The original viaduct across the Tawe valley was built in 1847-50, and was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, considered to be ‘one of the most ingenious and prolific figures in engineering history’. It comprised of 37 arches in total and 5 masonry piers. The span of these arches varied significantly in places with the largest being 33.5 meters, two 22.3 meter arches were included to cross over the canal and a road, and two arches of 15.2 meters crossed other roads. Other arches were between 11 and 12.8 meters.
The superstructure of the viaduct was mainly composed of timber with wrought iron fixtures and pinning. The deck was constructed using thick timbers topped by permanent way of rails fixed to longitudinal timbers. It opened to traffic in June 1850 with the first train between Chepstow and Swansea. It had cost £28,720 to construct.
Just over thirty six years later, between September 1886 and October 1889, the viaduct received its first modification. Its length was reduced by the embanking of the eastern approach, using slag from the Hafod Copper works. A single steel truss replaced the river span, and the remainder was built from wrought iron. The cost of this work was £30,000.
These two sums combined are the equivalent of £7 million in 2020.
In 1978-1979 British Rail replaced the wrought iron deck girders with steel beams. All that survives of Brunel’s viaduct are the five original masonry piers west of the river, each with two arched openings, which support the bridge where it crosses the river.
It now provides a link between Swansea city centre and the West Wales Line to the South Wales Main Line. Considering the viaduct has been the gateway to Swansea and West Wales for over 170 years, it is considered to be money very well spent.
There is a famous painting of the Landore Viaduct, by Swansea artist Jack Jones, who was born in 1922 during the Great Depression (born in Aberdyberthi Street, Hafod). After serving during WW2, and taking up teaching (Head of English at Barnes Grammar School), he began painting in 1953, and became a full time artist in 1972.
Jack Jones was self-taught and much of his inspiration came from his childhood, in the heart of industrial Swansea with its characters, landscapes and warm community. Some describe him as the ‘the Welsh Lowry’. A major exhibition of his work, including this interpretation of Brunel’s viaduct was held at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery in 1993, shortly after his death.
If this is your local area, why not become a doorstep detective and discover some more local landmarks and share them with us. Why not draw what the viaduct looks like today in 2021, and how the landscape has changed, we’d love to see them!
Photo Credit, Jack Jones, Landore Viaduct: City & County of Swansea: Glynn Vivian Art Gallery Collection.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel Standing Before the Launching Chains of the Great Eastern, photograph by Robert Howlett. Now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.