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The BBC's Part


(c) Clifton Rocks Railway Trust











(c) Clifton Rocks Railway Trust

































































































Stats & FAQs.....



  • width 28'

  • Height 200'

  • Length 450'

  • Gradient 1:2.128

  • floor to crown 17'

  • gas lit

  • first tunnel to be blasted with electric detonation, first shot performed by Lady Wathen, wife of Lord Mayor

  • only underground cliff railway in the world

  • linked pleasure steamers at Hotwells, rail link to Avonmouth and tram link to Bristol centre to Clifton where the Hydropathic Institute was sited next to the Hotel


  • track 38" (narrower than the expected 3'8" due to the problems of digging the tunnel)

  • 4 lines

  • larch sleepers bolted by fang bolts


  • 40 seconds journey

  • water pressure 1,000 lb/sq"

  • stops when water pressure 250 lb/sq"

  • water pumped by Crossley 4 stroke oil engine at bottom station from reservoir at bottom station to reservoir at top station

  • water reservoir under waiting room at base station and between top station and ballroom (in 1920 water flooded the ballroom resulting in a bill for £96.16s.0d)

  • could carry 1000 passengers per hour

  • first 6 weeks carried 11,000 people

  • can seat 18 passengers

  • painted in livery of light blue and white with gold lining and lit by oil

  • brakes operated by each conductor and top station operator

  • 2 cables per car, working as connected pairs on the water-balance method

  • braking system precursor of modern 'dead man's handle

  • visitors to Clifton used left hand side cars, those to the Hotel the right (was then the Grand Spa Hotel)

  • last ran 2 july 1934, finally closed 30 september 1934

  • removed from tunnel feb 28 1941. The top two were winched down 4 april 1940, and the whole exercise was harder than expected. The contractor was paid an extra £30 for his trouble.


  • cost of a return ticket on opening day was 4d, travellers received a metal ticket in shape of Maltese cross

  • early tickets were buff, 1d up, 1/2d down. Through tickets 2d were pink.
    Operating times June to September: 8:30-10pm weekdays, sundays 2:30-10pm
    October to May stopped 1 hour earlier

  • by 1928, fares 2d up, 1 1/2d down. Mail carts cost 3d, and bicycles 2d (2 1/2d= 5p). For 3d you could travel by tram from Hotwells, up the railway to Clifton, and back to centre by motor bus

Land and costs

  • The top station held stables when George Newnes leased it in 1893

  • £50 per year ground rent for 900 years payable from 1894, 5 shillings per year to the Merchant Venturers

  • expected to cost £10,000 like Lynton, but actually cost £30,000

  • Clifton Rocks Railway Company was formed by George Newnes in 1894 to operate the service

  • Company went into receivership in 1908 due to decine in passenger use

  • sold to Bristol Tramways and Carriage Company in 1912 for £1,500
    who spent

    • £3328 in 1914

    • £1824 in 1914

    • £73 in 1919

    • £34 in 1920

    • £201 in 1925

  • In 1922, Hotwells Road widened at bottom and Port and Pier railway (running from Avonmouth to nearly under the Suspension Bridge) dismantled, severing the train link to the funicular railway

  • Ministry of Works for Imperial Airways was a tenant for £100 per year who rented the top station

  • Surrendered to Bristol City Council July 1941

  • BBC began negotiations to release covenants instructing the tunnel must be kept for railway purposes.

  • Jul 1941, BBC, Ministry of Works, Bristol Corporation granted permission to build structures inside the tunnel (Bristol middle for air raid shelter, BBC towards the bottom). It only took three months to complete the structural work. BBC paid rental of one shilling a year for 21 years. The roof of top station structure dated 3 September 1940.

  • The Grand Hotel Company (possessed the original lease), sold their interest, released the covenants, but retained land titles

  • value of land occupied by railway in 1945 was £200,000

  • July 1946, BBC removed equipment apart from transmitter and used the tunnel as a local signal booster station. Ministry of Works surrendered its lease

  • 1955, tunnel uneconomical for BBC, so lease renegotiated and they moved to top station where the installed a 40' aerial

  • 1958, tied buttresses constructed on the face of the bottom station

  • 1960, BBC withdrew from the Railway

  • 1961, Nuthalls caterers wanted to buy tunnel, but a covenant was still in place that they could not do anything to prejudice the use of the tunnel for Civil Defence purposes in the event of war. This red tape removed in 1965

  • 1990, legal action taken to halt demolition work in the Pump rooms next door to Railway for an extension to hotel (granted permission in 1986). Plans also included flattening the top station of the railway Big campaign by residents to save it.

