Jan 302016
 

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On this date in 1826 the Menai Suspension Bridge (Welsh: Pont Grog y Borth), a suspension bridge to carry road traffic between the island of Anglesey and the mainland of Wales was opened to traffic. Before the bridge was completed all movements to and from Anglesey were by ferry across the fast flowing and dangerous waters of the Menai Strait. The main source of income on Anglesey was from the sale of cattle, and to move them to the markets on the mainland, including London, they had to be driven into the water and encouraged to swim across the Strait, a dangerous practice which often resulted in the loss of valuable animals. With Holyhead as the closest point to, and thus one of the principal ports for ferries to Dublin, Engineer Thomas Telford (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/thomas-telford/ ) was engaged to complete a survey of the route from London to Holyhead, and he proposed that a bridge should be built over the Menai Strait from a point near Bangor on the mainland to the village of Porthaethwy (which is now also known as Menai Bridge) on Anglesey.

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Because of the high banks and fast flowing waters of the Strait, it would have been difficult to build piers on the shifting sands of the sea-bed and, even if it could have been done, they would have obstructed navigation. Also, the bridge would have to be high enough to allow the passage of the tall ships of the day. In view of this, Telford proposed that a suspension bridge should be built and his recommendation was accepted by Parliament.

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Construction of the bridge, to Telford’s design, began in 1819 with the towers on either side of the strait. These were constructed from Penmon limestone and were hollow with internal cross-walls. Then came the sixteen huge chain cables, each made of 935 iron bars, that support the 176-meter (577 ft) span. To avoid rusting between manufacture and use, the iron was soaked in linseed oil and later painted. The chains each measured 522.3 meters (1,714 ft) and weighed 121 tons. Their suspending power was calculated at 2,016 tons.

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Because of its isolation for much of its history, Anglesey has been a bastion of Welsh culture and language. At the beginning of the 20th century 90% of the population were native Welsh speakers. Now they are closer to 50%.

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Numerous megalithic monuments and menhirs exist on Anglesey, testifying to the presence of humans in prehistory. Plas Newydd is near one of 28 cromlechs that remain on uplands overlooking the sea. Geologists believe that Anglesey was once part of the mainland. Historically, Anglesey has long been associated with druids. In 60 CE the Roman general Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, determined to break the power of the Celtic druids, attacked the island using his amphibious Batavian contingent as a surprise vanguard assault and then destroying their shrines and the sacred groves. News of Boudica’s revolt reached him just after his victory, causing him to withdraw his army before consolidating his conquest. The island was finally brought into the Roman Empire by Gnaeus Julius Agricola, the Roman Governor of Britain, in 78 CE. During the Roman occupation, the area was notable for the mining of copper. The foundations of Caer Gybi as well as a fort at Holyhead are Roman, and the present road from Holyhead to Llanfairpwllgwyngyll may originally have been a Roman road.

British Iron Age and Roman sites have been excavated, and coins and ornaments discovered, especially by the 19th century antiquarian, William Owen Stanley. Following the Roman departure from Britain in the early 5th century, pirates from Ireland colonized Anglesey and the nearby Llŷn Peninsula. In response to this, Cunedda ap Edern, a Gododdin warlord from Scotland, came to the area and began the process of driving the Irish out. This process was continued by his son Einion Yrth ap Cunedda and grandson Cadwallon Lawhir ap Einion, the last Irish invaders finally being defeated in battle in 470. As an island, Anglesey was in a good defensive position and, because of this, Aberffraw became the site of the court, or Llys, of the Kingdom of Gwynedd. Apart from a devastating Danish raid in 853 it was to remain the capital until the 13th century, when improvements to the English navy made the location indefensible.

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After the Irish, the island was invaded by Vikings, some of these raids being noted in famous sagas, as well as Saxons, and Normans, before falling to Edward I of England in the 13th century.

