The Bridge of the Blessed Ford

Pontrhydfendigaid

A village steeped in history and tradition

Page 2

The second bridge song by Edward Richard

Edward Richard’s second bridge song ‘Ateb i Gân y Bont’ (an answer to the first song ― see Page 1) is a complete turnaround. By now, he was bitterly disappointed and disillusioned with the bridge ; neither the design nor the execution pleased him and his indignation extended to everything and everyone connected with it – to the village, the workmen and even himself

A mid 19th century picture postcard showing the bridge, the river Teifi and a local shop on the left. A small tributary called Nant y Cŵn is also visible on the bottom right hand side.

He saw it as narrow, humpbacked, crooked and generally a hideous, frightful construction ; clearly, not what he had envisaged when writing his first song. In his second verse he alleged that some ‘inept’ individuals were still expressing words of approval but he, personally, was being reminded daily of its shortcomings. In eyes the bridge had no praiseworthy characteristics whatsoever (see inset).

The first mention of this second song was in early January 1762 when, on the 14th day of that month, Edward Richard wrote to Evan Evans (Ieuan Brydydd Hir) saying that he had made a second song about the bridge [12] :

. . . I have made . . . another song upon the bridge.

Edward Richad expresses his disappointment and frustrations with the bridge – not as  grandeur and imposing as he had anticipated.

 

Mae’n fingul, mae’n fongam, mae’n wargul, mae’n ŵyrgam,

Mae llwybr di-adlam anhylam yn hon,

Ni welwyd un ellyll, na bwbach mor erchyll,

Erioed yn traws sefyll tros afon

 

Er sŵn ofer ddynion anallu a’u pennillion,

Yn camol cymdeithion a’r haelion ŵyr hy,

‘Rwy’ beunydd yn clywed am Bont Rhyd-fendiged

Mor amled ochenaid a chanu.

 
 

In March 1762, he also sent a copy of the same song to Lewis Morris and received an acknowledgment dated the 27th March saying

. . . both your Songs on the Bridge are excellent, but . . .  [13]

Again, if Saunders Lewis is correct in thinking that Edward Richard usually wrote his poems during vacations, then ‘Ateb i Gân y Bont’ may be ascribed to the Christmas period of 1761. This seems reasonable, the bridge would have been in every-day-use for a year or so, giving the bard ample time for reflection and re-assessment. His response was a little unexpected. The song may be a classic in terms of poetry, but it is far from flattering to the bridge or to those people concerned with designing and building it. Poor Sion Ifan and Sion o Garon came in for some severe criticism.

To summarize, on the evidence of the first song by Edward Richard, it seems that work on Pont Rhydfendigaid was in full swing throughout 1760, and that construction was probably finished before the end of that year. It appears that over the following twelve months, Edward Richards became more and more disillusioned with the bridge and, finally, so incensed, that he felt compelled to write a damning ‘end-of-year report’ (i.e. his second song, written around Christmas, 1761).

Saunders Lewis

Saunders Lewis (born John Saunders Lewis on 15 October 1893 and died 1 September 1985) was a Welsh political activist, poet, dramatist, historian and literary critic. He was a prominent Welsh nationalist and one of the founders of Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru (the National Party of Wales), later known as Plaid Cymru. Lewis is usually acknowledged as one of the most prominent figures in 20th century Welsh-language literature. In 1970, he was nominated for a Nobel Prize in Literature and was voted the tenth greatest Welsh hero in the ‘100 Welsh Heroes‘ poll, released on St. David’s Day 2004. Extract from Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saunders_Lewis

The Quarter Session Records for the period 1759 to 1761

 

While all the indications from Edward Richard’s work point to 1760 being the all-important date, it would be re-assuring to find some other confirmatory evidence. Luckily, a search of the Quarter Sessions (QS) records [14] for the period 1759 to 1761 produced that corroborative testimony. The following is an entry for the QS held on the 12th July 1759, at the house of Richard Evans, an innkeeper at Tregaron.

Ordered that the Honourable Wilmot Vaughan Esq., William Powell, Clerk and James Lloyd, clerk of the peace [15] be desired to inspect the decay of Pontrhydbendidged bridge presented to be out of repair and that they, or any two of them, agree with proper workmen and artificers to rebuild the same and that such agreement be under the general order of this court for the reparation of publick work.

Clearly, the go-ahead to build the present bridge was given in July 1759. The earlier bridge (referred to in the records) was probably, a wooden one [16], maintained by the local community in accordance with the accepted practice at the time. It is unlikely that Sion Ifan, y saer maen a gododd y bont (i.e. the mason who built the bridge), would have started work immediately following the ‘order’ and more than likely, the actual construction work would have got under way, possibly, a month or two later although there is no way of proving this.

