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Clifton Suspension Bridge and Visitors Centre

The Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristolís famous landmark, spans the 250 foot high beautiful Avon Gorge.

In 1753 a Bristol wine merchant, William Vick, left £1,000 in trust in order that when the fund had grown to £10,000 it should be used to build a bridge. The design competition in 1829 was judged by Thomas Telford.

Telford rejected all submitted designs and put forward his own elaborate, impossible design with two piers rising from the foot of the gorge. He was declared the winner but the committee turned it down on grounds of cost and a second competition was held. It was won by Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1830. He was only 24 years old and it was his first major commission as project engineer.

In 1831 the foundation stone was laid but work did not start until 1836 due to political and financial difficulties. The towers were originally intended to be decorated in an Egyptian style and crowned with sphinxes but these were omitted due to cost. The project was abandoned in 1845 because of lack of money and the towers stood in splendid isolation for many years and were threatened with demolition. They were completed in 1843. The chains were second hand being those from Brunelís Hungerford Bridge in London that had recently been demolished.

Brunel died in 1859 and the bridge was completed and opened five years later in 1864. The bridge is 1352 foot long, the span between the piers is 702 feet long and it is three feet lower on the far side to counteract an optical illusion. The Clifton Tower was built on rock but the Leigh Woods Tower was built on an abutment of brick that is not solid but has enormous chambers inside. The chains are three inches longer in summer than in winter and flex with varying loads and winds and there are special saddles inside the tops of the towers allowing the chains to move back and forth so that forces pass through the tower without moving it. The chains support a wooden deck located so it can move in and out but not sideways, the joints take up the movement of the traffic and winds for stability.

The bridge was designed for light horse drawn traffic but is actually wider than intended. A local landowner paid for modifications so that he could drive his carriage to Bristol without having to walk. The original design would not have been wide enough for todayís traffic. 11-12,000 motor vehicles now cross the bridge every day with a speed limit of 25 mph.



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