Anglesey is a relatively low-lying island with hills spaced evenly over the north of the island. The highest six are: Holyhead Mountain (220 metres (720 ft)); Mynydd Bodafon (178 metres (584 ft)); Mynydd Llaneilian (177 metres (581 ft)); Mynydd y Garn (170 metres (560 ft)); Bwrdd Arthur (164 metres (538 ft)) and Mynydd Llwydiarth (158 metres (518 ft)). To the south/south-east the island is separated from the Welsh mainland by the Menai Strait, which at its narrowest point is about 250 meters (270 yd) wide. In all other directions the island is surrounded by the Irish Sea. It is the 51st largest island in Europe.

Anglesey has several small towns scattered around the island, making it quite evenly populated. The largest towns are Holyhead, Llangefni, Benllech, Menai Bridge, and Amlwch. Beaumaris (Welsh: Biwmares), in the east of the island, features Beaumaris Castle, built by Edward I as part of his Bastide Town campaign in North Wales. Beaumaris is a yachting centre for the region, with many boats moored in the bay or off Gallows Point. The village of Newborough (Welsh: Niwbwrch), in the south, created when the townsfolk of Llanfaes were relocated to make way for the building of Beaumaris Castle, includes the site of Llys Rhosyr, another of the courts of the mediaeval Welsh princes, which features one of the oldest courtrooms in the United Kingdom. Llangefni is located in the centre of the island and is the island’s administrative centre. The town of Menai Bridge (Welsh: Porthaethwy) (in the south-east) expanded when the first bridge to the mainland was being built, in order to accommodate workers and construction. Until then, Porthaethwy had been one of the principal ferry crossing points from the mainland. A short distance from this town lies Bryn Celli Ddu, a Stone Age burial mound. Also nearby is the village with the longest purported place name in the United Kingdom, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. Nearby is Plas Newydd, ancestral home of the Marquesses of Anglesey. The town of Amlwch is situated in the northeast of the island and was once largely industrialized, having grown during the 18th century supporting the copper mining industry at Parys Mountain.

Other villages and settlements include Cemaes, Pentraeth, Gaerwen, Dwyran, Bodedern, Malltraeth, and Rhosneigr. The Anglesey Sea Zoo is a local tourist attraction, providing a look at and descriptions of local marine wildlife from lobsters to conger eels. All the fish and crustaceans on display are caught around the island and are placed in reconstructions of their natural habitat. They also make salt (evaporated from the local sea water) and breed commercially lobsters, for food, and oysters, for pearls, both from local stocks.

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The island’s entire rural coastline has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and features many sandy beaches, especially along its eastern coast between the towns of Beaumaris and Amlwch and along the western coast from Ynys Llanddwyn through Rhosneigr to the little bays around Carmel Head. The northern coastline is characterised by dramatic cliffs interspersed with small bays. The Anglesey Coastal Path is a 200-kilometre (124 mi) path which follows nearly the entire coastline. Tourism is now the most significant economic activity on the island. Agriculture provides the secondary source of income for the island’s economy, with the local dairies being amongst the most productive in the region.

Anglesey eggs is a popular dish using local ingredients. It is essentially a casserole of mashed potatoes and leeks in which are embedded boiled eggs. The whole is bathed in cheese sauce, and may be topped with chopped bacon. Here’s the recipe in pictures. I made it for my breakfast this morning.

Cut in half enough boiled eggs to make one layer in your casserole.

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Mix mashed potato with sliced poached leeks.

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Make a cheese sauce by gently simmering heavy cream with butter and adding grated cheese.

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Combine the cheese sauce and mashed potatoes.

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Spread the mashed potatoes on the bottom of a casserole and top with eggs.

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Cover with the remainder of the mashed potato and sprinkle with bacon.

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Heat under the broiler or in a hot oven.

