The site on which the town of Menai Bridge now stands is believed to have been inhabited for thousands of years. Stone axes have been found from the Neolithic Period (3000-2000BC), as have burial urns and axes from the Bronze Age (2000-1000BC). There have also been a number of significant Roman discoveries in the area, including a hoard of 37 coins dating back to the third century. It is likely that the site over the Menai Suspension Bridge has been an important crossing point for thousands of years. This is not surprising as it is the narrowest stretch of the Menai Strait.
There are numerous historic records of events that have occurred within the town’s boundaries. In 1188 the Archbishop of Canterbury landed on Anglesey with Gerald of Wales in an attempt to raise support for the crusades. It is not known where he landed but it is possible that it was either at Cadnant Creek or close to Church Island. Although the church that presently stands on Church Island dates to the fifteenth century, it is highly likely that a smaller church stood on the same site for centuries before it.
One major event in Welsh history took place in Porthaethwy in the late twelfth century. In 1194 the Battle of Porthaethwy took place. In this battle Llewelyn Ap Iorwerth, later Llewelyn the Great, defeated his uncle Rhodri, son of Owain Gwynedd. This is also significant as it is the first written documentation of Porthaethwy.
Towards the end of the 1500s the story of the beginnings of the present town begins to take shape. The Menai Strait is seen as an important site for fishing and fish weirs and a tidal mill are known to have been constructed. The first documentation of ferries across the Strait date from this period also. Over the next hundred years the town would slowly grow and by 1681 the first Porthaethwy Fair was held. By 1688 the Bangor Ferry House (later known as the Cambria Inn) was opened, this building still stands and is the oldest building in the town.
In 1805, local gentry Lord Bulkely commissioned the building of a road linking Porthaethwy to Beaumaris. This and the construction of the suspension bridge brought about a boom in the town’s history. Packet services between Liverpool and Porthaethwy were established, the population grew and businesses in the town flourished.
The most successful business in the town by far was that of the Davies family. Shortly after the opening of the suspension bridge, Richard Davies opened up his first grocery store on the edge of the Menai Strait overlooking the bridge itself. The business was to grow and the Davies’ fleet of ships shipped timber around the World. By 1850 the family ships were used to ship emigrants to North America. The Davies family was also responsible for the building of the British School to rival the National School of the church. The business continued until 1905 when the last of the family’s ships were sold off.
The next flourish in the town’s history came at the end of the nineteenth century and lasted until after the First World War. During this time, steamships from Liverpool would come to Porthaethwy and the town became an Edwardian holiday resort. It is likely that it is around this time that the town became known as Menai Bridge rather than Porthaethwy. A promenade was built for the tourist trade and beaches were created on the banks of the Strait. During the war, Belgium refugees constructed Belgian Promenade to add to the tourist resort. However with a downturn in the market the Liverpool & North Wales Steamship Company entered liquidisation in the 1960s and the trade stopped.
View a timeline of Menai Bridge town.