In May 1995 the family of a former Pill coal merchant honoured one of his last wishes by scattering his ashes from Newport Transporter Bridge. ‘Dad was a well loved and respected man’ said his daughter Ann Smith. Mr Saysell had served in France during the second World War, with the 2nd Monmouthshire Regiment. He was discharged on medical grounds after being shot in the shoulder. On his return he worked for Newport coal merchant W J Thomas, in Pill, visiting the houses on a horse and cart. He later bought the business. ‘He was well known for his sense of humour’, added his daughter.
Damsel in Distress
In 1927 Alfred Sheppard and Thomas Evans, both steelworkers were crossing on the Transporter Bridge on their way to work.
The river was in full flow and the night was dark. The gondola was nearly halfway across when Alfred heard a splash and a scream. A young lady who had been standing next to him had thrown herself into the river. Stopping only to remove his coat Alfred dived into the Usk. Above him the gondola had stopped and a life belt was thrown to him.
In the darkness at first he couldn’t see the young woman but he saw her floating almost unconscious, some yards from him. He held on to her and called for help. Tom Evans, removing his boots, leaped in to join Alfred. Another life belt was thrown and the two men dragged her to shore on the East Bank.
Alfred said afterwards that had it not been for Tom, he would have had to let go and save himself.
from The Newport Kalidescope – by Alan Roderick – ISBN 0-9515213-4-9
Graham Shepphard, the great grandson of Alfred writes:
Alfred Shepphard who saved the damsel in distress in 1927 was my Great Grandfather as well as being a Steel worker he spent some time working on the Transporter Bridge as a painter, my Grandfather Joe Shepphard Alfred’s Son worked on the bridge for 40 + yrs His Daughters Doreen, Molly and Sheila still are living in Newport and his Son Bert Shepphard Lives in Cardiff sadly my Father Berts Brother also named Joe after my Grandfather has passed away.
My Grandfathers wish was that his ashes was to be thrown off the top of the bridge when he died this was done shortly after he passed away, the date I have not to hand at the moment but I will dig it out and let you know.
Speaking with my Auntie Molly she seems to have some old photo’s of the bridge and my Grandfather which I will scan and pass on to you when I get them.
Auntie Molly has numerous tales of my Grandfather years working on the bridge of the people he has saved from trying to commit suicide by throwing themselves off the bridge and how he didn’t have to do National service because he was working on the bridge,
My Grandfather spent all his years maintaining the bridge and was approached years after his retirement by the engineers who wanted to reopen the bridge, as his knowledge of what work was needed to be done for the bridge to operate safely was required.
There was talk of the bridge being sold when I was a child and one of the reasons it fell through was that my Grandfather would not go to America with it to continue to maintain it he said it was to late in life to emigrate.
My Grandfather lived in Fredrick Street in Newport which wasn’t that far from the bridge he cycled everyday from home to work and back and there was times when the gondola was stuck in the middle he carried his push bike over the top of the bridge to the other side to get to his work shop so he could then do his repairs and bring the gondola back to the bank.
When they condemned Fredrick Street My Grandfather and Nan went to live in a flat on Gaer Estate Newport one of the reason that he agreed to the flat was that when he looked out of the living room window was looking directly at the Transporter Bridge in the distance.
I am a Network Engineer and support the Network in Orb Works Newport which is at the East end of the bridge I always use the Transporter to get to Orb and reminisce of the days as a child visiting my Grandfather when he was at work and he would take us over the top of the bridge.
I was speaking to one the personnel working on the bridge a couple of months ago and was telling him of my Grandfather, to them he is known fondly as Joe’s ghost.
Tolls for crossing the Bridge from 1st December 1918
For every person – one penny
Book of 12 Tickets (not transferable) – nine pence
For every horse, mule, ass, ox, cow, or head of cattle – twopence
For every calf, pig, sheep or lamb – or other small animal – one penny
For every unloaded vehicle weighing not more than one ton
a/ if not drawn by more than one horse, ass or mule – three pence
b/ if drawn by more than one horse, ass or mule for every additional animal – twopence
One penny for a bike
For pennies for a motor vehicle
For every parcel – one penny
Transporter Bridge for Sale (some attention needed)
In 1968 the council estimate the cost of painting the Bridge would be £5,000 and it is closed for essential cables to be renewed – in the meantime a Gwent businessman Douglas Jones, now living in Los Angeles claims that he could sell the bridge to the USA.
There are two places I could put the Bridge – either Niagara Falls or Hollywood. If we put it in Hollywood and there is no water to go under it, we will divert some.
Scrap the Transporter?!
In 1981 the Industrial Correspondent, Peter John of the South Wales Argus caused a storm with his article ‘Let’s scrap the Transporter’.
Chairman of the Civic Trust Mr. D.Parry Michael claimed
‘Vandals are already numerous in Newport. Your Industrial Reporter joins them and tries to beat them at their own game by proposing the destruction of our most distinctive structure, he may know about prices but he does not know about values.’
