Monday, 4 April 2011

Clifton to Leigh Down

A-Z Challenge – ‘C’

When William Vick, a wealthy Bristol wine merchant died in 1754 he left in his will £1000 to the Society of Merchant Venturers. This was to be invested until it reached the sum of £10,000 sufficient, he believed, to build a toll-free bridge across the Avon Gorge from Clifton to Leigh Down. It was to be over a hundred years later before a bridge spanned the Gorge. 

 Clifton Suspension Bridge on a rainy April day.

In 1829 the committee of commissioners appointed by the Merchant Venturers announced a competition for an ‘Iron Suspension Bridge at Clifton Down.’ The competitors had seven weeks to design the highest and longest suspension bridge in the world. Thomas Telford was to advise the Commissioners on the designs submitted. Among the entrants was the 23 year-old Isambard Kingdom Brunel who had submitted four designs. 

Telford rejected all the designs submitted including those by Brunel. The committee had little choice but to invite Telford, the foremost civil engineer of the day, to design the bridge himself which he did in a just three weeks. During 1830 there were arguments against Telford’s proposal and alternatives proposed. By the middle of the year although Parliament had granted permission for the bridge the money raised was less than Telford’s estimated cost. In October the committee decided to hold another competition with a submission deadline in the middle of December. The competitors this time included some previous entrants, local designers, Telford and Brunel.

After Telford’s design was set aside because of its cost, the short list down to four in order of merit were: Smith and Hawkes, Brunel, Brown and Rendel. After Brunel had made representations to the judges and following alterations to his design Brunel was declared the winner. The stage was set for the erection of the Clifton Suspension Bridge with a span between the two towers of 214m/702ft with Brunel as the Project Engineer.

The foundation stone for the bridge was laid on 27 August 1836. Progress was slow in the following years and in 1843 funds were running out. Brunel stopped production.

In September 1859 Brunel died. The Institution of Civil Engineers now stepped in wanting to finish the bridge as a monument to Brunel and to save the red faces of the engineering profession. With a year a new company was formed and the money required for finishing the bridge acquired. 

The bridge was completed in 1864 and opened on 8th December that year. It had taken 110 years for Vick’s dream to become ‘Brunel’s Bridge.’ 

Photo by R Neil Marshman ( Creative Commons A-S A 3.0 unported license)

This iconic symbol of Bristol is famous worldwide - over 200 years after Brunel’s death.


DW96 said...

Great post, Bob. Informative, as ever, I didn't realise Brunel died before the bridge was complete.

I've never been over the bridge. Beause I suffer from vertigo when I'm crossing bridges, I have to look straight ahead and I could never walk across the Avon Gorge.

Bish Denham said...

Beautiful bridge!

Angela Felsted said...

Interesting history lesson. Nice pictures.

Katie Mills said...

wow, that is a long bridge. (I get a little scared when we go over know heights and all. Ok, a lot scared) Great story about its foundations!

Karen S. said...

What a stunning photo and lovely area around such a fantastically beautiful bridge! Always love learning new things with your posts! Thanks Bob!