Hawkshaw and Barlow Untold

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Hawkshaw and Barlow Untold from Clifton Suspension Bridge on Vimeo.


The Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust has been granted funding from the Association of Independent Museums (AIM) and Biffa Award for a year-long project (2017-2018) 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’ is an opportunity to celebrate and recognise these and other achievements through a new mini-exhibition which joins the permanent exhibition at the Clifton Suspension Bridge Visitor Centre.


Hawkshaw and Barlow have shaped the 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 the rest of world. We tell their story and celebrate and recognise their achievements, beginning with their project to complete the Clifton Suspension Bridge following the death of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Find out how and why they redesigned the bridge deck, and why it was their engineering skills which allows the bridge to cope with the demands of modern traffic. 

Our exhibition not only explores Hawkshaw and Barlow's engineering achievements, but also looks at their personalities, character, home lives and relationships with engineering collegues. Learn about Sir John Hawkshaw, the Man of Vision and 'Saviour of the Suez Canal' and William Henry Barlow, the Inventor and Experimenter who created the first reliable sound recording device. Find out which of our historic heroes was related to Charles Darwin and Josiah Wedgwood, how the Brighton Sewers work and why St Pancras station was such an incredible achievement.


The Hawkshaw and Barlow Story from Clifton Suspension Bridge on Vimeo.


See the exhibition!

The exhibition is now on permananet display at the Clifton Suspension Bridge Visitor Centre. We are open from 10am-5pm daily - free entry, donations welcome.


What we did

Our expert panel provided advice and guidance on the personal and working lives of Hawkshaw and Barlow, as well as their engineering advancements - and a team of volunteer researchers collected and evaluated primary source materials for inclusion in the exhibition. We traced family trees, visited archives to read old letters and meeting minutes, and unearthed a treasure trove of personal correspondance hiding in the National Library of Scotland. We visited descendants of our heroes who showed us personal possessions which have been handed down through the family - and we talked to teachers and pupils at the school founded by Sir John Hawkshaw, where the school records tell us about the lessons he and his wife delivered to the children.

We worked with local exhibition designers, CodSteaks, to create the new panels for our permanent exhibition and selected objects to be included in the display. We refurbished a model of Brunel's bridge deck which will help to explain how Hawkshaw and Barlow changed his designs for the bridge. You can now view a streoscopic image of the Forth Bridge, explore an engraving created to celebrate Hawkshaw and Barlow's work on the bridge, touch a piece of barlow rail and find out what a plumb bob is for. Local woodturners recreated John Hawkshaw's demonstration model for a gravitational railway and we've also created a short film about Hawkshaw and Barlow with the help of our volunteer film maker Gordon - and, thanks to the BBCs Antiques Roadtrip, we've even included some behind the scenes footage of one of John Hawkshaw's engineering achievements.

Volunteer Andrew created an amazing interactive diagram showing which projects connected Victorian engineers, Sylvia's been tracing family trees and reading the poetry of Ann Hawkshaw and Mel's been creating a map to show where in the world the engineers worked. All of this, plus photographs, diagrams, technical drawings, letters and documents are available on our touchscreen. 

A Children's Trail exploring the content of our exhibition has been designed by Ang Hui Qing and is available free of charge to families visiting the exhibition.

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 but ultimately unpopular. 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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