The current chain bridge, restored and reopened in 2015 by Llangollen Town Council and Llantysilio Community Council, is actually the third bridge to have been built in this spot.
The Chain Bridge was first built in 1817 under the direction of the fantastically named Exuperius Pickering, a local entrepreneur and owner of collieries, iron foundries and lime kilns. Irritated by the need to pay tolls to transport his goods across the Llangollen Bridge, to the new Telford Road (now the A5), he lobbied the Llangollen Canal Company to improve the feeder section of the canal linking the Horseshoe Falls with his wharves along the canal, not far from the where the Chain Bridge now stands. With a bridge built linking the canal and road, across the River Dee, Pickering was able to effectively monopolise the coal trade in the area.
Pickering’s bridge was built of wooden decking, supported from beneath with twelve huge wrought iron chains, fashioned at his Pontcysyllte coke ovens. Six oak pillars were pounded into the river bed, thought at the time to be capable of withstanding the Dee in full flood. The French engineer, J. Dutens visited a number of engineering works in his journey through Britain, and made detailed drawing of the bridge in his work, ‘Mémoires sur les Travaux publics de l’Angleterre’. It has been speculated that Dutens was actually an industrial spy, but his actions do not seem to have been covert at all. He met with Pickering at Ruabon to discuss the bridge and engineering works in general.
By 1870, it seems the Chain Bridge was in a state of some disrepair and was thus dismantled. It was replaced, using some of the old materials, the chains in particular, to largely the same design by the owner of Brymbo Ironworks, Henry Robertson. The oaken pillars, however, were replaced with iron, which perhaps is not a surprise. The new bridge was opened in 1876. However, despite the believed strength of the structure, the River swept away much of the bridge on 16th February 1928 in a severe flood. The chains remained, however. Henry Robertson’s son, also called Henry rebuilt the bridge, again using the original chains, to look like the Menai Suspension Bridge which he much admired. The new bridge was a great improvement, much stronger than the last. It opened in 1929, with 45 of Robertson’s employees stood upon it to demonstrate its strength.
Despite this improved design, the bridge fell into a state of woeful disrepair, and by the 1980s was a patched up, ragged affair. It was closed in 1984 as unsafe, and for 30 years hung in a shameful, ramshackle state.
Happily, the bridge was bought by Llangollen Town Council and Llantysilio Community Council. Together with a lottery grant of £350 000, the bridge was restored to its 1929 glory, still with its original Pickering chains, and reopened in 2015. Today, it exists again as a link between Telford’s Llangollen Canal and his London to Holyhead road. It is a popular stop with steam train enthusiasts who often walk down to the bridge from Berwyn Station.