Hawkshaw and Barlow Untold

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The Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust has been granted funding from the Association of Independent Museums (AIM) and Biffa Award to commence a year-long project to celebrate the lives and work John Hawkshaw (1811-1891) and William Henry Barlow (1812-1902), two prominent engineers who played a crucial role in the completion of the Clifton Suspension Bridge. ‘Hawkshaw and Barlow Untold’ will be an opportunity to celebrate and recognise these and other achievements through creating a new mini-exhibition to join the permanent exhibition at the Clifton Suspension Bridge Visitor Centre.

Hawkshaw and Barlow have shaped our engineering world as we know it today. Their experiments and ingenuity had a significant impact on science and industry as they pioneered use of new technology and materials to inform and develop large scale engineering projects across the UK and rest of world. We want to tell their story to our visiting public to celebrate and recognise their achievements. Our aim is to tell the story of Sir John Hawkshaw and William H Barlow. We will begin by offering our visitors a chance to learn about Hawkshaw and Barlow alongside Brunel, showing how they redesigned and built the Clifton Suspension Bridge as we see it today. Following on from this, visitors will be taken on a layered journey which explores their careers, connections, influence and achievements. We aim to put into context the importance of their contribution to engineering in the UK and all over the world, with a new permanent exhibitions and STEM inspired interactive.

The exhibition will cover 6 core themes;

  • Local Connections
  • Key Achievements
  • Worldwide Influence
  • Engineering Innovations
  • Family Footsteps
  • Civil Engineers


Our Progress

We have already recruited an expert panel, who are providing advice and guidance on the personal and working lives of Hawkshaw and Barlow, as well as their engineering advancements - and we are int he process of recruiting a team of volunteer researchers who will work with us to collect and evaluate primary source materials for inclusion in the exhibition. Additionally, we are also looking at the development of new interactive content which will show Hawkshaw and Barlow's connections with other engineers and how knowledge was shared as well as investigating the various deck designs of the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

We will shortly be looking for schools who would like to feed back on new content created for the exhibition.

Please contact Kat Tudor, CLV Officer by emailing getinvolved@cliftonbridge.org.uk for more information.

AIM Biffa Award logo

Sir John Hawkshaw (1811 – 1891)
John Hawkshaw played a major part in the development of the extensive rail network covering the north of England. His ventures also included the Circle Line of the London Underground Railway, the Severn Rail Tunnel (the longest railway tunnel of its time in the world) and a scheme to build a tunnel under the English Channel. He was at the forefront of this profession, ranking as Chief Engineer for Manchester and Leeds Railway, Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, and the Severn Tunnel. In 1856 he began completion of the Holyhead Breakwater, a one and half mile coastal barrier, which remains the longest in the United Kingdom. In 1861 he became the President of the Institution of Civil Engineers and in 1863 he was deemed the 'Saviour' of the Suez Canal. In 1873 Hawkshaw was knighted for his engineering achievements.

William Henry Barlow (1812 – 1902)
William Henry Barlow studied engineering at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich under his father, Professor Peter Barlow. He worked for the Royal Navy and London Docks and then moved to Turkey where he spent six years building a munitions factory. In 1838 he took a job as Assistant Engineer on the Manchester and Birmingham Railway, rising to become Resident Engineer in charge of the rapidly expanding Midland Railway. In 1849 he developed and patented a design for railway track which did not need sleepers, reducing the cost of track maintenance. ‘Barlow rail’ was widely adopted by the Great Western Railway. Barlow designed the spectacular cast iron station canopy at St Pancras, which spans 73 metres (240 feet) without support: the widest of its kind in the world at the time. In 1879 he became President of the Institution of Civil Engineers, pioneering the use of steel in railway structures – particularly influencing the Forth Railway Bridge, the first major structure in Britain to be constructed of steel.  

Clifton Suspension Bridge
Hawkshaw and Barlow worked together to complete the Clifton Suspension Bridge as a memorial to Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Rejecting his bridge deck design, they created a stronger and more hardwearing structure hanging from a re-worked three chain system, which was capable of withstanding much greater loads. Without these changes the bridge would not be able to hold today’s modern traffic.




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