Edwards, William

, a very skilful architect, and one of that class of geniuses who are usually said to be self-taught, was the son of a farmer in the parish of Eglwysilan, in the county of Glamorgan, where he was born in 1719. In his fifteenth year he appears to have manifested his skill in repairing the stone fences so common in that country, and executed his work with such peculiar neatness, that his talents became in great request From this humble beginning, he aspired to be a builder of houses; and his first attempt was to build a small workshop for a neighbour, in the performance of which he gave great satisfaction. He was then employed to erect a mill, which was admired by good judges as an excellent piece of masonry; and while employed on this he became first acquainted with the principles of an arch, which led him to get higher undertakings. In 1746 he undertook to build a new bridge over the river Taff, which he executed in a style superior to any thing of the kind in any part of Wales, | for neatness of workmanship and elegance of design. It consisted of three arches, elegantly light intheir construction. The hewri stones were excellently well dressed, and closely jointed. But this river runs through a very deep vale, that is more than usually woody, and crowded about with mountains. It is a’lso to be considered, that many other rivers of no mean capacity, as the Crue, the Bargoed Taff, and the Cunno, besides almost numberless brooks that run through long, deep; and well-wooded vales or glens, fall into the Taffiii its progress. The descents into these vales from the mountains being in general very steep, the water in long and heavy rains collects into these rivers with great rapidity and force; raising floods that in their descriptions would appear absolutely incredible to the in. habitants of open and flat countries. Such a flood unfortunately occurred after the completion of this undertaking, which tore up the largest trees by the roots, and carried them down the river to the bridge, where the arches were not sufficiently wide to admit of their passage, and in consequence of the obstruction to the flood, a thick and strong dam, as it were, was thus formed, and the streams being unable to get any farther, rose here to a prodigious height, and carried the bridge entirely away. As Edwards had given the most ample security for the stability of the bridge during the space of seven years, he was obliged to erect another, which was of one arch, for the purpose of admitting freely under it whatever incumbrances the floods might bring down. The span or chord of this arch was one hundred and forty feet its altitude thirty-five feet; the segment of a circle whose diameter was one hundred and seventy feet. The arch was finished, but the parapets not yet erected, when such was the pressure of the unavoidable ponderous work over the haunches, that it sprung up in the middle, and the key-stones were forced out. This was a severe blow to a man who had hitherto met with nothing but misfortune in an enterprize which was to establish or ruin him in his profession. Edwards, however, engaged in it the third time; and by means of three cylindrical holes through the work over the haunches, so reduced the weight over them, that there was no longer any danger from it. These holes or cylinders rise above each other, ascending in the order of the arch, three at each end, or over each of the haunches. The diameter | of the lowest is nine feet of the second, six feet and of the uppermost, three feet. They give the bridge an air of uncommon elegance. The second bridge fell in 1751. The third, which has stood ever since, was completed in 1755.

Hitherto the Ilialto was esteemed the largest arch in Europe, if not in the world. Its span or chord was ninetyeight feet. But New Bridge is forty-two feet wider; and is said to be the largest arch in the world, of which we have any authentic account. The fame of this bridge introduced Edwards to public notice; and he was employed to build many other bridges in South Wales. One of the next bridges that he constructed was Usk Bridge, over the river Usk, at the town of Usk in Monmouthshire. It was a large and handsome work. He afterwards built the following bridges, in the order of succession which is here assigned them. A bridge of three arches over the river Tawy Pont ar Tawy, over the same river, about ten miles above the town of Swansea. This was of one arch its chord eighty feet, with one cylinder over the haunches. Bettws Bridge in Caermarthenshire, consisting of one arch, forty-five feet in the span. Llandovery Bridge in the same county, consisting of one arch, eighty-four feet in the span, with one cylinder over the haunches. Wychbree Bridge, over the river Tawy, about two miles above Morriston: this has one arch, ninety-five feet in span, twenty feet in altitude, with two cylinders over each of the haunches to relieve them. He built Aberavon Bridge in Glamorganshire, consisting of one arch, seventy feet in span, fifteen feet in altitude, but without cylinders. He likewise built Glasbury Bridge, near Hay, in Brecknockshire, over the river Wye: it consists of five arches, and is a light, elegant bridge. The arches are small segments of large circles on high piers, as best adapted to facilitate the passage of floods under the bridge, and travellers over it.

