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Other Brunel's Swing Bridge Pages

The other Brunel's Swing Bridge pages cover reports of work parties in 2018 and 2019, information on the 170th Anniversary events, and copies of the display boards.

Brunel's Swing Bridge

The AIBT is working in partnership with the Bristol Industrial Archaeological Society (BIAS), the Clifton and Hotwells Improvement Society (CHIS), and the Hotwells and Cliftonwood Society on the restoration of Brunel's swing bridge. The bridge is a very important historic structure, which is located underneath the Plimsoll Bridge at the entrance to Bristol 's floating harbour.  It is disused and in a very poor condition, and in danger of complete collapse.  The bridge is listed Grade ll* and is on Historic England's Register of Structures at Risk.

Brunel's Swing Bridge

It was Brunel's first large wrought iron opening bridge. It is far older than the Suspension Bridge, and is Bristol's only abandoned Brunel structure. Volunteers have been working to halt the decay for the past three years. This work has been supported by grants from Historic England, BIAS, CHIS, and the Bristol City Council's Neighbourhood Partnership. 

The bridge rotates on four fixed wheels running on a solid ring under the bridge. It is turned by twin hydraulic rams located in pits, which are connected to a turning ring under the bridge by a substantial wire cable. The hydraulic rams were fed from a pressure water system located in Underfall Yard. Prior to conversion to hydraulic operation, the bridge was turned by a hand operated crank similar to that used on old railway turntables.

Photo right: Brunel's Swing Bridge with the tower on the Leigh Woods side of the Suspension Bridge in the background. Photo: R Whitworth

NB: There are three names in use for the structure - 'Brunel's Swing Bridge', 'Brunel's Swivel Bridge' and 'Brunel's Other Bridge'.

Key Historical Points

  • The bridge was designed in 1849 by staff in I K Brunel's Westminster office to carry traffic over the new South Entrance Lock (Brunel's Lock) which was under construction at the time. The bridge became operational in October 1849.
  • The bridge was constructed at the same worksite as the SS Great Britain.
  • Brunel was closely involved in both its design and construction. Its design represents an early stage in the development of the flanged plate girders that characterised Brunel's medium span wrought iron bridges.
  • In 1872-1873 the bridge was shortened and relocated to its present position over the North Entrance Lock (Howard's Lock).
  • The hydraulic machinery of the lock was renewed in 1901-1902, using machinery made by Sir W G Armstrong Whitworth and Co Ltd of Newcastle upon Tyne.
  • The bridge is owned by Bristol City Council and was decommissioned in 1968 after the construction of the Plimsoll Bridge.
  • Brunel's Swing Bridge on Doors Open Day 2015

    Project Aims

  • To improve the site's neglected appearance
  • To slow deterioration of the structure
  • To raise the profile of the Bridge and hence funding for its conservation
  • To gain information on, and refurbish, some of the working parts
  • Photo right: Brunel's Swing Bridge on Doors Open Day 2015. Photo: R Whitworth

    Project Finance

    The AIBT acts as the project's treasurer. It also lets and supervises the contracts as, unlike the other organisations involved, it is a limited company as well as being a registered charity.


    The AIBT would like to thank the Bristol Visual and Environmental Group for a donation of £10 000 in memory of Dorothy Brown. Dorothy was for many years an indefatigable champion of the heritage in Bristol and its environs.  Many historic buildings owe their continuing existence to the battles she fought for the heritage up to her death. The organisation she founded, the Bristol Visual and Environmental Group, is now being wound up, and our project is very lucky to benefit from the residual funds being distributed from her trust by the surviving trustees.

    Donations to the project may be made through the AIBT's BOB page on the Wonderful website.

    Work Parties in 2019

    This will be an exciting year in which we hope to have the Bridge turning again, 170 years after it was comnpleted to Brunel's innovative design.   We plan to work on Saturdays, but there will be extra work-days as necessary to achieve our aim of trial turning in July. We must complete the levelling of the wheels, purchase and install a new steel-ring track, centralize and lower the whole deck-assembly, and strengthen the corroded structure, so plenty of helpers will be needed and all skills welcome, not only engineering!

    Brunel's Swing Bridge on 170th Celebration

    The proposed dates for work parties in 2019 are as follows:

    • 19 October - Cancelled

    170th Anniversary

    2019 is the 170th anniversary of the building of the bridge, and this milestone was celebrated on 06, 07 and 08 September. More details can be found on the 170th Anniversary events page of the website.

    Photo right: Brunel's Swing Bridge during the 170th birthday celebrations in September 2019. Photo: R Whitworth

    More Information

    More details and photographs of progress on the project can be found on the Brunel's Other Bridge website: www.brunelsotherbridge.org.uk, or on the CHIS website: www.cliftonhotwells.org.uk/.

    Other Brunel's Swing Bridge Pages

    The other Brunel's Swing Bridge pages cover reports of work parties in 2018 and 2019, information on the 170th Anniversary events, and copies of the display boards.

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    Page updated 23 Sep 19