Nearly 120 years ago, a subway was built under the River Ely linking Grangetown with Penarth.
It was built as a short cut for workers at Penarth Dock.
Work began on the subway in 1897 using a trench and cover technique from the Ferry Road, Grangetown end under the river at the same point as the ferry crossing. The lowest section of the tunnel lies 11 feet below the river.
The decision to construct the Ely River Subway was made by the chairman of the Taff Vale Railway, Arthur E. Guest. George T. Sibbering, chief engineer of the Taff Vale Railway designed the subway.
The tender sum was £36,203 submitted by Tom Taylor, a mining quarrying and civil engineering contractor from Pontypridd.
The first cylindrical section of the tunnel was laid on 5th July 1897 and the last on 15th September 1899. It was opened the following year on 14th May 1900 by Mrs. Beasley wife of the railway’s general manager, replacing the earlier rowing boat and steam ferries operating across the river.
A toll keeper collected a penny for each pedestrian but police and postmen were exempt from charges. It cost twopence for a bicycle and fourpence for a perambulator.
Horses were allowed through but no one remembers the charge.
Tolls were abolished in 1941. The subway carried the hydraulic power line from the power station to the coal tips at the harbour and a high pressure water supply to fight fires at the oil storage area.
Residents of a certain age remember walking or cycling along it – the dripping water and the lightbulbs being out!
The subway closed in 1963 but it’s still there of course, if boarded up.
There are some photos above of how the Grangetown end of the entrance looks now.
Thanks to Owen Price of Grangetown Local History Society for the photos
There is also a fantastic website on the history of Penarth Docks, which includes more details about the Ely subway and how it was built.