Building of Llandeilo Bridge
from the Diary of Thomas Jenkins
The Llandeilo carpenter and diarist Thomas Jenkins (1813-1871) kept a diary for 44 years from 1826, when he was 13, until December 1870, only a few months before his death in October 1871. It provides a fascinating insight into this extraordinary man (he has been described as the Leonardo of Llandeilo) as well as being an important source for the social history of his age.
In addition to being the town's carpenter, undertaker, and general factotum, he was employed on the building of Llandeilo bridge from its inception in 1843. Although he wasn't the architect or the building contractor, he appears to have played an important role as craftsman and advisor. He was involved in two important stages of the bridge project - first, as the designer and builder of the pumps used to divert river water while the foundations were being laid down, and next to design and construct the wooden centering (also called the form, frame or template) that had to be built first to support the stone blocks of the bridge itself.
As if this wasn't enough, he also designed and built cranes for raising the building stones up to the bridge as well as designing a gauge to test the hardness and suitability of the stone being brought from nearby quarries.
Fortunately his diary records numerous references to his work on the bridge, which we include in full below. But the bridge we see today was not built without a few mishaps, some fatal, which are described by Jenkins in the diaries. A few entries not relating to the bridge have been included to give the reader a flavour of the extraordinary versatility of this man.
- Sept 27
- Made a pump for the intended Llandeilo new bridge, 7ft. long, 5 inch bore and 12 inch stroke.
- Sept 30
- Made a working model of an hydraulic servo and presented it to the Llandeilo Mechanic's Institution. [The Mechanics' Mutual Instructing Institution, of which Thomas Jenkins was a founder, was well supported at this time, many social grades being represented. Benefactors included local gentry and one of the M.P.s for the county. Candidates for a place on the committee, in an election held in this particular week were: J. Williams, Druggist. J. P. Lewis, Solicitor. Wm. Hinkin, Carpenter. - Stephens, Excise Officer. J. Thomas, Carpenter. E. Parry, Watchmaker. W. Griffiths, Land Surveyor. - Pilditch, Builder. H. Evans, Postmaster. D. Owen, Writer and N. Davies, Solicitor.]
- Oct 26
- Made patterns for a machine for testing the strength of stone for the new bridge. Went to Llansadwrn.
- Jan 1
- Fine day, but colder than it has been for some days past. Wet under foot. Fitted up a machine at the bridge for testing the stones.
- Jan 5
- Spent the evening at the Hall waiting to have my bill paid for making the machine. Received £1.18.0.
- May 30
- Made two square hand-pumps 15 ft. long, bore 4 ½ inches for bridge, £1.4.0. each exclusive of wood. Made also a horse pump 9 inches in diameter of 5ft. stroke, lined the working parts with sheet iron with sliding piece at bottom. Total length 27ft. Complete £5.0.0. Piston 64 superficial inches, water raised at each stroke 2 cubic feet - 3456 cubic inches - 12 gall and 72.
- June 10
- Made another pump for the bridge 8 ½ inches in diameter.
- June 21
- Set the 2 pumps to work by a 3-horsepower steam engine. Length of pump stroke 4 ft. Quantity of water raised per minute 234 gallons.
- June 27
- Made a 10 inch square pump to work by horsepower.
- July 12
- Set an iron pump 14 inches in diameter and the 10 inch wooden pump to work by another 6-horsepower steam engine.
- Aug 12
- Made a pile engine 27 ft high for the bridge, the ram weighs 1,000 lbs. 15 days work…£2/ 5/0.
- Sept 18
- Set a 14 inch pump to work by the large engine instead of the 10 inch square one.
- Dec 2
- Laid down 4 inch oak planking on 12 inch square bearing beams for the south abutment of the new bridge.
- Dec 3
- The foundation stone was laid this evening at 3.15 p.m. 4lbs. of beef and 1 pint of ale and oz. of tobacco given to each workman to the number of 40.
[For the next two weeks Thomas Jenkins’ diary is now taken up entirely with the illness and subsequent death of his four-year old son, George, though he takes some time out to calculate his accounts.]
- 25 Dec
- George went with Edward Price to the park and returned shivering.
- 26 Dec
- At 12 noon my poor boy went to bed very ill in the scarlet fever.
- 27 Dec
- George worse, sent for Walter Jones, Surgeon.
- 28 Dec
- Worse. Red pustules began to appear.
- 29 Dec
- Still worse. Sent for Dr. Prothero who ordered his head to be shaved and bathed with cold salt water and leeches applied to his temples. Continued bathing his head from 2 p.m. ‘til 30th. 6 a.m. Inflammation reduced. Swallowing difficult. Continued bathing his throat with hot flannels ‘til 5 p.m. I went to bed at 8 p.m.
- 31 Dec
- Got up at 2 a.m. Due to me this day £123.7.5. I owe £121.11.11 Balance in my favour £1.15.5
[Entries for work on the bridge on the bridge re-commence.]
- Feb 20
- Drew the elliptic line for the new bridge, full size, Span 145ft. Raise 38ft.
- Apr 20
- Finished making templates for the centre of bridge of 1 inch boards for every piece of timber to be used in each couple and commenced the centre.
- May 8
- Commenced putting the first framing together for the centre of the new bridge.
- May 13
- Went with Morgan Morgan to Llanelli to purchase more timber for ditto.
- June 6
- Morgan Morgan agreed to give me 21/- per week for superintending the making and erecting the centering.
