We discover the fascinating engineering keeping up Clifton Suspension Bridge as it undergoes repairs
The bridge has stood for 192 years but what’s the engineering secret behind its longevity?
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Very few cities have a structure as synonymous with itself as Bristol does with the Clifton Suspension Bridge.
Famously designed by a 24-year-old Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who described the bridge as ‘my first child, my darling’, it took 33 years to complete on June 21, 1831. Since, the Grade I listed structure has traversed the Avon Gorge and is a key transport link in and out of the city today with thousands crossing the bridge every week - but do they know how it is maintained?
BristolWorld visited the suspension bridge and spoke with its visitor experience manager, Laura Hilton who shared some insight on the construction methods that brought together one of Bristol’s most iconic landmarks.
“The really interesting thing about this bridge is Brunel’s innovation in connecting the chains,” Laura noted.
“If we look at the hangers, and where they’re placed, they’re actually connected to different chains. This means if one hanger was to have a fault, or break, the two on either side will hold the weight and keep the bridge steady.
“Some people ask us about the yellow railing of the giant cave - it’s one of the famous landmarks up here, that and the camera obscura. There was a man named William West who lived in the observatory at the same time the bridge was being constructed and he was really interested in early photography. He was friends with JMW Turner and had artists come here to draw and paint the gorge - so it has its own fascinating history.”
The deck is supported by wrought iron girders with a pair of longitudinal girders running the length of the bridge, from Clifton to Leigh Woods, whilst cross girders make a rigid frame to steady the bridge against strong winds. Each vehicle to cross the bridge pays a £1 toll, less if you have a crossing card, with the money going towards the bridge’s maintenance. The structure has year-round maintenance and you can currently find scaffolding around the bridge’s tower for ongoing repair works.
Laura added: “We have reactive maintenance, where we respond to problems but we also have ongoing maintenance to keep the bridge going. Things like; painting, rust-proofing and checking everything is working how it ought to be.”