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Bradshaw’s Guide

Tubular Bridge, Chepstow, Wales. Taken between ca. 1890 and ca. 1900. Original: Library of Congress


Chepstow is a market town, in the county of Monmouth, situated near the mouth of the river Wye. The town is large and has within the last few years been much improved. It was formerly surrounded by walls, and defended by a castle.

Excursionists visit Tintern Abbey, Wyndcliffe, and Chepstow Castle, which are thus described in Mr. Cliffe’s Guide Book of South Wales: — 

Tintern Abbey. — The graceful Wye, filled up to its banks, and brimming over with the tide from the Severn Sea, glides tranquilly past the orchards and fat glebe of “Holy Tynterne.” On eveiy side stands an amphitheatre of rocks, nodding with hazel ash, birch, and yew, and thrusting out from the tangled underwood high pointed crags, as it were, for ages the silent witness of that ancient Abbey and its fortunes; but removed just such a distance as to leave a fair plain in the bend of the river, for one of the most rare and magnificent structures in the whole range of ecclesiastical architecture. As you descend the road from Chepstow, the building suddenly bursts upon you, like a gigantic stone skeleton; its huge gables standing out against the sky with a mournful air of dilapidation. There is a stain upon the walls, which bespeaks a weather-beaten antiquity; and the ivy comes creeping out of the bare, sightless windows; the wild flowers and mosses cluster upon the mullions and dripstones, as if they were seeking to fill up the unglazed void with nature’s own colours.

The door is opened — how beautiful the long and pillared nave — what a sweep of graceful arches, how noble the proportions, the breadth, the length, and the height.

The Castle is a noble and massive relic of feudalism; the boldness of its site, on a rock over-hanging the river, the vastness of its proportions, render it a peculiarly impressive ruin. The entrance is a fine specimen of Norman military architecture: the chapel is one of the most elegant structures ever built, within a house of defence. It was originally founded almost immediately after the Conquest.

The Wyndcliffe rises in the back ground of the view, from the road out of Chepstow to Monmouth. Having ascended the crag, the eye ranges over portions of nine counties, yet there seems to be no confusion in the prospect; the proportions of the landscape, which unfolds itself in regular, yet not in monotonous succession, are perfect; there is nothing to offend the most exact critic in picturesque scenery. The “German Prince,” who published a tour in England in 1826, and who has written the best description of the extraordinary view which Wyndcliffe commands — a view superior to that from Ehrenbreitstein on the Rhine — well remarks that a vast group of views of distinct and opposite character here seem to blend and unite in one!

The stupendous iron Railway Bridge by which the line is carried over the river Wye, is one of the most remarkable in the country. Bridges of this size are so rare that we think it right to direct the attention of the reader to this one. Mr. Stephenson’s magnificent Britannia bridge displays one method of crosssing wide spans. The Chepstow bridge of Mr. Brunel is another mode, and shows, as might have been expected, his peculiarly original and bold conception, accompanied by extraordinary economy, by arranging his materials in the form of a large’ suspended truss, and attaching the roadway to suspended chains kept in a state of rigidity by vertical trusses or struts, inserted between the chains and a circular wrought iron tube, spanning the river, 309 feet in length. The railway having to cross a rapid and navigable river without interruption to vessels, the Admiralty very properly required that the span over the mid channel should not be less than 300 feet; and that a clear headway of 50 feet above the highest known tide should be given. The bridge is 600 feet long; there are three spans over the land of 100 feet each, which are supported upon cast iron cylinders, six feet in diameter, and one and a quarter inch thick. These were sunk to an average depth of 48 feet through numerous beds of clay, quicksand, marl, &c., to the solid limestone rock, which was found to dip at an angle of 45 degrees; it had therefore to be carefully levelled horizontally, and the cylinders bedded level. These were then sunk by excavating them within, and pressing them down with heavy weights, in doing which very great difficulties were overcome — immense volumes of fresh water were tapped, requiring a 30-horse engine to pump them out. They were, when finally filled with concrete, composed of Portland Cement, sand, and gravel, which set in a few days, as hard as a rock. The concrete is filled up to the level of the roadway, so that, should the cylinder decay, it might be taken out and replaced in sections in safety.

There are six cylinders at the west end of the main span; upon those a standard, or tower of cast iron plates, fifty feet high, is erected. A similar tower of masonry is built at the east end, on the rocky precipice of the Wye.

On the west standard is a cross girder of wrought iron, and upon which the tubes rest. The tubes serve to keep apart and steady the towers; and to their ends arc attached the suspending chains. Now, in an ordinary suspension bridge, the chains hang in a festoon, and are free to move according to the limited weights passing under them; but this flexibility would be inadmissible in a railway bridge, and the continuity of the bridge would be destroyed if a very small deflection took place when passed over by a heavy locomotive. With a view to give the necessary rigidity, Mr. Brunel introduced at every third part a stiff wrought iron girder, connecting firmly the tube to the roadway girders; and, with the aid of other adjusting screws, the suspension chains are pulled or stretched as nearly straight as possible. Other diagonal chains connect these points, so that at whatever part of the bridge an engine may be passing, its weight is distributed all over the tube and chains by these arrangements. The tube is strengthened within by the introduction of diaphragms or discs at every 30 feet, which render it both light and stiff. The bridge cost £65,420; and required 1,231 tons of wrought, and 1,003 tons of cast iron. The bridge has been visited by a great number of engineers from all countries; indeed, it is only by a personal inspection that the numerous ingenious contrivances and arrangements can be understood. The whole seems to be very simple, yet engineers fully enter into the complexity of the design, and the minute and carefully proportioned scantlings given to every part. We would especially call their attention to the cast iron ring or circle attached to the ends of the tube to prevent collapse; to the wedges introduced under the vertical trusses to adjust the exact tension upon the chain; to the curve given to the tubes themselves, increasing their strength; and to the rolling-boxes under the vertical trusses, by which means the road girders are maintained in a position to expand or contract, independently of the movements of the main tubes.

Scenery of the Wye.—The Wye rises in the Plinlimmon Mountains, in the heart of South Wales, and winds along the borders of several counties, past Builth, Hay, Hereford, Ross, Monmouth, to the Bristol Channel, below Chepstow; a course of 130 miles, through scenes of great beauty and celebrity. The Upper Wye reaches down to Hay, on the borders of Herefordshire; after which, that portion which crosses the county is rather tame; but at Ross the Lower Wye begins, and ends at Chepstow. “The former (says Mr. Cliffe, in his Book of South Wales) has not been estimated as it deserves, because it is off the beaten track; but the opening of the railroads to Hereford, in 1853, and of the Brecon and Merthyr railway, in 1864, has brought the charming scenery of the Upper Wye within easy reach.”

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