Clifton Suspension Bridge
|Clifton Suspension Bridge|
|From:||Leigh Woods, Bristol|
|Gloucestershire • Somerset|
The Clifton Suspension Bridge is a bridge designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It carries the B3129 across the Avon Gorge with the A4 Portway and Portishead rail line also running under it. The bridge has a machine operated toll of 50p which must be paid using 10p, 20p or 50p coins, and a speed limit of 25mph. The Portway below the bridge runs in a tunnel to protect it from falling rocks in this narrow section of the Avon Gorge.
Before the bridge was built, there was a competition to design it. The main judge for the competition was Thomas Telford. Telford rejected all of the projected designs including eventual winner Brunel. The board then asked him to come up with his own design, which he did, but it was was rejected by the Bristol board. After some further discussions and new judges, the Brunel design from a second competition was chosen. The bridge deck sits approximately 75m above the River Avon, and is suspended by second-hand chains. These came from the former Hungerford Bridge in London, also designed by Brunel, for the bargain price of £5,000, and seem to have fitted with only minor modifications. The Hungerford Bridge had been designed later, but was already obsolete and due for demolition before his Clifton masterpiece was completed.
The bridge itself is a typical Suspension Bridge, albeit perhaps somewhat higher above the water level than is normal. The pillars though are in a Egyptian style, and were originally intended to be surmounted by Sphinxes. The first sods were cut in 1831 and it then took 33 years to build - there were some problems! The Bristol Riots caused some of the delay, while monetary problems caused the rest. The bridge was finished in 1864, five years after the death of Brunel, and completed thanks to fresh fundraising to complete the bridge as a monument to the great engineer. Today, the bridge is one of Bristol's main tourist attractions whilst still being a functioning bridge.
In 2002 it was discovered that the pediments below the towers were actually hollow, and contain a series of huge vaulted chambers. It had previously been considered that the spaces were full of rubble. Whilst these chambers were discovered, they were also sealed, because Brunel never imagined that anyone would desire to enter them in the future. In August 2016 two at the Leigh Woods end were opened to the public for guided tours.