Edwards devised very important improvements in the art of bridge-building. His first bridges of one arch he found to be too high, so as to be difficult for carriages, and even horses, to pass over. The steeps at each end of New Bridge in particular are very inconvenient, from the largeness and altitude of the arch. This peculiarity, it is true, adds much to its perspective effect as a part of the landscape; but the sober market-traveller is not recompensed for the toil of ascending and descending an | artificial mountain, by the comparison of a rainbow and the raptures of a draughtsman. He avoided this defect in his subsequent works; but it was by a cautious gradation that he attempted to correct his early and erroneous principles, and to consult the ease of the public, at the same time that he surmounted the greatest difficulties of his occupation. At length he discovered, that where the abutments are secure from the danger of giving way, arches of much less segments, and of far less altitude, than general opinion had hitherto required, are perfectly secure, and render the bridges much easier for carriages to pass over, and in every respect adapt them better to the purposes of a ready and free communication. Impressed with the importance of those rules by which he had assiduously perfected his own practice, he was in the habit of considering his own branch of architecture as reducible to three great requisites; durability, the freedom of the water flowing under, and the ease of the traffic passing over. These are certainly maxims of peculiar importance in bridges of one arch, which are not only the best adapted ta situations where tremendous floods occur, but in many cases are the only bridges securely practicable in mountain valleys.

The literary knowledge of William Edwards was at first confined to the Welsh language, which he could read and write from early youth. He was supposed to be rather obstinate when a boy; an imputation which generally rests on genius, that sees beyond the scope of those by whom it is controlled. His own account of this alleged temper was, that he always considered whether any thing that was proposed to him, or any principle that he was required to act upon, coincided with his own ideas of rectitude. If he found that it did, he firmly persisted in it. His general character was that of uncommon resolution and inflexibility. He was very wild, as it is commonly reported of him, till about eighteen years of age. After that period, he became very steady and sedate. A neighbour instructed him a little in arithmetic. About the age of twenty or twenty-one, he undertook the building of a large iron forge at Cardiff, and lodged with a person namedWalter Rosser, a baker, and blind. This man taught English reading. William Edwards was alive to every opportunity of improvement, and rapidly acquired what he eagerly pursued.

After he had performed his engagement at Cardiff, he built many good houses, with several forges and | smeltinghouses, and was for many years employed at works of tlnfl nature by John Morris of Clasement, esq. now sir John Morris, bart. He studied much the remains of Caerphilly Castle, which is in his native parish, and his principles were formed on those of its masonry. His manner of hewing and dressing his stones was exactly that of the old castle-masons, and he put them together with a closeness, neatness, and firmness, that is never seen but in those ancient edifices.

To the ample employment which his skill in architecture furnished; he added that of a farmer during the whole of his life, and on Sunday exercised the functions of a spiritual pastor among the independent dissenters; He was ordained in their communion in 1750, and officiated for forty years as minister of a congregation in his native parish. In his principles he was what is termed a moderate Calvinist. From his flock he regularly received his stipulated salary, but as regularly distributed the whole among the poori with a considerable addition, where necessary, from his private fortune. Thus highly respected by all sects and parties, for his extraordinary talents, piety, and probity, he died, much lamented, in 1789, and was buried in the church-yard of Kglwysilan. He left a numerous family, of which David, his second son, inherits his father’s skill in bridge-building, and the others are men of talents and worth. 1


From a very interesting account of this ingenious man, in Malkin’s “Scenery of South Wales,” 2d edit. 1807, vol. I. p. 132.