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Aug 092015
 

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Today is the birthday (1757) of Thomas Telford FRS, FRSE, a Scottish civil engineer, architect and stonemason, and a noted road, bridge and canal builder. After establishing himself as an engineer of road and canal projects in Shropshire, he designed numerous infrastructure projects in his native Scotland, as well as harbors and tunnels. Such was his reputation as a prolific designer of highways and related bridges, he was dubbed The Colossus of Roads, and, reflecting his command of all types of civil engineering in the early 19th century, he was elected as the first President of the Institution of Civil Engineers, a post he retained for 14 years until his death. Telford is not as well known as his younger contemporary, Brunel (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/isambard-kingdom-brunel/ ), and the two men were rivals. But Telford’s designs are equally varied and remarkable.

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Telford was born on 9 August 1757 at Glendinning, a hill farm 3 miles west of Eskdalemuir Kirk, in the rural parish of Westerkirk, in Eskdale, Dumfriesshire. His father John Telford, a shepherd, died soon after Thomas was born. Thomas was raised in poverty by his mother Janet Jackson (died 1794). At the age of 14 he was apprenticed to a stonemason, and some of his earliest work can still be seen on the bridge across the River Esk in Langholm in the Scottish borders. He worked for a time in Edinburgh and in 1782 he moved to London where, after meeting architects Robert Adam and Sir William Chambers, he was involved in building additions to Somerset House there. Two years later he found work at Portsmouth dockyard and — although still largely self-taught — was extending his talents to the specification, design and management of building projects.

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In 1787, through his wealthy patron William Pulteney, he became Surveyor of Public Works in Shropshire. Civil engineering was a discipline still in its infancy, so Telford was set on establishing himself as an architect. His projects included renovation of Shrewsbury Castle, the town’s prison (during the planning of which he met leading prison reformer John Howard), the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, Bridgnorth and another church, St Michael, in Madeley. Called in to advise on a leaking roof at St Chad’s Church Shrewsbury in 1788, he warned the church was in imminent danger of collapse; his reputation was made locally when it collapsed 3 days later, but he was not the architect for its replacement.

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As the Shropshire county surveyor, Telford was also responsible for bridges. In 1790 he designed a bridge carrying the London-Holyhead road over the River Severn at Montford, the first of some 40 bridges he built in Shropshire, including major crossings of the Severn at Buildwas, and Bridgnorth. The bridge at Buildwas was Telford’s first iron bridge. He was influenced by Abraham Darby’s bridge at Ironbridge, and observed that it was grossly over-designed for its function, and many of the component parts were poorly cast. By contrast, his bridge was 30 ft (10 m) wider in span and half the weight, although it now no longer exists. He was one of the first engineers to test his materials thoroughly before construction. As his engineering prowess grew, Telford was to return to this material repeatedly.

In 1795 the bridge at Bewdley in Worcestershire was swept away in the winter floods and Telford was responsible for the design of its replacement. The same winter floods saw the bridge at Tenbury also swept away. This bridge across the River Teme was the joint responsibility of both Worcestershire and Shropshire and the bridge has a bend where the two counties meet. Telford was responsible for the repair to the northern (Shropshire) end of the bridge.

Telford’s reputation in Shropshire led to his appointment in 1793 to manage the detailed design and construction of the Ellesmere Canal, linking the ironworks and collieries of Wrexham via the north-west Shropshire town of Ellesmere, with Chester, using the existing Chester Canal, and then the River Mersey.

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Among other structures, this involved the spectacular Pontcysyllte Aqueduct over the River Dee in the Vale of Llangollen, where Telford used a new method of construction consisting of troughs made from cast iron plates and fixed in masonry. Extending for over 1,000 feet (300 m) with an altitude of 126 feet (38 m) above the valley floor, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct consists of nineteen arches, each with a forty-five foot span. Being a pioneer in the use of cast-iron for large scaled structures, Telford had to invent new techniques, such as using boiling sugar and lead as a sealant on the iron connections. Eminent canal engineer William Jessop oversaw the project, but he left the detailed execution of the project in Telford’s hands. The aqueduct has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The same period also saw Telford involved in the design and construction of the Shrewsbury Canal. When the original engineer, Josiah Clowes, died in 1795, Telford succeeded him. One of Telford’s achievements on this project was the design of the cast-iron aqueduct at Longdon-on-Tern, pre-dating that at Pontcysyllte, and substantially bigger than the UK’s first cast-iron aqueduct, built by Benjamin Outram on the Derby Canal just months earlier. The aqueduct is no longer in use, but is preserved as a distinctive piece of canal engineering.

