I have walked the Pontcysyllte aqueduct on many occasions. Even without fully recognising its importance socially and historically. As a major feat of engineering and stonework construction.
Firstly, it has been a tremendous learning experience to read this outstanding book by Paul A Lynn. It has broadened my insight on the engineering feats of Thomas Telford. The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct has been described as one of the most stupendous works of engineering and art ever accomplished by man. Moreover, It is unique in that it has 18 piers and 19 arches. This support a cast-iron trough carrying the canal water 126 feet above the river.
The book focuses on the author’s experiences when travelling on the canal and viaduct. Also including the construction of the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. This carries the Llangollen canal across the river Dee in the picturesque Vale of Llangollen.
‘Bring the Journeys Alive’
Secondly, Paul Lynn has an enthralling style of writing. He stimulates the focus of the reader. Key features of the text are the descriptions of the canal journeys, undertaken by the author and his wife. Supported by the use of excellent artist impressions, interesting anecdotes and a historical analysis. Which ‘bring the journeys alive’ for the reader. I particularly enjoyed the author’s reflections. He launched his boat along the aqueduct with the fantastic view over the valley. 126 feet below.
The author notes the great skill of the engineers and the stone masons in erecting the pillars. He points out that if you have walked across the aqueduct and felt slightly queasy in spite of the generous handrail. Or travelled in a narrow boat along the trough. Also, gazing over the 6 inch rim with no rail of any sort. Consider the challenge faced by masons and labourers in the construction process. They manipulated stones weighing up to half a ton into place to form the pillars. Whilst working from a platform measuring 10 feet by 12 feet. Suspended 120 feet above the river!
The text clearly shows that Thomas Telford is the greatest engineer that Britain has ever produced. The author links the work of Telford historically with ‘Canal Mania’ at its height in the early 1790s. Moreover, he highlights how engineers and entrepreneurs also worked together to develop a transport infrastructure. Based on canals Britain’s great industrial revolution blossomed from 1760.
For example, Telford worked closely with William Hazeldine of Shrewsbury. A master of his trade who developed a skill for manufacturing iron castings. Hazeldine set up a furnace at Plas Kynaston, Cefn-mawr. To supply the iron plates for the aqueducts at Chirk and Pontcysyllte.
The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct
The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct was completed in 1805 as a key part of the Ellesmere canal. Prior to constructing the aqueduct at Pontcysyllte. Telford showed ‘great work’ at Longdon-on-Tern and Chirk. Establishing that cast-iron troughs holding water on top of stonework, could work as navigable cast-iron aqueducts.
Lastly, as a tribute to Telford’s engineering skills, revolutionary ideas and as a leader of a workforce. Unesco granted World Heritage status to the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in 2009. As a remarkable example of the construction of a human-engineered waterway. Following this recognition that Pontcysyllte is an outstanding feat of engineering, the aqueduct and the Vale of Llangollen have become popular tourist attractions.
Finally, this book by Paul A Lynn is a stimulating source of information. It includes excellent photographs and maps for visitors to the area. I am sure that the book will provide a great opportunity for readers of ‘Love Wrexham’ to learn all about the outstanding work of civil engineering. Which also resulted in the ‘aqueduct in the sky’ at Pontcysyllte.