In November Antiquarians moved indoors for their winter programme. The first lecture
of the season was held in the County Museum at Abergwili when a packed audience listened to Dominic
Conway speak on Carmarthenshire bridges. In his review Dominic started with the upper reaches of
the Tywi, followed its course downstream and finally looked at bridges on the smaller rivers in
the south of the county. A selection of his images will give some of the flavour of this interesting
The finest bridge over the upper Tywi is Pont Dolauhirion. It is first mentioned
in 1396-7 in the Minister's Accounts, where it is called 'the bridge of Dolhir'. Various wooden
bridges stood at the site until the existing stone bridge was built in the 18th century. J G Wood,
in his book The Principal Rivers of Wales (1813) describes it as 'an elegant bridge of one arch.'
In August 1961, the Field magazine described Dolauhirion as the prettiest bridge in the whole of
Britain, and a South American magazine some years ago named it as one of the twelve most beautiful
bridges in the world! It was built by Thomas Edwards in the year 1773, at a cost of £800.
Dolauhirion has a single segmental arch with a span of 84ft and a roadway 12 ft in width. The circular
openings in the haunches are a distinctive feature of Edwards's bridges, and originated in the Pontypridd
bridge. The purpose of these is to relieve pressure on the main structure in times of flood and
to reduce weight and relieve pressure on the arch. It seems strange to find such a fine bridge in
this out of the way location, but when built, it was on the main coach road from Llandovery to Lampeter.
Thomas Lloyd describes it as 'The most elegant of the Edwards family bridges … a single arch
… soars from rock abutments…giving an air of weightless grace'. Terry James pointed
out to me the initials of the late J Fred Jones, a native of Llandovery and the chairman of the
Carmarthenshire Antiquarian Society in the 1950s and curator of the museum, which he has carved
on the parapet!
Moving downstream, Dominic showed architect R K Penson's drawing of Pont Glangwili
from his survey of Carmarthenshire bridges. It is early 19th century, a simple single arch bridge
over the Gwili, again with circular openings in the spandrels, to relieve pressure on the arch and
to act as flood openings.
Another of Penson's beautiful drawings showed Pont Spwdwr, marked on the OS map
as an antiquity. It is a scheduled ancient monument, and is, according to Jervoise, 'by far the
most ancient bridge surviving in South Wales.' David Vaughan, of Trimsaran, left in his will, which
was proved in 1571, the sum of 40 shillings towards the repair of this bridge. A further 20 shillings
for this purpose was devised by his nephew Griffith ap William Vaughan 16 years later. Ogilby's
route from London to St/ Davids crossed by the bridge, which he called 'Pont Spuddore'. Pont Spwdwr
has 6 pointed arches, 3 large and 3 small, but in normal times the whole river passes through 1
arch. The remainder serve as flood arches.
The odd name needs some explanation; Francis Jones provided the answer: In 1795,
John Thomas, Bridge Master for the county, submitted an estimate of £9 15s 6d for repairing
Spydders Bridge, and 'the long walls from the bridge to the Ladies Arch', and the magistrates ordered
that John Rees of Cilymaenllwyd, JP, be requested to employ persons to undertake the work. But Rees
obviously did nothing, because later in that year the inhabitants of Llandyry were presented (and
acquitted) for not repairing the high-road from 'Nantygro on the confines of Llangyndeyrn and Pembre'
to the junction with the Kidwelly Turnpike Road 'adjacent to the south end of Pont Rees Spwdwr'.
This would seem to explain the strange name 'Spudder's Bridge' - Pont Rees Pwdwr (the bridge of
the idle Rees).