Menai Bridge (Welsh: Porthaethwy; usually referred to colloquially as Y Borth) is a small town and community on the Isle of Anglesey in north-west Wales. It overlooks the Menai Strait and lies by the Menai Suspension Bridge, built in 1826 by Thomas Telford, just over the water from Bangor. With a population of 3,376, it is the fifth largest town on the island. The built-up area including Llandegfan had a population of 4,958.
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Menai bridge in mist
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There are many small islands near the town, including Church Island. The Menai Heritage Bridges Exhibition celebrates the world-famous Menai Suspension Bridge, built by Thomas Telford, and the Britannia Bridge, built by Robert Stephenson.
Description and attractions
At the eastern edge of the town is Cwm Cadnant Dingle which is now by-passed by a modern bridge constructed in the 1970s. The Afon Cadnant drains into the Menai Strait at this point and this small estuary provides a natural haven for small boats crossing from the mainland. This was the location of the landing stage for the Bishops of Bangor who had their residence at Glyn Garth on Anglesey but whose cathedral was in Bangor on the mainland.
There are a number of small islands in the Menai Strait some of which are connected to the town by causeways, including Ynys Faelog, Ynys Gaint, Ynys Castell and Ynys y Bîg east of the suspension bridge and Church Island (Ynys Tysilio in Welsh) west of the bridge. The Isle of Anglesey Coastal Path passes along the waterfront.
Menai Bridge has several churches and chapels, including an English and Welsh Presbyterian church and a Catholic church. The town also has a primary school, Ysgol y Borth, and a large bilingual comprehensive school, Ysgol David Hughes.
Menai Bridge is home to the School of Ocean Sciences, part of Bangor University. Their research ship, the Prince Madog, is based at the pier when not at sea.
Attractions in Menai Bridge include the 14th-century Church of St Tysilio, St George's Pier, a butterfly house, Pili Palas, and the Plas Cadnant Hidden Gardens, a 200-acre (80 hectare) estate originally developed as a picturesque garden in the 1800s. The garden had been the site of restoration for twenty years. In December 2015, heavy rains caused flooding which washed away rare plants representing twenty years of work by Anthony Tavernor. Tavernor received some help to restore the garden, enabling him and his small staff to begin rebuilding and replanting the garden. The garden was able to reopen by Easter, 2016.
There are over 30 buildings listed by Cadw of being of special importance. These include the Suspension bridge itself, St. Mary's Church, the church of St. Tysilio and the War memorial on Church Island and several individual houses and buildings
Menai Bridge includes the development along Beaumaris Road known as Glyn Garth. This was a favoured location for holiday houses for the wealthy from the Manchester and Liverpool areas in the late 19th century, and many large houses of that period remain. This was also where the Bishop of Bangor had his palace. The palace was demolished in the early 1960s and replaced by a block of flats, Glyn Garth Court, completed in 1966.
The town existed as Porthaethwy for centuries and still has a house which dates from the 17th century. The name derives from Porth (harbour) + Daethwy (the name of a local Celtic tribe and later of a local medieval commote). It is likely that a community existed here in Roman times as it is the shortest crossing of the Menai Strait.
In the 9th century, St Tysilio lived here as a hermit on Church Island.
A ferry across the Menai was first recorded in 1292. When the bridge opened in 1826, the ferry closed, but connections with the sea remained through the import, export and shipbuilding trades.
From 1877 to 1920, the ship HMS Clio was docked at Menai Bridge; it was lent to the North Wales Society to teach young men the ways of seafaring. Many local people believed the ship was used for some type of prison, but this was not entirely true. The ship was home to young men who were in need of discipline to keep them from getting into serious trouble; some were sent to the Clio against their will. The young men on the Clio were not permitted to leave the ship; some of the corporal punishment administered was cruel. Stories about life on the Clio were commonplace among the residents of Menai Bridge; for many years, some mothers threatened their misbehaving children with being sent to live on the ship.
