Small Island, Big Connections

Anglesey’s proximity to Ireland resulted in a regular packet boat service carrying mail and goods between Dublin and Holyhead from the 17th century onward.

Leinster Anglesey

The union of Britain with Ireland in 1800 increased the need to improve the road route from London to Dublin and, by this time, Holyhead had emerged as the primary port for sea access, mainly due to the fact that it is the closest point on the British coast to Ireland. This led to two major engineering feats on Anglesey: the construction of the world’s first major suspension bridge, which was designed by Thomas Telford to carry a new road from the mainland, and the building of the Britannia Bridge, which incorporated innovative box-girders or ‘tubes’ through which trains ran.
The A5 and the Menai Suspension Bridge

In 1810, Thomas Telford was commissioned to build a new, improved toll road (known now as the A5 and completed in 1826) which allowed horse-drawn mail coaches to make the 460 kilometre (286 mile) journey from London to the waiting steam ‘packets’ at Holyhead in about 27 hours.

This engineering feat included the first major suspension bridge in the world, the Menai Bridge, across the Menai Strait. The famous bridge survives today, having been strengthened to carry the weight of modern traffic. Thomas Telford was an architect as well as an engineer and he personally designed every element of the bridge.
Britannia Bridge

The coming of the railways lead to a requirement for a rail route to link London with Dublin. Trains had been in service on Anglesey since 1848 but passengers had to disembark and cross the strait by road. In 1850 Robert Stephenson designed a thin, elegant tubular bridge with piers of Anglesey limestone to carry trains from London to Holyhead. Unfortunately, this was largely destroyed by fire in 1970, and when it was rebuilt, arches were added to strengthen the supports to provide a road deck over the railway.

In 1850 a rail link to the Welsh mainland was completed (under the direction of Robert Stephenson) and the London to Holyhead journey shortened to nine and a half hours, making it the fastest scheduled train in the world.
Holyhead Port and Breakwater

For centuries Holyhead Port was little more than a large tidal creek. The increase in frequency of travel and size of ships during the late 18th and early 19th centuries prompted calls for the construction of a proper harbour.

In 1845 work commenced on a huge breakwater – 2.4 km (one and a half miles) long. It was completed in 1873 (28 years later) and to this day remains the largest breakwater in the United Kingdom. It could shelter a hundred or more ships during a storm. Work on the inner harbour began with the building of Admiralty Pier, designed by another famous engineer John Rennie and was completed in 1821.