While it is interesting to speculate about the start-time, it is the completion date that is important in calculating the age of the bridge. Further search of the records revealed a second reference to Pont Rhydfendigaid. An entry for the Quarter Session held at the Guild Hall, Aberystwyth on Wednesday, 14th January 1761 says that the bridge had been finished and payment should be made immediately :

Ordered that the agreement made by the Honourable Wilmot Vaughan Esq., The Rev. William Powell and James Lloyd Clerk of the peace with David Richards Gent. [17] in pursuance of the order of this court touching the re building of the bridge over the river Tivy called Pontrhydbendiged be filed . . . and the said David Richards having filed a proper Bond in pursuance of the said agreement and the bridge being finished in pursuance of the said agreement it is ordered that the Treasurer of the County Stock pay to the said David Richards the full just sum of one hundred and twenty six pounds in pursuance of the said agreement.

Conclusion

The above entries give us a few definitive answers. There is little doubt that the Edward Richard bridge dates back to the year 1760, and that it was probably finished sometime in the last quarter of that year, that is, after the October QS, but before the following January meeting. Of course, there is a possibility that the final stone was laid just days before the order to pay David Richards, but this is unlikely. It seems quite reasonable, and safe, to say that Pont Rhydfendigaid will be 250 years old in the year 2010.

Finally, it is tempting to think that the village changed its name from Rhydfendigaid (Blessed Ford) to Pontrhydfendigaid (Bridge of the Blessed Ford) after the present bridge was built. This is not so. The QS records show that the name Pontrhydfendigaid was well established before 1760, and there is a reference to it [18] back in 1673. Tracing the origin of the name Pontrhydfendigaid could be a challenging exercise.

Appendix

It took sixty years before the bridge was revamped to reduce the hump that so upset Edward Richard; the record for the QS held on the 11th of July 1821 reads :

Ordered that the Treasurer of this County pay out of the County Stock in his hands unto Lewis Morgan the sum of twenty five pounds . . . for filling up the ends of Rhydfendigaid Bridge.

Those ends had to be further filled-in in the early 1930s to accommodate the charabanc trips en route to Strata Florida abbey. Some senior citizens can recall those sightseeing buses literally becoming wedged and stuck on the uppermost part of the bridge and having to be ‘released’ by some able-bodied people from the village. Surprisingly, no renovation has been carried out since that time, even though the bridge is now having to take all kinds of traffic including heavy modern lorries

The ruins of the celebrated abbey of Ystrad Fflur

situated between the riverTeifi and the Glasffrwd

(the west view of the ruins by Samuel & Nathaniel Buck in 1741)

Notes

[6]Yr Eos: sef gwaith awenyddawl Mr. Edward Richards, I. Bugeigerdd; II. Bugeugerdd; III. Can y Bont; IV. Ateb i Gan y Bont; V. Emyn neu Hymn; VI. Marwnad Iorwerth Rhisiat, [sic], Carmarthen, 1813. Caneuon y Bont are the first Welsh pastorals in the classical style (on Page 1)
[12]Letter from Edward Richard to Evan Evans, NLW Panton MS 74.
[13]Letter from Lewis Morris to Edward Richard, Cambrian Register, Volume 2, page 541. This is a famed letter in which Lewis Morris is critical of Edward Richard’s use of dialectal words rather than the literary form. However, it was a dispute which ended with Lewis Morris admitting that you are more acquainted with the prince of song-writers (Hugh Morris) than ever I was in my life . . . and no wonder you shine so much in Caniadau’r Bont.
[14]Ceredigion Archives, Quarter Session Records.
[15]The Honourable Wilmot Vaughan Esq. of Trawsgoed, the Rev. William Powell of Nanteos and James Lloyd of Mabws, i.e., representatives of the families that Edward Richard paid tribute to in his first song.
[16[Edward Llwyd, at the turn of the 18th century, says that there was only one large stone bridge upon ye river Tivy (Edward Llwyd, Parochialia, 1708) and Gwyndaf Breese, in his book ‘The Bridges of Wales’, says that this was, probably, at the site of the present Henllan Bridge.
[17]

A person named David Richards was farming at Ffosybleiddiaid near Ystrad Meurig in 1760, and Helen Palmer (Ceredigion Archives) suggested that he may be the ‘Gent’ who put up the bond for the bridge. Ffosybleiddiaid was certainly a suitable home for a ‘gent’. It was formerly the residence of one of the oldest families in Cardiganshire (see Historic Cardiganshire Homes, Ed. C.C. Jones, Brawdy Books, 2004). The last member of that family to occupy the property was James Lloyd, who moved – in the mid 1750s – from Ffosybleiddiaid to his wife’s home at Mabws. He retained ownership of Ffosybleiddiaid and David Richards became his tenant. The Mabws family – James Lloyd in particular – played a key role in (a) getting the county to finance Pont Rhydfendigaid and, as it seems likely, in (b) finding a ‘gent’ to put up a bond. D.G. Osbourne-Jones in his book, ‘Edward Richard of Ystrad Meurig’ says that James Lloyd was Edward Richard’s . . . lifelong friend, which could mean that Edward Richard was more than casually acquainted with David Richards. It is plausible that Edward Richard’s interest in Pont Rhydfendigaid may be the result of having close friends who were very much involved with building the bridge.

[18]NLW, Crosswood Deeds, Aberystwyth, 1927

A village steeped in history and tradition