A Brief History and Description
In the late 19th century rapid development was taking place on the East side of the River Usk some way downstream of the existing bridge in the town centre and the local authority identified a need for a river crossing to transport workers to the then new Lysaghts steelworks in particular.
The site was a difficult one because of the very high tidal range and the need to maintain access for high-masted ships. Various alternatives were suggested including a conventional bridge, a lifting bridge and a tunnel. To achieve the necessary height the approaches to a conventional or even lifting bridge would have had to be extremely long and a tunnel was considered too expensive.
Mr R H Haynes was the Borough Engineer at the time and had heard of the work of Ferdinand Arnodin who had designed an ‘Aerial Ferry’. This consisted of two high towers supporting a ‘railway track’ from which is suspended a platform or ‘gondola’ on which passengers or vehicles ride. Such a design would overcome the difficulties outlined above and the councillors, after inspecting such a bridge at Rouen in France, decided to build one in Newport.
Parliamentary approval was obtained in 1900, construction started in 1902 and was completed by 12 September 1906 when the new bridge was opened by Viscount Tredegar.
The Newport Transporter Bridge is arguably the finest of its kind, the towers standing 645 feet apart and rising 242 feet above road level It is electrically powered, the gondola being pulled across by a cable wound round a drum in the motor house on the east bank at a maximum speed of 10 feet per second.
The 1959 film ‘Tiger Bay’ was filmed partly on the Bridge (though artistic licence somehow moved it to Cardiff docks!). The film starred a young Hayley Mills who is now Honorary Life Vice President of FONTB.
In 1981 the Bridge celebrated its 75th anniversary and was given Grade II listed building status. However by 1985 it had deteriorated to such an extent that it had to be closed on safety grounds. The then owners, Gwent County Council, obtained funds from CADW and the European Architectural Heritage Fund and by December 1995 it was reopened. Shortly afterwards in April 1996 ownership transferred to Newport County Borough Council following local Government reorganisation. The Transporter Bridge again formed a small but useful part of Newport’s road network and is now a Grade I listed structure.
In 2005 a new bridge just upstream of the Transporter Bridge opened as part of the City’s Southern Distributor Road. As a result traffic over the Transporter Bridge has declined, motorists finding it quicker and cheaper to use the new bridge.
In 2006 the Bridge reached its centenary.
The future of the Transporter Bridge will therefore lie in its value as a part of Newport’s heritage and its tourism potential.
A printed booklet with more detailed information is available.