By Emrys Roberts
The area in the vicinity of this bridge has provided a crossing point on the River Dee since times immemorial. Originally the method of crossing the river would have been by means of a ford. Such an arrangement at this point on the river would have been practical during times when the water was shallow. However, during times when the river became a raging torrent it would have been impossible to cross by means of a ford. Certainly by 1393 an improved method of crossing had been established for it is recorded that the tenants of Trefor Isa Township were, for a payment of two shillings per annum, granted the privilege of maintaining a ferry boat ‘upon the waters of the Dee for the convenience of themselves and others operating at Kissille, between Trefor and Kissille (Cysyllte)’. Where was this ferry sited? It is doubtful that it was at the location of the present bridge for the rocky bed of the river and the fast flowing water would have been unsuitable for such an arrangement. The more tranquil and deeper parts of the river which would have been suitable for a ferry crossing are the large pool slightly upstream of the bridge and the one downstream and immediately below the Aqueduct.
The year 1629 is important in that it is considered to be the date of the erection of the first bridge at Pontcysyllte capable of providing for wheeled vehicles. It was commissioned by Richard Myddleton of Chirk Castle and built by William Minshull, a stonemason from Hawarden. This bridge survived for nearly fifty years but by 1676 it was reported to be ‘in great decay’. A major repair to the structure was carried out and from the detailed account of the repair works we may safely assume that the bridge of that time comprised of a timber paved wooden structure laid upon stone piers. This repaired structure also succumbed to the turbulent Dee, for in 1730 a major reconstruction of the bridge took place. On this occasion two-thirds of the bridge had collapsed leaving only that part on the South (Fron) side standing. The rebuilding work was carried out by Thomas Price and Edward Ledsham, two stonemasons from the Ruthin area.
Thomas Telford, himself a former highly skilled stonemason in his early life, would be proud to know that his acclaimed masterpiece slightly downstream continues to attract even to this day such praiseworthy attention. As we cross the original Pontcysyllte let us not forget stonemasons Price and Ledsham who have provided for us in the community a lovely old stone bridge to add to the beauty of this delightful part of the Dee Valley.