- May 14
- Went with B. Morgan in a gig through Carmarthen to Llanstephan where we dined together with Mrs. Morgan and Mrs Harris. Crossed the ferry at 2 p.m. and walked through Kidwelly and by Trimsaran Iron Works to Llanelli.
- May 15
- Slept at the ‘Ivy Bush’ and bought 800ft. of timber for the bridge centering. Left by rail for Cwmamman and walked from there home [The railway from Cross Inn (Ammanford) was extended up the Amman Valley to Brynamman by 1842. The walk from Cwmamman (Glanamman) to Llandeilo would be about 7 miles across the Black Mountain].
- July 20
- Walked to Cross Inn and got to Llanelli by rail at 11 a.m. Bought 29 baulks for the bridge centering.
- July 22
- Went with Morgan to Green Meadow to purchase some ash timber for wedges for centre.
- July 30
- Left at 6 am. accompanied by Mr. T. T. Williams. Got to Pontardulais by 12. Walked to Lliw forge to order some iron-work for the cranes at the bridge. Walked back to Pontardulais, 3 miles, and arrived by train at LIanelli at 3 p.m. where I purchased another lot of timber for bridge.
- Aug 6
- Sunday. Richard Cleaver, aged 7, son of John Cleaver, painter, fell off the temporary railway used to carry stone over the river for the bridge and was drowned.
- Aug 21
- Erected a derrick crane for raising stones for the arch.
- Sept 2
- Dreamt that the chain of the crane broke and came down with a rattling noise and, starting from sleep, Ann asked me what was the matter, when I told. This evening the chain did break and ran over the pulley with the same noise as I heard in my dream. Three or four of us had a narrow escape.
- Sept 3
- Commenced fitting up the centering for the arch.
- Sept 29
- Left by Mail for Carmarthen at 12 noon. Aunt Price gave £5.10.3 towards funeral expenses. Left on foot arrived at Llandeilo at 9 p.m. [Aunt Price was William Lott’s sister.]
- Oct 10
- The remains of John Cleaver’s little boy were thrown up by the flood near Llanarthney, after having been in the river two months.
- Oct 22
- Very high flood. Part of the centre carried off. There were five men on it at the time and they were all precipitated with the falling timbers into the flood, Two were taken out immediately one got up by a rope over the parapet of the old bridge, and two were carried by the river on some of the timbers to Cilsan where they were got out much exhausted.
- Oct 23
- The management of the bridge was transferred from Morgan Morgan to Mr. Haycock, Morgan having contracted to build it for £5,870 and having now expended £7,000 of which he is to receive £6,500. Haycock to receive £4,000 additional and the materials of the old bridge.
- Nov 11
- The old bridge having been damaged by the late flood and cracked through, went with William Williams to Cilgwyn where we purchased 1,000ft. beech timber for making a coffer-dam around the damaged pier.
- Feb 12
- Ann, Peter’s wife died at 11 p.m. aged 29. Alfred Thomas and myself measured the work done by Morgan Morgan at the bridge which we find, by a fair valuation, amounts to £10,080.3s.1d.
- Feb 22
- Commenced the timber work and the masons commenced the walls.
- Feb 24
- General fast day, ordered owing to the famine in Ireland and Scotland. Mr. Morgan and self went through Porth-y-rhyd to Llangyndeyrn lime quarries. From there to Pontyberem iron works. Returned at 10 p.m.
- Apr 2
- Good Friday. Went together to the top of Garngoch. Took tea at Wm. Hopkins, near Bethlehem. From there to Pen-y-goilan flag quarry.
[In the middle of relating, first the birth of a son (James), and then the death of his wife Ann just five days later, Jenkins notes down that the centering of the bridge had collapsed into the river below.]
- Jan 1
- Morning fine, frost evening, rain and thaw. Ann (his wife) was put to bed at 3 pm, attended by Dr Rees, and gave birth to a boy at 9 ½pm.
- Jan 2
- Went, at Ann’s request, to Dolaugleision, she having promised Mrs. Davies I should dine there today, Sarah having been sent there yesterday. Returned at 4pm. Soon after I returned my poor Ann was attacked by severe pains in the right leg. Sent for Drs Prothero and Rees to attend her, at 10 pm pain less severe.
- Jan 3
- Ann very ill.
- Jan 4
- Jan 5
- Jan 6
- After a night of intense suffering my dear Ann left me at 10 ½ am, alone in the world.
- Jan 10
- Little James very unwell. I was obliged to nurse him all day, he would go to no-one else. The remains of my dear girl were laid in the same grave as our little George. I was not resigned to his death ‘til now I’ve lost his mother. I was too ill to follow her to her last resting place.
- Jan 27
- Sent set of tea things to Miss S. Davies which Ann (his wife) exchanged for some which she had bought. The centering was lowered from under the arch of the new bridge today.
- Jan 30
- Sunday. 9 pm. The centering was carried off by the flood and thrown down in a mass. Went to Rhosmaen to see my poor motherless baby (Thomas Jenkins had put the baby out to a wet nurse on January 11th.)
There are no more entries in the Diaries concerning Llandeilo bridge, so it would appear that Jenkins' work had been completed. The final keystone had been lowered in position at 3 pm on 25th November 1847. All that now remained was to remove, or cut out, Jenkins' wooden frame, but it proved resistant. The green wood even refused to burn! Jenkins laconic comment on January 30th 1848, his last about the bridge, was almost a sigh of relief:
The centering was carried off by the flood and thrown down in a mass. After all the set-backs, some luck was deserved and the bridge, happily, has since held perfectly for a hundred and fifty years.