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10 facts about Clifton Suspension Bridge

Completed five years after the death of its creator, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the bridge opened on 8 December 1864. Here, we bring you 10 facts about the famous structure

Published: December 8, 2014 at 2:44 pm
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1) The bridge, which spans the Avon Gorge and River Avon, linking Clifton in Bristol to Leigh Woods in North Somerset, weighs 1,500 tonnes, spans 702 feet, and sits 245 feet above the water below at high tide.


2) Described by Isambard Kingdom Brunel as “My first love, my darling”, the bridge took 33 years to complete. The initial funding for the bridge was generated in 1754 by Bristol wine merchant William Vick, who left £1,000 in his will to go towards the construction of a toll-free stone bridge across the Avon Gorge.

3) In 1829, a competition was launched to find someone to design the bridge. Because a suitable plan could not be found, a second competition was held, and eventually 23-year-old Isambard Kingdom Brunel was appointed as project engineer.

4) According to Brunel’s original plans, both towers were to have an Egyptian style. “They were going to be decorated with iron panels showing the story of the bridge being built, and each one would have had two sphinxes sitting on top,” Laura Hilton from Clifton Suspension Bridge told BBC News. “When they started building they realised it was never going to be possible to put the decoration on, and Brunel redesigned the bridge in a plain format.”

5) Brunel died in 1859 aged 53. With financial help from the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), work resumed on the bridge in 1862 under the supervision of Sir John Hawkshaw and William Henry Barlow, who modified Brunel’s original plan by widening the roadway and by increasing the suspension chains from two to three on each side. Construction was completed in the summer of 1864.

6) The bridge is made up of 3,500 load bearing bolts and vast chains that stretch 20 miles underground. The bridge’s wrought iron chains are those of the Hungerford chain suspension bridge that was demolished in 1860.

7) The Clifton Suspension Bridge is a Grade I-listed building.

8) It was estimated that up to 150,000 people packed the city streets to watch a procession marking the opening of the bridge in 1864. The celebrations began with a military display in Queen Square at 9.30am, and an hour later troops began a march along Broad Quay, Park Street, Brandon Hill and the Downs. Meanwhile, the procession of Trades and Friendly Societies – including the police, fire brigades, bricklayers and iron ship builders – assembled in the Old Market.

9) Until the 1930s, ‘daredevil pilots’ occasionally flew beneath the bridge in bi-planes. After this time, with the creation of faster planes, the practice became too dangerous.


10) Originally designed to cater for horse-drawn traffic, Clifton Suspension Bridge today serves as a crossing for more than four million vehicles every year.

Facts provided by the Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust. Find out more about the bridge


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