Clifton Suspension Bridge Visitor Centre have been overwhelmed by enquiries about the long-awaited tours of the bridge abutments, which began on Monday 25th July with tours for the Bridge’s social media followers. Since images began to circulate online, the centre has been overwhelmed by calls about future dates, now listed on their website.
Discovered in 2002, the twelve vaulted chambers beneath the Leigh Woods abutment were long thought to exist – but borehole investigations carried out in 1969 managed to miss the chambers and hit solid structure. Originally designed in the early 1830’s, the abutment work was started in 1836 but no known drawings survive from this period.
Initial explorations were carried out by John Corber and Guy Barrett of Hi-Access, who were lowered down a Victorian access shaft just 60 centimetres in diameter. A door was later added through walls 1.8 metres thick to enable maintenance work and inspections to take place and now, following minor access improvements made possible by Heritage Lottery Funding, entry has finally been made safe for the public.
The new abutment tours are priced at £10 per head plus booking fee and take place fortnightly throughout the summer. The two hour experience includes a historical tour of the bridge and access to two of the chambers beneath the Leigh Woods tower; the largest of which is almost 11 metres high and over 17 metres long; large enough to stack three double decker buses inside.
Visitor Services Manager, Laura Hilton, says “Although we have previously been able to escort small special interest groups into the vaults, these recent works have finally opened them up for everyone to see! We still have a long way to go before our plans have been completed but we know that there are a lot of people in Bristol who have been waiting a long time to get inside and we wanted to make sure that we could provide that opportunity this year.”
Hard hat tours can be booked on the Clifton Suspension Bridge website at www.cliftonbridge.org.uk/visit/events and a free of charge opportunity to look inside the abutments will also be provided as part of Bristol Doors Open Day on Sunday 11th September.