On the Leigh Woods tower, near the Visitor Centre, the bridge carries a Latin inscription: SUSPENSA VIX VIA FIT, which translates as “A suspended way made with difficulty” - an accurate description of a project which began in 1754 with the death of Bristol wine merchant, William Vick and was not completed until 1864.
By 1829, £8,000 had been secured and a competition was announced:
ANY persons willing to submit DESIGNS for the ERECTION of an IRON SUSPENSION BRIDGE at CLIFTON DOWN over the RIVER AVON, to the consideration of the Committee appointed to arrange proceedings for carrying the measure into execution, are requested to forward the same, accompanied by an Estimate of the probable expense address “‘To the Bridge Committee, at the Office of Messrs. OSBORNE and WARD, Bristol’” on or before the 19th day of November next.
Should any of the Plans so furnished be adopted, the sum of One Hundred Guineas will be given to the Person furnishing the same, unless he shall be employed as the Engineer in the execution of the Work. For particulars apply to Messrs. OSBORNE and WARD, Bristol.
As a suitable design could not be found, a second compeition was held and eventually 23 year old Isambard Kingdom Brunel appointed as Project Engineer.
On 21st June 1831 a modest ceremony was held to commemorate the start of works. Lady Elton, wife of major bridge investor Sir Abraham Elton of Clevedon Court, laid a small foundation stone at St Vincent’s Rocks to mark the site of the Clifton abutment.
Sir Abraham called it “the ornament of Bristol and the wonder of the age”.
Visit our exhibition to find out why it took 33 years to complete Brunel's 'first love' and the problems faced by the Suspension Bridge Committee along the way.