  • 1991, we celebrated the 100th birthday of the start on the railway by driving the Lord Mayor from the Mansion House to the top station and then down to the bottom station in a 1924 Lanchester tourer, where he unveiled a plaque. Fireworks to signify the detonation were set off at 7pm. Tony Robinson led a candlelit procession dressed as Brunel, down the zig zag footpath.

People concerned

  • George Newnes (1851-1910) solely financed the project. He published magazines such as the Strand, and published many technical books

  • Sir George White (1854-1916) businessman, secretary of Bristol Tramways, founder of Bristol Aeroplane Company, philanthropist, governor of Bristol Grammar School, president and Treasurer of Bristol Royal Infirmary,

  • Baron Marks of Woolwich (1858-38) designed the railway. He was an international entrepreneur, engineer, patent agent and politician. His first railway was at Lynton and Lynmouth (designed 1888, opened 1890), and Bristol was a similar design with similar cars.

  • Philip Munro local engineer living in Nailsea was the architect

  • Messrs Hayes of Thomas Street constructed the tunnel

Clifton and the Clifton Rocks Railway


There have been several proposals before- the public for placing a lift between Clifton and Bristol, but all of them have been open to the objection of causing a cutting or interference with the surface of the rocks, which are considered by the inhabitants to be too ruggedly grand to be disturbed in any way. To meet these objections, Mr. George Newnes, M.P., came forward with a scheme in 1891 for constructing an Inclined Railway or "Lift" in a tunnel in accordance with the proposals made by Mr, G. Croydon Marks and his colleague, Mr P. Munro. This proposal, which was laid before the Society of Merchant Venturers, the owners; of the ground,, also provided for the erection of a grand Pump Room and Spa for utilizing the mineral waters of Clifton, which in times past have been of so great value in bringing visitors and invalids to the district in order to partake of the waters and receive the benefits of their healing virtues. The entire scheme was most favourab ly received by the Merchants, and the property which had been purchased by the enterprising promoter was immediately handed over to the contractor in order that the undertaking should be entered upon as a private work at the sole cost and expense of Mr. Newnes. On the7th of March, 1891, the first shot of the rock blasting charge for initiating to construction of the railway was fired by Lady Wathen as Mayoress of Bristol, in the presence of the late Sir Charles Wathen and a distinguished Company who were afterwards entertained at a luncheon given by the engineers and contractor.

The plans, however, for the grand Pump Room were subjected to criticism on the part of owners of adjacent property, who refused to give their consent to the erection of a building which should have its higher elevation facing the Clifton side. Negotiations were commenced, and arrangements were made for the purpose of carrying out the higher elevation in its entirety, but personal interests were sufficiently strong to prevent these plans from being adopted, and it became necessary to amend the plans, and make the elevation to face the river instead of Clifton.

Much regret has been expressed that this vexatious matter should have been of such a nature as to deprive the district of this architectural feature, but probably the visitors to the Pump Room will have some advantage in the present building, which would not have been obtained under the original plans, seeing that they have a view of the river and a private approach, which would not have been possible from the other side.

On the 11th of March, 1893, two years after the commencement of the undertaking the Clifton Rocks Railway was opened, and it has since continued running without the slightest interruption. The details as to the construction and system of working are fully set out in the following pages, and brief descriptive notes are given of other places of interest in Clifton


CLIFTON has a world-wide reputation for the beauty and magnificence of its surroundings, and for its charmingly picturesque and luxuriant Downs; while the unparalled Suspension Bridge spanning the Avon Gorge is a feature pleasing to the eye from every point of approach.

In all probability Clifton obtains its name as being a "cliff town", an old manuscript of 1480 speaking of it as the town of Clifton Cliff. It is suggested by some that Clifton is older than Bristol and that the renown of Clifton has caused the rise of the famous western town nestling at her feet. Beyond the fact of the many pleasing associations and the picturesqueness of the surroundings of Clifton, much of her past reputation was dependent upon the medicinal properties of the hot wells; which obtained so great a power, that people from all parts came to the fashionable hot wells spa beneath the cliffs to drink the waters and obtain by residence there the health lost elsewhere.