A Mr David Hando added
‘Scrapping the Transporter Bridge would be municipal vandalism of breathtaking proportions, it would be like bulldozing Tintern Abbey. The bridge should stay as long as possible and that will be as long as the people of Newport retain their pride in their town and its past. ‘
The Bridge is hijacked
It began just before 9 am on the 30th August 1984 when a group of Miners seized control of the Gondola. They ordered the driver to take the Gondola back to the Pill side of the river, where more pickets drove on in a minibus, stocked with a stove, food and sleeping bags. Ordered to cross again the driver saw Miners massing on the other bank. An NUM Official said “‘We had enough food to last for two weeks if necessary. We positioned the platform over the deep water channel to make sure that boats could not get underneath it, to stop them bringing coke for Llanwern into the wharves”
Police Officers started to arrive in force at about 10.45 pm, by now many of the pickets had drifted away – thinking that the miners were set for a long spell on the Bridge. At 11.40 Chief Superintendant Fred Wyer ordered his men to form up about 200 yards from the Bridge. They advanced at midnight. Forty yards before the Bridge the Superintendent – at the head of the squad halted his men and shouted a warning through his loudspeaker ‘I give you 20 seconds to give up peacefully’
Then the Police moved in on the motorhouse and arrested 10 pickets. Once police had gained control of the Bridge Motorhouse, the acting Superintendant of the Transporter John McDermott was able to override the controls and bring the bridge back to the bank – another 4 men were arrested. They were eventually cleared of a charge of riot and unlawful assembly. Next day the Transporter, quiet and graceful carried on ferrying passengers and vehicles to and fro as if nothing had ever happened.
No room behind the bike sheds?
In the 50’s there used to be a wooden shelter at the top. Being one of 6 children, I did my courting up there as you could get a bit of privacy. Kissing only mind !
FERRYBOAT DISASTER AT NEWPORT- FEARED LOSS OF TEN LIVES
Newport, Monday night
A TERRIBLE disaster occurred at Newport, Mon. this evening, by which it is feared seven men have lost their lives.
On the eastern side of the river Usk a large dry dock is being constructed, and it is the custom of the men employed on the works to cross over the river in ferryboats morning and evening. About half past five this evening a boat put out from the dock with fifteen or sixteen of the men to the other side of the river, but it had only proceeded forty yards or so when the wash from a tug caused the heavily laden ferry craft to ship water. The passengers became alarmed and unheeding the cry of the boatmen to keep still, began shifting their places.
The boat quickly filled and the occupants were compelled to take to the water.
Five youths named Higgins, Young, Hazell, Williams and Roberts, struck out for the shore but Young, who was wearing a heavy monkey jacket began to sink. A few more strokes would have brought him to land. Higgins, seeing his comrade’s plight, gallantly re-entered the river and succeeded in helping him ashore. Meanwhile, a crane driver named Arundel had tried to reach the further bank, but was on the point of going down when he sighted the boat, which was still floating. To this he clung in company with a blacksmith named Copp and both were rescued from the boat by a tug.
Some of the men were only known by nicknames and cannot readily be traced, only 6, however, of the sixteen in the boat are known to be saved.
The men were chiefly ship’s carpenters employed at the Union Company’s Dock. A tug boat (the Albatross) was reputed to have been the cause of the wave that capsized the ferry. Captain Powell, of the ketch ‘Humility’ was instrumental in saving two lives aboard, the tug boat saved one. John Harris and Alfred Thomas Ewer, coal trimmers, courageously put out to give assistance with a boat, but only succeeded in picking up three caps. As the men known to be saved all possessed caps, this fact is supposed to indicate at least three deaths. Some of the men who could swim made for the east side of the river, and others for the west, so that it is impossible at present to ascertain exactly the number of lives lost.
(This shows the dangers faced by those crossing the Usk at this time and the need for a new bridge).
In the second world war, soldiers were stationed on the top of the Bridge toprotect the dock – how they thought that a couple of men with guns could hold off theLuftwaffe I don’t know. After the War we heard that the Germans had no intention of bombing it – they used it as a landmark to turn and go back to Germany.
My Grandmother climbed to the top of the Transporter – when she saw the view she fainted they had to tie her on a stretcher to get her down.
As kids, we used to hide under the Gondola when it came into the bank and then hang on it as it travelled across the river.
Gwent Archives holds the following documents relating to the Transport Bridge: D1078/264, D1078/264, A110/C/374/1, D918/74, D1918/75, D1918/76, D1918/77, D4819
Document Description: Quarter Sessions plans and books of reference; photograph, n.d.; Picture postcard, c. 1906-1913; correspondence, plans, and contracts, 1901-1902, photograph of bridge during construction, c.1903; photographs: of catwalks, River Usk from bridge, and Pilgwenlly from bridge, all n.d; papers of Newport Local History Society Campaign Group for the Transporter Bridge, 1986-1987. Also entries about the Transporter Bridge in Historic Newport and Newport Chamber of Commerce Yearbook
These documents are available free of charge for you to consult in their public Research Room. Alternatively Gwent Archives offers a paid Search Service. Check on their website for prices
Tel 01495 353360
Our archivist Monty Dart would love to receive any reminiscences, newspaper cuttings, photographs or other information about the Bridge.
Monty would also like to hear from any schools or drama groups who would like to see a short play celebrating the life of the Transporter Bridge
You can email her here