(Image source: Wikimedia Commons by Rodw)

This year’s James Sutherland History Lecture looks at efforts to preserve Clifton Suspension Bridge. Speakers from COWI and GeoDesign will discuss how they consider aerodynamic stability, corrosion, knowledge management and other factors to keep the bridge in good working order and preserve the structure for future generations to enjoy. In advance of the lecture we’ve picked out five interesting things about this remarkable engineering icon.

1: The idea for the bridge was first suggested by William Vick, a Bristol wine merchant, who in 1754 left £1000 in his will towards the construction of a bridge across the Avon from Clifton Down to Leigh Down.

2: The final bridge design is by engineers William Barlow and John Hawkshaw, based on an earlier design by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Brunel never saw the bridge completed, dying years before it was officially opened. Earlier, alternative Brunel designs for the bridge included the “Giant’s Hole” plan, which would have had a 980ft span, anchoring the chains in the rock above the bridge.

3: The bridge crosses the Avon Gorge in a 702ft span between piers, nearly 250ft above the water. The piers, made of local Pennant Stone, are 86ft high. Each bears a main saddle for the two lower chains and an auxiliary saddle for the third.

4: The chains weigh 1,100 tons. Beyond the piers they plunge 60ft underground to anchorage plates. They were recycled – having previously belonged to the Hungerford footbridge, another Brunel design.

5: In 2012 builders discovered 12 vast chambers hidden inside the massive abutments which support the bridge towers. It had previously been assumed they were solid stone or filled with stone, but it turns out Brunel designed large, interconnected, empty spaces within the structures. Two of the chambers are now open to the public.

The James Sutherland History Lecture takes place on 16 Feb. Watch the livestream here.

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