Clifton Suspension Bridge - History and Facts | History Hit

Clifton Suspension Bridge

Bristol, England, United Kingdom

Image Credit: Sion Hannuna / Shutterstock.

About Clifton Suspension Bridge

The iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge is synonymous with Bristol: as magnificent as the day it was made, it’s a popular spot for locals and tourists alike.

History of Clifton Suspension Bridge

The first bridges across the Avon in Bristol date back to the 13th century (if not earlier), and as traffic increased and resentment at the tolls charged to cross bridges grew, it became clear Bristol’s bridge problem wasn’t going to go away. In 1753, a Bristol-based merchant, William Vick, left a bequest of £1000 to the city to build a stone bridge between Clifton Down and Leigh Woods. Plans were drawn up several times, but nothing came to fruition – meanwhile, Vick’s bequest grew slowly.

In 1829, a competition was held to design a bridge, with a prize of 100 guineas. After several years of financial negotiations and re-designs, Isambard Kingdom Brunel was declared the winner: his design had been altered from original plans to include fashionable Egyptian influenced towers. Construction began in 1831.

However, Brunel died before the bridge was finished: it was officially opened in 1864, following years of uncertainty, financial difficulties and construction issues (including how to transport building materials to the top of the gorge).

The bridge stands 75m above the river Avon – high enough to allow boats in and out of Bristol Harbour. Many consider one of the greatest feats of Victorian engineering on display in Britain today.

Clifton Suspension Bridge today

The bridge is open to motor traffic as well as pedestrians: since 2007, a toll has been imposed on cars driving across the bridge. There is a spectacular view of Bristol Harbour and up the Avon Gorge from the bridge: it’s worth walking the full way across on both the north and south side of the bridge to take it in.

The Visitor Centre is on the Leigh Woods side of the bridge, and contains a more detailed explanation of the bridge’s construction and history right up to the modern day.

For a view of the bridge itself, climb up the hill on the Clifton side towards the Clifton Observatory: it’s a popular place for a picnic on sunny days and can be busy. Go on a clear evening to see the bridge illuminated.

From the north side of the bridge you’ll be able to spot Ghyston’s Cave in the cliff face below the Observatory. Tours of the caves leave from the Observatory, and offer an excellent view of the bridge.

Getting to Clifton Suspension Bridge

The bridge can be driven across, but the best views come from being on foot. Nearby Clifton Village has parking should you wish to drive, otherwise the 8/9 First Bus takes you from the city centre to Clifton Village. It’s about a 30 minute walk with some steep uphills from the harbourside to the bridge itself.

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