Clifton Suspension Bridge

Clifton Suspension Bridge

1864 - Clifton Bridge

  • 26m high towers
  • 214m main span
  • 76m above the River Avon
  • 4,200 links in chains
  • 4m vehicles crossings per year

Brunel's Bristol masterpiece continues to reinforce the economic and social value of infrastructure to society.

Prof Colin Taylor

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.

The bridge spans 214 metres between its two 26-metre high towers and stands 76 metres 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 horse-drawn traffic, the bridge was so ingeniously constructed that it still provides a safe vehicle and pedestrian crossing over the 76-metre 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.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel

IK Brunel
IK Brunel

Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859) was one of the 19th-century civil engineering giants. He designed and built dockyards, the Great Western Railway, steamships, important bridges and tunnels. His designs revolutionised public transport and modern engineering.


Britannia Railway Bridge Engineer: Robert Stephenson
Tubular railway bridge


Bold engineering choices led to this extension of the trailine to Anglesey, for the benefit of locals and visitors alike


461m wide straits


Trains ran through the middle of wrought-iron tubes


An engineering triumph