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200th anniversary of pioneering Chepstow bridge

The 1816 opening ceremony for the Chepstow Bridge linking England and Wales was reenacted yesterday to celebrate its 200th anniversary.

The event also recognised the achievement of John Urpeth Rastrick, the engineer who designed and built it.

Chepstow Bridge links Monmouthshire and Gloucestershire and was the third largest cast-iron arch road bridge in the world when it opened in 1816. It is still in use today and is now the largest surviving cast-iron arch road bridge from that period. It is 113m long with a 34m main span. Before the Severn Bridge opened in 1966, it was subjected to higher tides than any other bridge in the world.

Chepstow school on chepstow bridge cropped

The bridge links England with Wales at Chepstow

The Grade 1 Listed bridge opened on 24 July 1816 with a procession. At the 2016 re-enactment, ICE President Sir John Armitt led another procession from Chepstow, taking the part of John Urpeth Rastrick. He walked alongside ICE Wales Cymru chair David Rowlands; ICE South West chair West Kieren Couch; Monmouthshire County Council chair,  Jim Higginson; Gloucestershire County Council chair Colin Hay; Bridgnorth mayor Vanessa Voysey; and Chepstow mayor Paul Pavia.

Chepstow procession

Chepstow procession

ICE President Sir John Armitt took part in the procession

The procession stopped in the centre of the bridge for speeches by Armitt and council representatives before performances by the Chepstow Singing Group and Chepstow Male Voice Choir. Armitt then unveiled a commemorative plaque. The on foot procession was followed by procession of historic cars and a riverside fair with music and fireworks.

Rastrick was a civil and mechanical engineer who is remembered today as a railway pioneer.  He had earlier built Trevithick’s “Catch me who can” locomotive in 1808. In 1829 he built the first steam engine to run in the United States. Rastrick chaired the judging panel for the Liverpool & Manchester Railway’s Rainhill Trials in 1829 where he awarded first prize to Stephenson’s “Rocket”. He built many railways in Britain including the London to Brighton Line in the 1840s and is known as one of the most important engineers of his generation.

Armitt, said: “It is incredible to think that 200 years ago today a procession much like this took place to mark the opening of a remarkable and beautiful bridge, the design of which paved the way for cast iron road and rail bridges all over the world. This re-enactment of the 1816 opening ceremony, and unveiling of a commemorative plaque, is a touching tribute to the bridge and to John Urpeth Rastrick - a true engineering great. I feel honoured to have played the part of John, and to stand at the centre of this structure among the community it has served for so many years.”

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