Chain Bridge

The Chain Bridge

The oldest existing chain bridge in the world.


The Chain Bridge crosses the River Dee at Llantysilio, linking Telford’s work on the canal with his road to Holyhead. It was built by Exuperius Pickering Senior in 1817. He wanted exclusive access to the canal to transport coal, limestone and iron bars to the west without paying the tolls in Llangollen.

Pickering’s bridge was constructed of wrought iron chains, supporting a bed of wooden decking covered with earth. It looked very rickety but was strong enough to support heavy wagons.

The first bridge stood for nearly 60 years but was in a poor condition by 1870. It was rebuilt in 1876 by Henry Robertson, who engineered the railway alongside the river. Robertson was able to use the original chains beneath the deck of his bridge.

In 1928 the bridge was destroyed by floods again. The following year it was rebuilt as a suspension bridge by Sir Henry Robertson, son of the former builder and owner of Brymbo Ironworks near Wrexham. The original chains were reused again, this time as suspension above the deck.

The third bridge fell into disrepair and was closed in 1984. When it was restored and reopened in 2015, the original chains were used yet again. They are now the oldest bridge chains still in use in the world.

History of the bridge and its restoration, made for Chain Bridge Project

This film was made in 2015 for the restoration project. Harry Edwards of Shemec Ltd talks about reusing the old chains, and making new parts to replace the corroded ones. The film also tells the history of the bridge. Click here to see the video.

More Information About The Chain Bridge

Exuperius Pickering Senior lived at Plas Kynaston, a house in Cefn Mawr. He owned a foundry at Newbridge, where the chains for the bridge were probably made. Pickering used the canal to transport coal from his mines in Acrefair and lime from his kilns at Tŷ Craig.

Picture of Plas Kynaston, home of Exuperius Pickering
Picture of Plas Kynaston, home of Exuperius Pickering From the collections of the National Monuments Record of Wales: © Copyright: National Buildings Record Collection – G. B. Mason

Detailed plans of the original Chain Bridge were made by Joseph-Michel Dutens, a French engineer. Dutens is sometimes called ‘an industrial spy’ but he was introduced to many famous engineers by the British government. He also surveyed the Llangollen Canal.

Dutens Plans
Dutens Plans O’r casgliadau o Gofnod Henebion Cenedlaethol Cymru : © Hawlfraint: National Buildings Record Collection – G. B. Mason

The Bridge Inn was built for Pickering’s workers. As the bridge became popular with tourists it was replaced, with the more attractive Chain Bridge Hotel. These pictures show the two buildings, in 1860 and around 1870. The larger part of the modern hotel was built after 1965.

First Bridge, first hotel
First Bridge, first hotel ©Llangollen Museum


First Bridge, second hotel
First Bridge, second hotel ©Llangollen Museum

Pickering built the Chain Bridge to connect the canal to Telford’s new London to Holyhead road. This was the main route for communications to and from Ireland. The road crosses from north-west Wales to Anglesey on a much bigger suspension bridge, the Menai Bridge.

Etching of Menai Bridge
Etching of Menai Bridge: By permission of Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru/The National Library of Wales

Henry Robertson was Chief Engineer for the railway line running through Berwyn station. The station can be reached from the canal via the Chain Bridge. He also built Chirk Viaduct, alongside the canal aqueduct. Henry built the second Chain Bridge and his son, who lived at nearby Llantysilio Hall, built the third.

Portrait of Henry Robertson
Portrait of Henry Robertson: By permission of Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru/The National Library of Wales

Floods destroyed the second Chain Bridge in 1928. This photograph shows that the chains held firm, but the deck was washed away.

1928 flood
1928 flood ©Amgueddfa Llangollen Museum

When the bridge was rebuilt for a third time, the old chains were used as suspension above the deck. You can see that this stronger design resisted floods in 1964.

1964 flood
1964 flood ©Llangollen Museum

The third Chain Bridge had fallen into disrepair by 1984 and was closed to the public. It was over 30 years before it was refurbished and re-opened. Incredibly, many of the original chains were reused, nearly 200 years after they had supported the first bridge.

Dilapidated bridge
Dilapidated bridge ©Chain Bridge Project