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Clifton Rocks Railway, Bristol

Visited initally on the open day in May to see the top station and all the artifacts found and then again today to see the real show – down the tunnels.

A bit of history about this little historic and often unknown gem dwarfed by its illustrious neighbour – the Clifton suspension bridge.

The Clifton Rocks Railway was an underground funicular railway in Bristol, linking Clifton at the top to Hotwells and Bristol Harbour at the bottom of the Avon Gorge in a tunnel cut through the limestone cliffs. The upper station is close to Brunel’s famous Clifton Suspension Bridge.

Construction of the railway was funded by the publisher George Newnes, also proprietor of the Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway, and as at Lynton and Lynmouth the engineer was George Croydon Marks. It opened on 11 March 1893, but was never a great success; in 1912 it was sold to Bristol Tramways, but it continued to struggle and closed on 1 October 1934.

The railway had a length of 450 feet (137 m), overcoming a vertical distance of 200 feet (61 m) at a gradient of about 1 in 2.2 (45%). There were four cars in two connected pairs, essentially forming two parallel funicular railways, each running on 38 inch (965 mm) narrow gauge tracks. The system was operated by gravity, with water ballast being let into the cars at the top station and out at the bottom, and an oil- or gas-burning pump returning the water to the top of the system.

During the Second World War blast walls were installed in the tunnel, which was used as offices by BOAC, as a relay station by the BBC (who also constructed an emergency studio there, though it was never put into use), and as an air-raid shelter. The BBC continued to use parts of the tunnel until 1960.
A voluntary group has now been formed to preserve and restore the railway. They hope to raise funds for a feasibility study into the complete restoration of the railway. The cost of complete restoration is estimated at around £15 million.

I have mixed thoughts to the current plan to restore it fully. Yes it would be great to see it fully operational again and would surely prove popular at the weekends, but for all the history of its use during the war which is still so evident within that tunnel at the moment. Well it’d be wrong to forget that and everything that still remains as if the war was only a few days ago.

It’s truely a wonderful place even its current plight. Thanks to Maggie & the CHIS for the tour. Too find out more about the rocks railway and when the next open day then please visit the official website

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4 comments

  1. You can go on open doors day (to see the top station) or you can book a tour down the tunnels if you go through the Clifton & Hotwells Improvement Society.

  2. Is this just open to the public?

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