Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol
The Clifton Suspension Bridge is one of the most iconic sights in the city of Bristol. The bridge has been attracting visitors for almost 150 years. The bridge spans the picturesque Avon Gorge. This bridge joins Bristol and North Somerset. It is entirely funded by tolls since its inauguration in 1864.
In the year 1754, wine merchant William Vick had left 1000 pounds in his will to the society of merchants who managed the port of Bristol. He also stated that when the money grew to 10000 pounds it should be used to construct a toll free stone bridge across the Gorge. But, the construction of a stone bridge was not possible as it would block the large ships from entering Bristol.
By 1829, 8000 pounds were collected. There was a hunt for a plan of constructing the bridge. A competition was announced to find the best plan. The statement of the competition is as stated below:
“ANY persons willing to submit DESIGNS for the ERECTION of an IRON SUSPENSION BRIDGE at CLIFTON DOWN over the RIVER AVON, to the consideration of the Committee appointed to arrange proceedings for carrying the measure into execution, are requested to forward the same, accompanied by an Estimate of the probable expense address “‘To the Bridge Committee, at the Office of Messrs. OSBORNE and WARD, Bristol’” on or before the 19th day of November next.
Should any of the Plans so furnished be adopted, the sum of One Hundred Guineas will be given to the Person furnishing the same, unless he shall be employed as the Engineer in the execution of the Work. For particulars apply to Messrs. OSBORNE and WARD, Bristol.”
Even after this competition a suitable plan wasn’t found and the competition was relaunched. Eventually, 23 year old Isambard Kingdom Brunel appointed as Project Engineer. On 21st June 1831 work actually began, but the project was dogged with political and financial difficulties, and by 1843, with only the towers completed, the project was abandoned. Brunel died aged only 53 in 1859. With financial help from the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), work resumed on the bridge in 1862 under the supervision of Sir John Hawkshaw and William Henry Barlow, who modified Brunel’s original plan by widening the roadway and by increasing the suspension chains from two to three on each side. Construction was completed in the summer of 1864.
Clifton Suspension Bridge Visitor Centre can be found on the Leigh Woods side of the Bridge, which opens daily from 10.00am to 5.00pm. The visitor centre has a free entry. You can get amazing views from the Observatory. There is a small passage way under the visitor centre that leads to a viewing deck on the side of the cliff. This can be accessed by paying a fee at the visitor centre.
Facts of Clifton Suspension Bridge:
- The bridge, which spans the Avon Gorge and River Avon, linking Clifton in Bristol to Leigh Woods in North Somerset, weighs 1,500 tonnes, spans 702 feet, and sits 245 feet above the water below at high tide.
- According to Brunel’s original plans, both towers were to have an Egyptian style. “They were going to be decorated with iron panels showing the story of the bridge being built, and each one would have had two sphinxes sitting on top,” Laura Hilton from Clifton Suspension Bridge told BBC News. “When they started building they realised it was never going to be possible to put the decoration on, and Brunel redesigned the bridge in a plain format.”
- The bridge is made up of 3,500 load bearing bolts and vast chains that stretch 20 miles underground. The bridge’s wrought iron chains are those of the Hungerford chain suspension bridge that was demolished in 1860.
- Until the 1930s, ‘daredevil pilots’ occasionally flew beneath the bridge in bi-planes. After this time, with the creation of faster planes, the practice became too dangerous.
- Originally designed to cater for horse-drawn traffic, Clifton Suspension Bridge today serves as a crossing for more than four million vehicles every year.
Facts Source: The Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust
The bridge illuminations can be seen each night – beginning half an hour before sunset and finishing at midnight. The current illuminations were installed in 2005/06. There are 2796 low power Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs), expected to last for around 15 years. With all the other fittings, there are a total of 3072 bulbs on the bridge.