studies for part of the following year, before taking up a teaching post at a school in Putney. Many years later, in 1859, he was made Archdeacon of Ceredigion.

Actually, there is another quite specific and independent reference to a ‘new bridge’ at Rhydfendigaid. A collection of miscellaneous cuttings, relating to Cardiganshire, in the NLW, contains a poem by John Hughes (1787-1860), Llwyn-glâs, Llanfihangel Geneu’r Glyn [9]. It is called ‘Clod i Bont Rhydfendigaid

If true, then the postscript (above) has to be erroneous, and it is conceivable that Wood’s print may, in fact, be that of a ‘new bridge’, and not the one described by Edward Richard.

The Reference Section in the City of Cardiff Public Libraries has a unique copy of the 1811 edition of Yr Eos [7]. It is the only copy where the preface (a short account of Edward Richard’s life) is signed, in ink, by the writer – John Williams, headmaster of the Ystradmeurig school from 1777 to 1818 [8]. This copy was presented by John Williams to the Rev. W.H. Barker A.M. with the words (again, in his own hand writing) :


To the Rev W.H. Barker A.M. with the respectful compliments of the writer of the following account

By 1841, this particular copy had found its way to a David Lloyd (?) who added a hand-written note of his own, saying that ‘A new Bridge was erected in 1810’ [Figure 2].

A new bridge was erected in 1810

www.hanesybont.co.uk

The Quarter Session records also refer to a Mr Charles James being paid thirteen guineas for surveying the Rhydfendigaid and Pontygamddwr bridges, drawing plans and providing an estimate of the repairs to the said bridges. It appears that work on the former was completed sometime in 1810. On the 11th July of that year, the treasurer of the county was ordered to pay Mr John Jones Penybont  (probably, Penybont, Tregaron) the sum of £100 to cover the cost of repairation and amendment of the Rhydfendiged bridge :

[5]

Yr Eos: sef gwaith prydyddawl Mr Edward Richard o Ystrad-meurig yn Sir Aberteifi, London, 1811, pp 69-73

[7]

Reference Section, Cardiff Public Libraries, a copy of Yr Eos: sef gwaith prydyddawl Mr Edward Richard o Ystrad-meurig yn Sir Aberteifi, London, 1811, p 70

[8]

Biography Online, NLW.

[9]

National Library of Wales, MS 6974.

[10]

Ceredigion County Council, Museum Collections, Transport in Ceredigion, http://pilgrim.ceredigion.gov.uk/index.cfm?articleid=1620 .

[11]

Gwyndaf Breese, The Bridges of Wales, Llanrwst, p 31.

[12]

Ceredigion Archives, Quarter Session Records.

As indicated in the previous page (Page 1), J.G. Wood's drawing of the Rhydfendigaid bridge in 1811 seems to be at odds with what Edward Richard wrote in his second bridge song (1762) The two versions are irreconcilable, and either Edward Richard is guilty of gross exaggeration or the postscript in Yr Eos [5] — referring to the bridge still standing to this day (1811) — is mistaken.

Although both the above accounts refer to a ‘new bridge, it is difficult to imagine that the ‘old bridge’ was totally demolished and a completely new structure built in its place ; that would have been costly.

Whereas a certain Bridge in the county called Pont Rhydfendiged was at this present Quarter Sessions of the pease presented to be out of repair and that the same ought to be repaired at the expense of the inhabitants of this county. It is therefore ordered that the repairation and amendment of the said Bridge be referred  to John Jones Esq, John Lloyd Esq, James Pillipps Lloyd Esq, William Cobb Gilbertson Esq and John Jones of Penybont Gent. And that they or any two or more of them be desired to contract and agree with proper artificers and workmen for the repairation and amendment of the same and that they certify such contract to the next or some subsequent Quarter Sessions of the peace to be held and kept in and for this county.

Page 2

Llawenydd llawn deued,

I wyr Rhydfendigaid,

Ei mheibion a’i mherched,

Diniwed yw’r fro;

Pont newydd  y leni,

A ‘sodir i fynu,

I groesi dros Deifi,

Yn ddidaro

Pont hardd, anrhydeddus,

Pont liwgar, olygus,

Pont lân,  a Phont liwus,

Pont hwylus ar frys;

Phont gref, a Phont nerthol,

Pont gadarn rhyfeddol,

Sef Pont a wnaeth pobl

wybodus.

Ceffylau aiff drosti,

Yn wych ac yn wisgi,

A llusgo trwm lwythi,

Gan leted yw’r lle:

Gall tri chebyd helaeth,

Fyn’d drosti ar unwaith,

Heb wneuthur niweid-waith

I’w bothau

Figure 2. A course and clumsy piece of building

Was the old bridge demolished or revamped?

Gwyndaf Rees says that where a stone bridge was established then the usual tactic was [11] :

The ‘new’ bridge was wide and strong

Clod i Bont Rhydfendigaid

First two verses

Pont Rhydfendigaid

The Bridge of the Blessed Ford

Edward Richard’s enigmatic depiction of 'Pont Rhydfendigaid’ in his second bridge song

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According to John Hughes the ‘new bridge’ was strong and imposing (Pont hardd, anrhydeddus) and was built by people who new what they were doing (Pont a wnaeth pobl wybodus).

Notes

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