Clifton Suspension Bridge 1864

Clifton Suspension Bridge 1864

© Phil Watson

© Sue Martin

Clifton Suspension Bridge

A fitting tribute to Isambard Kingdom Brunel

Key Facts

Two-lane road bridge

Part of the B3129 road

Grade II listed building


Bristol, England

Across the River Avon

Between Clifton (Bristol) and Leigh Woods (North Somerset)

Designers / Engineers

Isambard Kingdom Brunel

John Hawkshaw

William Barlow


Suspension bridge

214.05m main span

412m total length

Main contractors

William Henry Barlow


Began June 1831

Opened 18 December 1864

The Bridge

Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s first major commission was his appointment, at 24 years old, as project engineer for the Clifton Bridge. He had won a competition to bridge the Avon gorge and designed a grand, landmark suspension bridge as a gateway to the city of Bristol.

There were long delays in its construction and the bridge was not completed until 1864, five years after Brunel’s death. His colleagues at the Institution of Civil Engineers felt that completion of the bridge would be a fitting tribute to Brunel. John Hawkshaw and William Barlow modified the design and oversaw the final construction.

© LouiseDoesLife

Spanning the Avon

The bridge spans 214 metres between its two 26-metre high towers and stands 76m above the river Avon. Modern computer analysis has revealed that in his design of the crucial joints between the 4,200 wrought-iron links that make up the bridge’s chain, Brunel had made an almost perfect calculation of the minimal weight required to maintain maximum strength.

The Clifton Suspension Bridge, as it is now known, has been hailed as one of the most important structures to be built during the Victorian era. It is seen as an icon of engineering ambition and achievement. Although built for pedestrian and horsedrawn traffic, the bridge was so ingeniously constructed that it still provides a safe vehicle and pedestrian crossing over the 76m gorge. It now carries around four million vehicles a year and has become a major route to the motorway network. It is one of Bristol’s cultural icons and provides an easily recognised visual image of the city. It is also symbolic of the city’s history of building bridges between different communities, places and sectors.

© Stocker1970

Other long-span bridges