Longitude: 51.4549122 / Latitude: -2.630044 / Distance: 9 km / Duration: 120 mins / Google Map
The Clifton Suspension Bridge spans the Avon Gorge and the River Avon, linking Clifton in Bristol to Leigh Woods in North Somerset, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Since opening, it has been a toll bridge. Brunel entered a competition to build the bridge, pitted against other master engineers such as Thomas Telford.
The competition was held in 1829 and was judged by Thomas Telford. Telford rejected all the designs and put his forward which proved very unpopular. The subsequent competition was held in 1830 and Brunel was victorious.
The Bridge’s construction began in 1831 but work was delayed due to a lack of money. In October 1831, rioting in Bristol caused investors to lose confidence in the project which led to work on the Bridge stopping for four years. Brunel was understandable very attached to this project and in 1835 construction recommenced.
The bridge, seven hundred feet across and two hundred and eighty-seven feet high ran into trouble when funds dried up in 1843 and work stopped for twenty years. Brunel never saw the bridge completed as he died two years earlier. It was first opened in 1864.
You will notice a plaque which was unveiled, on 4th September 1986, by Sir George Porter, President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the laying of the Clifton Suspension Bridge foundation stone by his predecessor the Marquis of Northampton in August 1836.
High on the cliff stands the Observatory. Built-in the 1760s, this was originally a ‘Snuff Mill‘. Snuff mills were used to produce snuff by pulverising tobacco leaves into a powder which could then be inhaled nasally. This was very popular in the 17th-century in England and across Europe. Bristol was ideally placed for this process as the port was used as a conduit for importing tobacco from the Americas where it originated.
After a fire, in 1777, it burnt down and lay derelict for about 50 years, until a local artist, William West, took it on and used it as a studio. William West embarked upon rebuilding the mill and completed it in 1828. He had converted the building into an observatory and installed a Camera Obscura, which allows the viewer a 360-degree panoramic view of the area.
West also excavated a 200ft (70m) tunnel, originally accessible only from the rock face of the Avon Gorge. The tunnel has had many names, The Giant’s Cave, Glyston’s Cave and latterly, St. Vincent’s Tunnel. The tunnel can be accessed from within the Observatory and, after descending 70m, opens onto a viewing platform in the side of the gorge.
Leaving the Observatory, taking either the footpaths through the trees or along Clifton Down Road. On the corner of The Promenade and Canynge Road is the Mansion House, donated to the city by Alderman Procter in 1874, replacing the one destroyed during the Bristol Riots in Queen Square. A Victorian building, with ornate rooms and gardens, is the official residence of the Lord Mayor.
Turning into Cecil Road and then right onto College Road. This is the site of the Big Hall of Clifton College, designed by C. Hansom (brother to the inventor of the Hansom Cab – Joseph Hansom) in 1862. From here you can see the tower of St. Peter and Paul’s Church. On the college’s list of famous alumni are John Cleese, Michael Redgrave and Douglas Haig.
Returning to the College Road and the Bristol Zoological Gardens – you will find the main entrance on Clifton Down Road. Bristol Zoo is the fifth oldest zoo in the world. It was founded on 22nd July 1835, by Henry Riley, a local physician,. Henry Riley had led the formation of the Bristol, Clifton and West of England Zoological Society.
It was close by, in an area known previously as Gallows Acre Lane that, Jenkin William Prothero, the last criminal to be hanged. Prothero was found guilty of murder in 1783. The judge specified that his body is hung in chains on Durdham Downs, Bristol. However, the residents petitioned the Royal Court to have the body moved. Orders were given to the Sheriff of Gloucester that a new site is found for Prothero’s gibbet or his body sent for vivisection.
At the top of Bridge Valley Road, there is a fountain that stood on the site of the old tollgate of Clifton Turnpike Road. Donated by Alderman Procter in 1872, the Gothic-inspired design, by well-known architect George Godwin, is made of Box limestone with contrasting detail in red Mansfield stone. The columns are of Rouge Royal marble and steps of Pennant limestone.
Although it was not actually built until 1872, the Proctor drinking fountain was commissioned to commemorate the Clifton and Durdham Downs Acts 1861 – ‘whereby the enjoyment of these Downs is preserved to the citizens of Bristol for ever’. The position of the fountain, at the Bridge Valley Road junction, posed a visual restriction for the increased motorised traffic during the second half of the 20th century. As a result, in 1987, it was relocated to the present site, close to the Mansion House.
Crossing over to Durdham Downs, a vast expanse of woods and grasslands with many varied and interesting paths. This area of natural beauty, totalling 442 acres, was donated to the city by the Merchant Venturers.
Arriving at the Sea Wall, built by John Wallis in 1746, there is a great view over the Bristol Channel to the Welsh Hills. Taking the path across the Downs from Julian Road towards the Water Tower, to the left of the tower is a small building, formerly dressing rooms. It was here that Victoria Hughes befriended and cared for prostitutes when she worked as a lavatory attendant on the Downs between 1929 and 1962. This path is on the line of the Old Roman Road. Crossing the road and you are at the top of Blackboy Hill. Blackboy Hill is believed to be named after the pub of the same name which is located along on the left.
‘Black boy’ was a common name for public houses, following the ‘Restoration’. Charles II was commonly known as “the black boy” due to his black hair and the signage on Blackboy Hill had, up to the latter part of the 20th-century, depicted a portrait of Charles II.
The origin of the name of Whiteladies Road appears to be another pub, known as the White Ladies Inn, shown on maps between 1746 and 1804. There is an assumption that the naming of both Whiteladies Road and Blackboy Hill had connections with the slave trade, but, this is probably an urban myth. Both names appear to be derived from pubs.
From this elevated vantage point, you can see across the city. Continuing down, you will pass along Whiteladies Road. This was once the main easterly route into Bristol and the ongoing route towards London and Bath from New Passage, where there was a ferry from Wales.
Continuing down Whiteladies Road, you will pass Clifton Down Station, BBC Broadcasting House and The Victoria Rooms.
The Victoria Rooms, a familiar Bristol landmark, first opened its doors to the public in May 1842, and for many years served as the most important and lively cultural centre in the West of England. The Royal West of England Academy(RWA). The RWA is Bristol’s oldest art gallery and the UK’s only regional Royal Academy of Art.
Whiteladies Road leads into Park Street and returns to the city centre passing College Green at the foot of the hill.