Clifton Suspension Bridge Turns 150

Deck view of the bridge. Photo courtesy of Laura Hilton

150th Anniversary Celebrations to take place in December with concert, bridge walk and fireworks

BRISTOL (UK)- Before John Roebling made his mark with the construction of wire suspension bridges in Cincinnati (1869) and Brooklyn (1883), suspension bridges were built using chain cables to support the wooden decking. Chained suspension bridges are one of the oldest and rarest to build. The Clifton Suspension Bridge is one of a few examples of such bridges that can be found in Europe. Built in 1864, the bridge was one of the prized works of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, a well-known bridge engineer who constructed numerous landmarks on the British Isle for three decades, during the time where Victorian architecture was becoming popular.  In fact, Brunel was 23 when construction of the bridge started in 1831, and it was his first solo project.  He died just before the project was completed 33 years later. The bridge was eventually dedicated in his honor upon its completion by his colleagues, William Barlow and John Hawkshaw.  Spanning the Avon Gorge between Clifton in Bristol and Leigh Woods in North Somerset, the bridge is one of the key symbols of Bristol, as it can be seen on several postcards and other souvenirs. Over 8,800 cars cross the structure daily. And the bridge has set some historic marks worth noting. With its decking being 75m (or 245 feet) above the River Avon, the bridge was the highest structure in the world built above the water when it was built, and it became the source of its first bungee jumping event in 1979. The last ever Concorde flight went over the bridge in 2003, the bridge was the centerpiece of the 200th birthday of Brunel in 2006 and the passing of the Olympic torch occurred on the bridge in 2012, enroute to London, the venue of the Summer Games.

Now there is another reason for celebration: the bridge turns 150 years old.

To honor the bridge and Brunel, the communities the bridge serves, together with the Volunteers of the Brunel Suspension Bridge are hosting the 150th anniversary celebrations, scheduled to take place beginning December 6th, with the procession taking place December 8th, the 150th anniversary of the bridge’s dedication and opening. A reenactment of the opening ceremony is being scheduled for that day, while a treasure hunt is scheduled for the 6th.  More information can be found via link (here) as well as the Clifton Suspension Bridge’s facebook page (here). Additional events will follow, which includes the bridge walk in January (more information here.) A concert is scheduled to take place on 22 November. According to Laura Hilton, the ceremonies also include the opening of the new visitors’ center and lastly, even a musical piece, TV programme, theatrical and computer app are planned honoring the bridge. While the bridge has attracted 1 million visitors and 4 million motorists annually, the number is expected to increase when the celebrations are in full swing in December.

Even if you do not have the opportunity to visit the bridge during the celebrations, the visitors’ center is open daily and provides guided tours, providing people with a chance to learn about Brunel and the construction of the bridge. For more information, please click here for details.

While the Clifton Suspension Bridge has received many accolades over the years because of its historic significance and magnificant design, it may have another title or two in January, for the bridge is nominated for the Othmar H. Ammann Awards by the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles for Bridge of the Year for 2014. Voting for the bridge is scheduled for December with the winner being announced in January. More information to follow.

Opening ceremony of the Clifton Suspension Bridge in 1864. Photo courtesy of Laure Hilton




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