The Ellesmere Canal was completed in 1805 and alongside his canal responsibilities, Telford’s reputation as a civil engineer meant he was constantly consulted on numerous other projects. These included water supply works for Liverpool, improvements to London’s docklands and the rebuilding of London Bridge (c.1800). Most notably (and again William Pulteney was influential), in 1801 Telford devised a master plan to improve communications in the Highlands of Scotland, a massive project that was to last some 20 years. It included the building of the Caledonian Canal along the Great Glen and redesign of sections of the Crinan Canal, some 920 miles (1,480 km) of new roads, over a thousand new bridges (including the Craigellachie Bridge), numerous harbour improvements (including works at Aberdeen, Dundee, Peterhead, Wick, Portmahomack and Banff), and 32 new churches.

Telford also undertook highway works in the Scottish Lowlands, including 184 miles (296 km) of new roads and numerous bridges, ranging from a 112 ft (34 m) span stone bridge across the Dee at Tongueland in Kirkcudbright (1805–06) to the 129 ft (39 m) tall Cartland Crags bridge near Lanark (1822).

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Telford was consulted in 1806 by the King of Sweden about the construction of a canal between Gothenburg and Stockholm. His plans were adopted and construction of the Göta Canal began in 1810. Telford travelled to Sweden at that time to oversee some of the more important initial excavations.

Many of Telford’s projects were undertaken due to his role as a member of the Exchequer Bill Loan Commission, set up under the Poor Employment Act of 1817, to help finance public work projects that would generate employment.

During his later years, Telford was responsible for rebuilding sections of the London to Holyhead road, a task completed by his assistant of ten years, John MacNeill; today, much of the route is the A5 trunk road, although the Holyhead Road diverted off the A5 along what is now parts of A45, A41 and A464 through the cities of Coventry, Birmingham and Wolverhampton. Between London and Shrewsbury, most of the work amounted to improvements. Beyond Shrewsbury, and especially beyond Llangollen, the work often involved building a highway from scratch. Notable features of this section of the route include the Waterloo Bridge across the River Conwy at Betws-y-Coed, the ascent from there to Capel Curig and then the descent from the pass of Nant Ffrancon towards Bangor. Between Capel Curig and Bethesda, in the Ogwen Valley, Telford deviated from the original road, built by Romans during their occupation of this area.

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On the island of Anglesey a new embankment across the Stanley Sands to Holyhead was constructed, but the crossing of the Menai Strait was the most formidable challenge, overcome by the Menai Suspension Bridge (1819–26). Spanning 580 feet (180 m), this was the longest suspension bridge of the time. Unlike modern suspension bridges, Telford used individually linked 9.5-foot (2.9 m) iron eye bars for the cables.

Telford also worked on the North Wales coast road between Chester and Bangor, including another major suspension bridge at Conwy, opened later the same year as its Menai counterpart.

Further afield Telford designed a road to cross the centre of the Isle of Arran. Named the ‘String road’, this route traverses bleak and difficult terrain to allow traffic to cross between east and west Arran avoiding the circuitous coastal route. His work on improving the Glasgow – Carlisle road, later to become the A74, has been described as “a model for future engineers.” Telford improved on methods for the building of macadam roads by improving the selection of stone based on thickness, taking into account traffic, alignment and slopes.

The punning nickname Colossus of Roads was given to Telford by his friend, the eventual Poet Laureate, Robert Southey. Telford’s reputation as a man of letters may have preceded his fame as an engineer: he had published poetry between 1779 and 1784, and an account of a tour of Scotland with Southey. His will left bequests to Southey (who would later write Telford’s biography), the poet Thomas Campbell (1777–1844) and to the publishers of the Edinburgh Encyclopædia (to which he had been a contributor).

