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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 Other 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

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 Other 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.

    You can make a donation to the cost of the work through this link to the Brunel's Other Bridge page of the MyDonate website.

    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/.

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    Page updated 06 Nov 18