A Mystery Solved (or, Happy Birthday Pont Salem)

In which The Author’s theory is vindicated

In Beyond the Railway I mentioned that Geoff E. and I had come up against a small snag in our project to trace the origins of the old Cynon Valley street names. Geoff (very reasonably) had concluded that Bridge Street in Robertstown took its name from the bridge over the railway line, linking the village to the eastern end of Tudor Terrace.
However, I’d studied the old Ordnance Survey maps and noticed that Bridge Street pre-dated the bridge by at least a couple of decades. I suggested that the ‘bridge’ in question was the footbridge across the Cynon, a short stagger from The Gadlys Arms, at the other end of Bridge Street. That casual observation set Geoff a new mini-research project, which bore fruit a couple of weeks ago.
I felt a bit guilty about not doing the spadework myself, to be honest. The problem is that I don’t have access to the Internet at home, whereas Geoff does. That means that he’s able to dig through the local archives, Welsh Newspapers Online, and various other digital resources when the Library isn’t open. Dr Colin Rees got onto the case too, and sent us some old photos of the footbridge, as well as a sketch which he’d made.

Robertstown_Bridge_detail_June_1982

HowManyWays

Footbridge_Robertstown

These show the bridge as I remember it from my childhood, when it was painted green and only the railway lines ran underneath it. When the bypass was built in the early 1980s, most of the lines were taken up, except for a single track running to Tower Colliery. The road and railway now pass underneath a new bridge, which was put there in the late 1980s or early 1990s.
I have a single photograph of the old bridge, which I took early one winter morning on the way to work. It’s not very clear, as I took it from a distance. I think I’d heard that the ‘green bridge’ was about to be replaced, and took that one photo for posterity. It’s quite possibly the ‘seed’ from which my Vanishing Valleys project later developed.

Green BridgeTW

The current bridge must have been installed in order to prevent people jumping onto the road, as its superstructure is enclosed within a box-like steel grid for some distance. (I think it’s slightly higher than the previous bridge, too.) Two freight trains a day run underneath it, making their way to and from Tower Washery.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Geoff emailed me about a fortnight ago, to say that my theory had paid off. Not only was the bridge constructed much later than Bridge Street, it was also built later than the Cynon Valley History Society had stated in an edition of their newsletter Hanes. In fact, it was opened exactly a hundred years ago this weekend. How’s that for perfect timing, eh?
Geoff had been trawling through old copies of the Aberdare Leader online, looking for material to use in the final Hanes of this year. In the issue dated 24 December 1914, on page 7, he’d found quite a lengthy report about the opening of the new bridge. It must have been quite an occasion, as the Leader report makes clear:

Pont Salem.

