The Glamorgan Portway

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The roads of southern Glamorgan were not as bad as the rest of Wales. They were certainly more than muddy drover's roads because many parishes worked hard to maintain them. The fact that the main towns of Glamorgan were on the way from London to St David’s, meant that the road between Newport, Cardiff and Swansea was well maintained according to the standards of the time. The road (or more correctly 'route' because there were a number of roads) between these towns was generally known as the ‘Portway’. However, once travellers ventured off the Portway, the roads were very bad and it was common for travellers to get lost quite easily.
Although it is popular to think of the sea as the best way to travel around Britain in the years before the nineteenth century, the Portway was used by many travellers in the 1600s and 1700s. People travelling between Cardiff and Swansea would find that it was easier to break their journey overnight at a convenient stop. The best overnight stops were Pyle and Cowbridge. Both towns became popular as coaching stops.  The journey between Swansea and Cardiff was never one that could be taken in a single day. Their central location on the Portway meant that they were convenient places to meet, and the Glamorgan county justices would frequently meet at Cowbridge at the Easter Quarter Sessions because it was an easy place for all to reach. Many tourists visiting Wales in the late 1700s thought that Pyle had the best inn in Wales. Even before the development of the Turnpike, the route between Newport and Cowbridge was considered a good coach road.

Even though the road was one of the best in Wales, it was still a muddy track, full of potholes, possibly dangerous because of itinerants and beggars, and definitely dangerous when it crossed rivers at fords or old bridges. On 7 October 1790, the mail coach was overturned at Roath Bridge because the bridge was underwater and the coach ran over the edge. Luckily none of the horses or passengers were killed and the mail bags were eventually retrieved. Crossing a river was never a safe and routine task as it is today, danger was always present.

Below: The county of Glamorgan would be seen by an eighteenth century traveller as a series of difficult river crossings which explains why the rivers are so prominent on this early map. 
Early map of Glamorgan.

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All content © Nigel A. Robins and Swansea History Web 2006, 2007

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