Clifton Suspension Bridge (1864) Bristol, England
Designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the Clifton Suspension Bridge was opened in 1864 and spans the Avon Gorge and the River Avon, linking the Clifton and Leigh Woods areas of Bristol, England.
Plans for a bridge at this location date from the 1750s when William Vick, a Bristol merchant bequeathed a legacy of £1,000 with an instruction that once it accumulated with interest to £10,000 it would be used to construct a stone bridge. By the 1800’s the legacy had not reached the set amount which would in any case have been insufficient for the purpose.
In 1829 a competition was held to design what was by then a much needed bridge and a second competition was necessary two years later due to controversy and conflict surrounding the judging of the first entries. Brunel submitted entries to both competitions and when he was unsuccessful in the second he sought a personal meeting with the judging panel. He persuaded the panel to declare him as the winner and he was awarded the contract to build the bridge.
Brunel’s design was for a suspension bridge with towers influenced by ancient Egypt and work commenced in 1931 only to be interrupted shortly afterwards by civil unrest which became known as the Bristol Riots. Work resumed in 1836 but the project was beset by financial difficulties and was abandoned in 1843 with only the bridge towers built.
It took Brunel’s death in 1859 to revitalise the project when the Institute of Civil Engineers decided to complete the bridge in his memory and raised new funding. Brunel’s design was modified to provide a stronger, higher and wider deck. Work recommenced in 1862 and was completed two years later.
The bridge is 412m (1,352 ft) long with a main span of 214m (702 ft) and a width of 9.4m (31ft). The stone towers rising 26m (86 ft) above deck level, although similar in size, are of different design and Brunel’s plan to place sphinx statues on both was omitted. The deck comprising asphalt covered baltic pine timber supported by steel girders lies 75m (245 ft) above high water mark.