FORMAL OPENING OF A NEW BRIDGE
Monday, December 21st, will be a red letter day in the history of Robertstown. On that day at 4 p.m. a bridge connecting that village with Gadlys was opened. It is situated at the bottom of Tudor Terrace and spans the Taff Vale and Great Western Railways. It is about 120 yards long and about 8 ft. wide, and will be open not only for pedestrians, but also for light vehicular traffic. The contractor was Mr. D. Tyssul Davies, Trecynon, while the steel work was carried out by Messrs. A. D. Dawnay and Sons, Cardiff. The contract price was £2,500.
There were present at the opening ceremony:— Councillors E. Stonelake, W. Rees, J.P., Idwal Thomas, Illtyd Hopkins, William Haggar, D. Jackson Thomas, Ogwen Williams, Evan Jones, Aberaman; William Thomas, T. W. Griffiths, David Davies, Mrs. Davies (Education Committee), Messrs. Owen Williams (Surveyor), D. Ll. Griffiths (Clerk to the Council), A. S. Morris (Deputy-Surveyor), Ivor Bryant (Assistant-Surveyor), R. R. Price (Road Foreman), Dr. J. LI. Pritchard (Medical Officer), T. Botting (Director of Education), S. James (Sanitary Inspector), Thomas Jones (Sanitary Inspector), John Davies (Attendance Officer), D. Tyssul Davies (Contractor), and a large number of people besides.
The meeting was opened by Mr. Evan Jones, Aberaman, chairman of the Building Committee. He reviewed the work performed by the Council during recent years, and mentioned the bridge opened at Aberaman to avoid the P.D. Crossing, also the Cwmbach Bridge opened the other day. Besides building bridges the Council had installed an excellent system of Tramways. The Education Committee were also very progressive, and during the last few months had built an Open-air School for defective children, and also a Domestic Centre at Aberdare. (Applause.) He had now great pleasure in calling upon Councillor W. Thomas to declare the bridge open.
Councillor W. Thomas, with scissors in hand, cut the ribbon on the Tudor Street [sic] end of the bridge, and, followed by a huge crowd, walked over the bridge to the other end and cut another ribbon. He said he wished to thank all present for attending in such large numbers to witness that interesting ceremony. The bridge had been wanted badly for many years, and possibly the lack of such a facility had retarded the growth of Robertstown to a considerable extent. He was pleased to see so many of Robertstown people around him, and he hoped they would appreciate what the Council had done, for it was after serious reflection that the Council had ventured upon that enterprise. They were there that day giving the bridge to Robertstown as a Christmas present. (Laughter.) This bridge would unite Robertstown and Aberdare. (Applause.)
A person in the crowd then asked for three cheers for Mr. Thomas, which were given very heartily and in which the Robertstown children joined.
Mr. Owen Williams (Surveyor), on behalf of the contractors and himself, presented Mr. Thomas with a memento of the occasion, namely, a silver ink-stand bearing the following inscription: — “Presented to W. Thomas, Esq., C.C., chairman of the Aberdare District Council, on the occasion of the opening of Pont Salem, December 21, 1914.”
Mr. Thomas, in acknowledging the gift, said be appreciated it very much and would place it on his desk in the office. In future, instead of charging 6s. 8d., he would charge 13s. 4d. (Loud laughter.) He wished to compliment the surveyor and the contractors on the excellent way the bridge had been built.
Councillor Idwal Thomas, speaking in Welsh, said that “Dyfal donc a dyr y garreg (“Many a knock will break the stone “). Robertstown people had given the Council many a knock and had kept up an agitation for a bridge for many years. And now the bridge was here. It had been an election cry with the Tresalem people at every election. Now they would have to find some fresh election cry. This new bridge was one of the best in Aberdare, and he was sure Tresalem would be proud of it. He was glad to see Councillor W. Thomas there performing the opening ceremony. Every Councillor had done his utmost in realising the object of that enterprise. One member did not deserve thanks more than another.
Councillor Ogwen Williams said that he was glad to be present, for it was on a deputation in connection with that bridge that he performed his first public work. He congratulated Robertstown on that day’s work. Tresalem people had been looking long and patiently for a better access, and it had come at last. He believed it was a better bridge than the Cwmbach one, and he thought that this (Pont Salem) would be the last bridge that would be taken by the Germans. (Laughter.) In conclusion, Mr. Williams read a few englynion suitable for the occasion.
Councillor Evan Jones: Any more bards?
Councillor W. Thomas: A oes hedd wth? (Laughter.)
One other bard came forward in the person of Mr. Evan Howells, Aberaman, who read several verses dedicated to Mr. D. Tyssul Davies, contractor, and the bridge.
Councillor E. Stonelake said that some people were always fond of pining for the return of the good old times. Now that Robertstown had had their bridge he did not think the people of that village would long for the pre-Bridge period. The houses in Tresalem had been built about 60 years ago, and it was a sad reflection to realise that it was now that we were having a proper access to the place. The village was hemmed in by a railway, and the people of South Wales should see to it that no other place should be hemmed in in like manner by railways. Aberdare shop-keepers would now have to be on their guard against their customers going to Robertstown to do their trade. On second thought, however, he did not think that very probable, or the Aberdare Chamber of Trade would have protested against the erection of that bridge, and then all would be over. (Laughter.)
Councillor T. W. Griffiths said he was not a bard, but a very young Councillor. He remembered this place a good many years ago, for he used to play in Cae Robert, about 100 yards from that spot, when he was quite a small boy. The bridge would be a great convenience to Robertstown, and also to the people of Aberdare who had business in Robertstown. He congratulated both the Robertstown people and the District Council upon the magnificent success of their efforts. He was pleased to note that the Council were doing something substantial for the outlying villages. Mr. David Evans, Robertstown, said that as a resident of the place he had been looking forward to this day with much anxiety. On behalf of the villagers and himself he wished to thank the Council for what they had done. The question of the Robertstown Bridge had been a burning one since the days of the late David Morgan o’r Nant. Now that they had had their bridge he wished to remind them that other things were needed. Two of those things were a field for the children to play in and electric light for their streets.
Mr. Roger Thomas, master of Robertstown Schools, jocularly remarked that the more they got the more they wanted. They would certainly not be satisfied until they had a field for the children. That was an absolute necessity. The people of Robertstown were too easily fed, and too easily led. That bridge would be a monument to future generations of what the Council had done after much agitation. He wished to remind them that it was 12 months overdue, but he would forgive the Council if they would provide a field soon. There was a field available in the village, and the county should not have a monopoly of it. It was the people of Robertstown that were to be blamed for this. “That,” concluded Mr. Thomas, “is my tale of woe.” (Laughter and applause.)
Councillor W. Rees proposed and Councillor Illtyd Hopkins seconded a hearty vote of thanks to Mr. Evan Jones for presiding, and the meeting was brought to a close.
The contract for the abutments, approaches, and columns was entrusted by the Council to Mr D. Tyssul Davies, builder and contractor, Trecynon, who carried out the work to the satisfaction of all concerned. The bridge is strongly built and is an imposing structure altogether, and reflects the greatest credit on the capacity of Mr Tyssul Davies and his workmen.
I don’t know what the weather forecast is for tomorrow, but if it’s fine, Geoff and I are planning to meet up and take a photo to mark the centenary of the opening. Regardless of the weather, though, we’re going to repair to the Gadlys Arms to toast the good people of Robertstown, who lobbied long and hard to be connected to the rest of the world. Please feel free to join us in commemorating a historic example of People Power.
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