The Clifton Suspension Bridge

Clifton Suspension Bridge

On December 8, 1864, the Clifton Suspension Bridge spanning the Avon Gorge and the River Avon, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, was openend for the public. Although Brunel was not able to see the bridge in operation anymore during his lifetime, the Clifton Suspension bridge was the first major commision of the famous engineer of the Great Western Railroad and the then largest steamships in the world.

In the 13th century, the very first stone bridge was built across the Avon, and construction on the river back then was hard to due to high tidal range. On the ‘Bristol Bridge’, the first bridge, several houses were built with up to five stories. But even though the bridge enjoyed high traffic at all times, a law way passed in the late 18th century that all bridges had to be at least 30 m above sea level to guarantee all warships and trade ships a pass through in order to access Bristol Harbor. This forced the city to rebuild and adjust several bridges in Bristol and it was then suggested to build a completely new bridge at the narrowest location of the Avon Gorge above the required height.

Plans for a stone bridge were established by William Bridges, but the French Revolutionary Wars broke out and due to the fact that a stone bridge would have cost ten times the gathered money, the plans were put on ice for a while. A competition was then held to solve the problem and a total of 22 concepts were submitted. Famous engineers made submissions, like Samuel Brown or William Tierney Clark, but only five were transferred to Thomas Telford, a civil engineer who was appointed to make the final decision. Unfortunately, he had to turn down the last five submissions as well. When the parliament allowed to build a suspension bridge instead of stone in order to reduce the costs, Brunel made another submission. The local press supported his ideas and he was announced the winner and awarded a contract as the project engineer.

The official start of construction works was 21 June, 1831 but several events prevented an efficient work plan. At first, the workers were halted by the Bristol riots, work resumed in 1836 but then investors were missing, which caused another delay. The construction work went on and off until Isambard Kingdom Brunel unfortunately passed away at the age of only 53. In 1864, the works was finally completed due to Bunel’s plans. Only little changes were made and after his passing, new investors could be found. From the initial day, the bridge was first planned until the completion, 111 years passed.

On this day, the bridge is known for the parachuting events that took place, and for the crossing of the 2012 Olympic Torch relay when two of the torchbearers exchanged the flame in the middle of Brunel’s landmark.

At yovisto, you may be interested in the video lecture by Professor John D. Barrow, who talks about ‘Some interesting curves‘ at Gresham College.

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