Skip to content

Who designed the Clifton Suspension Bridge?

Event organised by ICE

11 November 2021
10:30 - 12:45 GMT
Rogerthorpe Manor Hotel
Pontefract, WF9 1AB
United Kingdom

This event has now ended

You can catch-up on details or any broadcast and downloads here.


“Unfortunately for Mr. Brunel, Mr. Telford was of opinion that the maximum span admissible was that of the Menai Bridge, i.e. under 600 feet, and that Mr. Brunel’s proposed bridge, though very pretty and ingenious, would most certainly tumble down in a high wind.”

This statement on the Clifton Suspension Bridge competition of 1829 was published by Isambard Brunel Jnr. in his 1870 biography of his father, I.K. Brunel. It is a statement that has been followed by every subsequent biographer. However, on examining the archives at the Bristol Record Office and at the Brunel Institute, it emerged quite soon that this statement was entirely mendacious.

Apart from the fact that it failed to take into account the context of suspension bridge development at the time of the Clifton Suspension Bridge competition, it casts an unjustifiable slur on the reputation of Thomas Telford in order to promote the genius of the young I.K.B. This paper will describe the true story of the bridge competition, show the entries of the other competitors, and look at earlier suspension bridges. It will also consider the subsequent history of the Clifton Bridge once Brunel got the job and its eventual completion to a different design by William Henry Barlow and Sir John Hawkshaw in 1864, five years after his death.


Tea and coffee will be served at registration for the meeting, at no charge to members.
Following the meeting a hot and cold selection buffet lunch will be offered. The cost is £14 per person and £4 for a dessert.

If you do not wish to pay by BACS we will accept cash on the day but please bring the exact money.

If you book lunch but later you find that you are unable to attend, provided that you notify the Hon Sec not less than two working days beforehand you will not be charged. If you cancel after that we will always endeavour to make an adjustment with the venue so that you may not have to pay, but we reserve the right to request reimbursement from you if that isn’t possible.

Covid Precautions

The hotel is and expects to remain a “covid secure” venue. Although social distancing is no longer required, strict hygiene arrangements including the provision of hand sanitisers are in place. Our room is spacious and additional ventilation if needed can be realised through the conservatory and its doors opening out onto hotel grounds. Face coverings will not be mandatory.


If you wish to attend this meeting, please advise the Hon Secretary no later than 11am on Thursday, November 4, giving the information on the form below, either by e-mail to [email protected], or by post to: Frank O’Dwyer, 17, Netherley Brow, OSSETT, WF5 0DH.

Note: RICE meetings are open to all members of ICE and to members of other organisations with whom the ICE has a reciprocal arrangement, such as IET and IMechE. Additionally, RICE members may invite a guest to a RICE ordinary meeting, two times in a year.

**Please note we also hope to offer this event virtually- if this is possible the link will be forwarded**


10.30: Registration, coffee & tea service 
11.00: Chair’s Opening remarks and notices 
11.05: Presentation by Julia Elton, followed by questions and discussion 
12.30: Bar open and buffet lunch service 


Julia Elton FSA

Julia Elton FSA

Newcomen Society

engineering historian and past president

Read more

Julia Elton FSA

Julia Elton FSA has spent a lifetime working with rare books and manuscripts relating to the history of engineering. She contributed a chapter to ‘Robert Stephenson: the eminent engineer’ (edited by Michael Bailey) and wrote a number of entries on lighthouse and gas engineers for volumes 2 & 3 of the Institution of Civil Engineers’ Biographical Dictionary.

Julia also prepared the catalogue of the Noble Collection of Brunel papers, housed at the Brunel Institute in Bristol, which laid the foundations for her knowledge of this remarkable, if sometimes controversial, engineer.

Julia is a Past President of the Newcomen Society (the first woman to hold this position) and wrote her presidential address on the development of the Fresnel refracting lighthouse lens. She is a long-standing member of the I.Struct.E. History Study Group and an honorary member of the Smeatonian Society of Civil Engineers.

For more information please contact:

Joanne Topping