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An Act of Parliament in 1823 provided a grant of £50,000 for the building of up to 40 churches and manses in communities without any church buildings (hence the alternative name: ‘Parliamentary Church’ or ‘Parliamentary Kirk’).[6] The total cost was not to exceed £1500 on any site and Telford was commissioned to undertake the design. He developed a simple church of T-shaped plan and two manse designs – a single-storey and a two-storey, adaptable to site and ground conditions, and to brick or stone construction, at £750 each. Of the 43 churches originally planned, 32 were eventually built around the Scottish highlands and islands (the other 11 were achieved by redoing existing buildings). The last of these churches was built in 1830.

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Other works by Telford include the St Katharine Docks (1824–28) close to Tower Bridge in central London, where he worked with the architect Philip Hardwick, the Gloucester and Berkeley Ship Canal (today known as the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal), Over Bridge near Gloucester, the second Harecastle Tunnel on the Trent and Mersey Canal (1827), and the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal (today part of the Shropshire Union Canal) — started in May 1826 but finished, after Telford’s death, in January 1835. At the time of its construction in 1829, Galton Bridge was the longest single span in the world. He also built Whitstable harbour in Kent in 1832, in connection with the Canterbury and Whitstable Railway with an unusual system for flushing out mud using a tidal reservoir. He also completed the Grand Trunk after James Brindley died due to being over-worked.

Telford’s young draughtsman and clerk from 1830 to 1834, George Turnbull, wrote in his diary:

On the 23rd [August 1834] Mr Telford was taken seriously ill of a bilious derangement to which he had been liable … he grew worse and worse … [surgeons] attended him twice a day, but it was to no avail for he died on the 2nd September, very peacefully at about 5pm. … His old servant James Handscombe and I were the only two in the house [24 Abingdon Street, London] when he died. He was never married. Mr Milne and Mr Rickman were, no doubt, Telford’s most intimate friends. … I went to Mr Milne and under his direction … made all the arrangements about the house and correspondence. … Telford had no blood relations that we knew of. The funeral took place on the 10th September [in Westminster Abbey]. … Mr Telford was of the most genial disposition and a delightful companion, his laugh was the heartiest I ever heard; it was a pleasure to be in his society.

In his autobiography https://books.google.com.hk/books?id=xkVVAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA300&dq=thomas+telford+favorite+food&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CCkQ6AEwAmoVChMIu62o8d2axwIVBwqOCh0W3gw9#v=onepage&q=thomas%20telford%20favorite%20food&f=false Telford mentions roads and canals in connexion with the transportation of food to market. He also talks about the benefits of keeping sheep in the Highlands. Here’s lamb stovies, a splendid traditional Highlands dish of layered root vegetables and lamb. Lamb, potatoes and leeks. Where can you go wrong? As the name hints, you can make these in similar fashion on the stove top, or in a slow cooker. I prefer the oven.  You can use beef instead of lamb if you like.

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Lamb Stovies

Ingredients

450g lean boneless lamb, trimmed of excess fat and cut in cubes
vegetable oil
750g potatoes, peeled and sliced
350g turnips or swede, peeled and sliced
2 large leeks, cleaned, trimmed, and sliced
3 tsp chopped fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
lamb stock, pre-heated

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 150°C.

Heat the oil in a skillet and sauté the lamb until browned on all sides. Set aside.

Cover the base of a 2 liter lidded casserole dish with slightly overlapping potato slices. Top with a layer of turnips (or Swedes), then a layer of leeks. Sprinkle to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper as well as the thyme and most of the parsley.

Add in the browned lamb spread evenly.

Add on a layer of leeks then turnips. Finish with an overlapping layer of potatoes.

Finish with the remaining potato slices, arranging them so that they overlap slightly. Pour in stock, but do not cover the top potatoes.

Cover tightly and bake for 2 hours.

Serve in the casserole garnished with the remaining parsley.

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