In 1914, Belgian refugees from Mechelen who had settled in the area built a promenade out of gratitude for the town’s hospitality. The promenade was built along the Menai Strait from Ynys Tysilio (Church Island) to Carreg yr Halen and was completed in 1916. It was rebuilt in 1963. The ceremonial reopening in 1965 was performed by the only surviving refugee, Eduard Wilhelms. Most of the refugees lived at three houses in Menai Bridge, with 12 housed at the Village Hall in Llandegfan. Most of the men were skilled in marquetry.
On 12 November 1918, Major Thomas Elmhirst (later Air Marshal Sir Thomas Elmhirst), commanding officer of RNAS Anglesey, flew airship SSZ73 under the Menai Bridge following the armistice at the end of World War I.
Welsh-language production company, Rondo Media, has converted a disused garage into a fake row of shops in the centre of Menai Bridge as a film set for the soap opera Rownd a Rownd, shown on the Welsh-language channel S4C. They also film the show in schools in the town, Ysgol y Borth, and around the town itself.
The large car park to the north of the High Street is the "fair field". This is a piece of common land set aside for the holding of an annual fair called Ffair Borth, a tradition dating back to 1691. It started as a horse fair, and livestock trading was carried out until the 1970s. It was also a hiring fair. It was one of the year's great occasions for the folk of Anglesey and Arfon. The fair now features traditional fair rides. It comes to Menai Bridge on 24 October every year, unless it falls on a Sunday, in which case it is held on either 23 or 25 October. The fair stalls also take over most of the roads and streets in the town, making passage through the town very difficult.
A traditional verse goes:
- 'Mae Ffair y Borth yn nesu,
- Caf deisen wedi ei chrasu,
- A chwrw poeth o flaen y tân,
- A geneth lân i'w charu.'
(Hen Benillion, edited by T. H. Parry-Williams, no. 218)
- "The Porthaethwy fair is getting near,
- The cake is out of the oven,
- In front of the fire is warm beer,
- And a fair maid for loving."
Prior to 2013 the town wards of Braint and Tysilio were also county wards to the Isle of Anglesey County Council, electing one county councillor each. Following the 2012 Isle of Anglesey electoral boundary changes Braint and Tysilio were merged with neighbouring wards to create a larger multi-councillor ward of Aethwy.
- Jane Helen Rowlands, scholar and missionary
- Office for National Statistics : Neighbourhood Statistics : Census 2011 : Isle of Anglesey
- UK Census (2011). "Local Area Report – Menai Bridge Built-up area (W37000348)". Nomis. Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 25 August 2020.
- Bangor University, Ocean Sciences
- "'Devastation' at Plas Cadnant Hidden Gardens flood". BBC News. 27 December 2015. Retrieved 18 April 2016.
- "'Tidal wave' devastates Plas Cadnant Hidden Gardens". BBC News. 27 December 2015. Retrieved 27 December 2015.
- "Plas Cadnant Hidden Gardens to be rebuilt after floods". BBC News. 7 January 2016. Retrieved 10 April 2016.
- "Listed buildings". Cadw. Retrieved 18 November 2019.
- Bishops Palace - Anglesey Council
- "HMS Clio". Menai Bridge Society. Retrieved 18 April 2016.
- "Belgian Promenade, Menai Bridge". History Points. 2012. Retrieved 31 March 2016.
- "Members". Menai Bridge Town Council. Retrieved 28 March 2019.
- "Isle of Anglesey (Electoral Arrangements) Order 2012" (PDF). legislation.gov.uk. The National Archives. Retrieved 28 March 2019.
- Menai Bridge High Street looking east
- Cadnant Dingle January 2005
- Smallest house in Menai Bridge
- 2.5 second exposure of the Menai Suspension Bridge in the evening
- The Menai Suspension Bridge from a viewpoint on the A4080 near the Britannia Bridge
- Entrance of the Menai Bridge: From the Anglesey Shore, ca 1840 by W Crane, fl. ca. 1835-1850
- Entrance of the Menai Bridge: from the Carnarvon shore ca 1840
- 'Menai Bridge, near Bangor Carnarvonshire' by D Graham, engraver and D Graham, artist
- 'Menai Bridge' ca 1830 by John Newman, fl. 1838-1880