(See Illustration on the Cover.)
The Welsh are justly proud of their hills and their rivers; they frequently personify both, and attribute to them characters corresponding with their peculiar features. Of the Severn, the Wye, and the Rheidol, they have an apologue, intended to convey an idea of their comparative length, and also of the character of the districts through which they flow. It is called “The Three Sisters,” and in substance is as follows:—In some primitive period of the earth’s history, Father Plinlimmon promised to these nymphs of the mountain as much territory as they could compass in a day’s journey to the sea, by way of dowry upon their alliance with certain marine deities they should meet there. Sabra, goddess of the Severn, being a prudent, well-conducted maiden, rose with the first streak of morning dawn, and, descending the eastern side of the hill, made choice of the most fertile valleys, whilst as yet her sisters slept. Vaga, goddess of the Wye, rose next, and, making all haste to perform her task, took a shorter course, by which means she joined her sister ere she reached the sea. The goddess Rhea, old Plinlimmon’s pet, woke not till roused by her father’s chiding; but by bounding down the side of the mountain, and selecting the shortest course of all, she managed to reach her destination first. Thus the Cymric proverb, “There is no impossibility to the maiden who hath a fortune to lose or a husband to win.”
The Severn, like other English rivers, may be said to have been the pioneer of railways along its banks: first, in having done much to correct the inequalities of the surface; secondly, in having indicated the direction in which the traffic flowed; so that early in the history of railway enterprise eminent engineers, like the late Robert Stephenson, saw the desirability of following its course, and thus meeting the wants of towns that had grown into importance upon its banks, wants which the river itself was unable to supply. In 1846 the route was finally surveyed by Robert Nicholson, with a view to a through traffic in connection with other railways. The scheme met with opposition from advocates of rival lines. Ultimately, however, the Bill passed the committees of the two Houses, and the promoters were successful, whilst the expenses of counsel and witnesses were enormous. The original estimate for the line was 600,000 pounds: 110,000 pounds for land, and 490,000 pounds for works. 8,500 pounds was down for a girder bridge at Arley, 8,000 pounds for one near Quatford, 9,000 pounds for one above Bridgnorth, and 10,000 pounds for one at Shrewsbury. The two bridges near Bridgnorth and the one near Shrewsbury were abandoned, and a considerable saving was effected by shortening the line at Hartlebury, by a junction, with the Oxford, Wolverhampton, and Worcester higher up than was originally intended. The estimated cost of the works, in consequence of these reductions, and of the determination of the company to make it a single line, was thus reduced to nearly one-half the original sum.