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Bradshaw’s Guide

Holyhead. Taken between ca. 1890 and ca. 1900. Original: Library of Congress


Holyhead, so called from a monastery founded by St. Gybi (sounded Kubby) in the sixth century, is the chief packet station for Ireland, and stands on Holy Island, on a bay between it and the west side of Anglesea, in North Wales, 64 miles from Dublin. The rail crosses the narrow strait or traeth dividing the island and main land, on an embankment, close to that which supports Telford’s coach road, constructed in 1815, and reaches Bangor by way of Shrewsbury, Corwen, and Bettws-y-Coed. Holy Island is about 7 miles long, with a ragged coast, and mines of mona, or variegated marble, sometimes called verd-antique. Rhoscolyn Church, in the south, has a good view of its barren lulls. The town, which contains 5,622 inhabitants, has little to show beyond its old church, in the midst of a Roman camp, and a triumphal arch, near the pier, commemorating the passing of George. IV., on his visit to Ireland in 1821. Its port, however, deserves particular attention. The present tidal harbour lies within two piers, made by Rennie, the longest of which, opposite Salt Island, is 1,080 feet; from whence the packets start, and here 150 vessels may find shelter; but as it is small, and dries at low water, it is not of sufficient capacity. But the Great Harbour of Refuge, which Rendel commenced in 1849, and is now in course of construction, will enclose this harbour, as well as a great part of the bay, or about 320 acres, with deep water, not less than 6 fathoms throughout, and room for 400 sail. The principal breakwater, that to the north, will be 5,000 feet long, 170 broad, and 30 above the bottom of the sea, in the deepest part. A smaller one, or pier, will be 2,100 feet long, and broad. These run out towards the Platter Rocks, having a width of three quarters of a mile, and are built of solid stone, from the Holyhead Hill to the west of the town, which is 710 feet high to the camp at top (Caer Gybi), and from which a tram rail brings down 25,000 tons of that material a week. The rock is schistus quartz, dislodged by galvanic explosions, and about 6,000,000 tons have been already sunk into the sea. The works were visited by the Queen and Prince Albert in 1853.

All this coast is worth visiting; excursions may be made to the following: — On the west side of Holyhead Hill are the North and South Stack Rocks, hollowed into caves and swarming with wild birds, The Parliament Cave in the north stack is 70 feet high. On the south stack is a lighthouse 200 feet high, built in 1809, joined to the mainland by a small suspension bridge 110 feet long, towards which you descend the face of the cliff by the Stairs, 380 steps, altogether. The rock is frequently variegated, or greasy to the touch, like soapstone. The rail, on its way to Bangor, passes near the south coast of Anglesea, where you may inspect the curious little churches of Llangwffen and Llanddwyn each on an island; also Aberffraw the decayed capital of the early North Wales princes, and Bodorgan, a seal of the Meyricks.

From Holyhead, along the north coast, you pass Skerries Light, on a dreary rock till 1835 it belonged to a private person, who sold it to the Trinity Board for £445,000! Such was the enormous revenue derived from passing ships. Then the three Mouse Rocks, off Cemmaes Bay, where the Olinda steamer was wrecked in 1854, in her passage outward from Liverpool. The rocks are high here. Next comes Amlwch, which has a harbour cut out of the slaty cliffs, for exporting copper from the famous Pany’s Mine, first worked in March, 1768 and worth at one time £300,000 a year. It is in the side of a hill, two miles south of the town. Lead an silver are also found; and there are factories for alum and vitriol, from the sulphate of copper.

Holyhead Harbour of Refuge.—As the shortest most direct route from London to Dublin, the passage viâ Holyhead has always engaged the intention of Government; so that before the introduction of railways, they had caused to be formed one of the finest mail-coach roads in the kingdom: this great work, executed by Telford, the renowned engineer, in the beginning of the present century, was considered his chef d’œuvre, with the graceful suspension bridge spanning the Menai Straits, and the road terminating in Holyhead, at what is now called the Old Harbour, from whence sailing packets, carrying the mails, took their departure direct for Kingstown (Dublin). The next road brought to bear upon this port, with the same object (that of shortening the distance as much as possible between the two capitals), was an iron one; and the Chester and Holyhead Railway Company, with a spirit and energy commensurate with the object to be obtained, overcame all difficulties; and, with Mr. Peto (now Sir S. M. Peto, Bart.) as their indefatigable chairman, and Mr. Stephenson as their engineer, they constructed the now world-known Britannia Tubular Bridge, through which the mails and passengers from London rapidly pass, at a level of 100 feet above the tide, then across the island of Anglesea to Holyhead Harbour, where the Company’s and Mail Steam Packets are waiting to receive them, and a sea passage of four hours and a half lands them in safety in Ireland.

The increasing importance of this station, together
with its applicability, induced the Board of Admiralty to select this spot for the formation of one of the national Harbours of Refuge, and that work is now being carried out. The harbour is formed by a breakwater to the northward, about 5,000 feet in length, leaving the shore in the form of a bent arm extending outwards from Soldier’s Point and the Platter’s Buoy; and another pier running out from the opposite shore, or Salt Island, eastward, a distance of 2,000 feet; these two arms enclosing an area 316 acres, three quarters of a mile long, and with a depth of six or seven fathoms, at low water, will, when completed, make one of the finest artificial refuge harbours and packet stations in the world.

The once small town of Holyhead, situated in a remote corner of Anglesea, will speedily become an important place. Already we have shown the continual attention given to it, as lying in the direct route from London to Dublin (which traffic and communication the London and North Western Company is year by year increasing and developing); and, when the new harbour is completed the town will still rise more into importance from having been selected as the point for carrying out a work of which England may well be proud — a harbour achieved on a most dangerous and unprotected coast, offering a free shelter to vessels of every nation, and a haven of refuge to the mariner of every flag.

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