The situation of Bristol and Clifton necessitates hill-climbing for the pedestrian, while the toilsome and weary labours imposed upon the horses in passing from one part of the town to the other has been a constant regret alike to the resident and visitor in this city. With the completion of the Clifton Rocks Railway however, Clifton above has been tied or brought to the level of Bristol 280 feet below, making the communication between the one part and the other a matter of the greatest ease.


The Clifton Rocks Railway is really an inclined railway arranged in a tunnel cut out of the solid limestone rock, the tunnel commencing at the lower level in the Hotwells Road immediately under the Suspension Bridge, and terminating at the upper station entering on to Sion Hill, practically on a level. with the Suspension Bridge. The tunnel, which is the widest of its kind in the world, is brick-lined throughout, the bricks being set in cement, and the timbering necessary to support the work during the progress being built in above the bricks. The railway was two years in course of construction, and proved itself to be a most difficult work in consequence of the looseness of the rock and the many faults in the strata which were passed through, the limestone in some cases being so conglomerated with other metalliferous rock as to break the drills and turn the edges of the tools that were used for boring. The scaffolding of this tunnel was a matter of great diff iculty to the contractor, Mr. Hayes, and the greatest caution was necessary when erecting the complicated centre pieces, and when placing in position the immense amount of timber required as struts for the roof and sides of the cutting. On account of the steep incline it was impossible to arrange gangs of men to work one above the other simultaneously, and it was very difficult to provide for the dislodging of the material above without choking the entrance below. The working or boring of the tunnel was commenced at each end and at intermediate shafts simultaneously, the shafts being also utilised for the convenience of removal of the dislodged rock, by winding engines and machinery erected above the ground. Pumps were required to be kept almost constantly at work during the cutting operations, and steam power was necessary for supplying compressed air to the rock drills- employed for piercing the tunnel.

Within the tunnel are four complete lines of rails-that is, four pairs of rails, each pair permitting one car to run up and down thereon. The steel rails are firmly secured to concrete and timber sleepers, firmly. bedded in the rock bed of the tunnel. The principle of working the cars is a simple and economical one, consisting of that which is known as the "water balance" combined with the multiple hydraulic brake-controlling appliances, introduced by Mr. G. Croydon Marks. The railway is in effect composed of two complete sets of doub1e cars each set being formed of one car which is at the top, and its companion car which is at the bottom at the same time, anchored or securely tied to it so that as one car runs down, its companion car is pulled up, the weight of the water in the one car overbalancing the weight of the passengers in the ascending car.


Two steel wire cables or ropes pass from one car to the other, these two ropes being of a strength such that the combined weight of both cars can be safely sustained by one rope alone, the combined ropes being thirty times stronger than the load that has to be put upon them. The two vehicles move together. When one is at the top, water is allowed to flow from an upper reservoir erected near the top station into a tank-like body, arranged immediately underneath the ordinary passenger car. The passengers enter also in the top car, while the bottom car carries no water, but passengers only on the up journey. The difference in weight between the two cars, and their complement of passengers. is made up by the amount of water which is allowed to flow into the upper car tank in order that it may overbalance the weight of its bottom companion car; and when the top car, with its water load and passengers, arrives at the bottom station, while the passengers are l eaving the car, the water is also automatically flowing out of the under tank-body into a reservoir arranged beneath the waiting room of the bottom station. At the same time that the water flows out from the lower car at the bottom station, the attendant at the upper station allows water to flow into the car that has then arrived at the upper station, so as to be ready to repeat the journey.


Otto gas engines and pumps erected at the bottom terminus ate employed for pumping the water back again from the lower reservoir to the top reservoir, so that the water which is employed to work this little line is used over and over again, the cost of the motive power for working being that required to drive the. gas-engines for pumping the water. The engineers for this unique1ittle railway Messrs G. Croydon Marks, A.M.I,C,E., M.I.M.E., and Philip Munro M.S.A., F.S.I. have apparently done all that is possible to meet the sentiments of the passengers, for nothing has been left to chance in the arrangements which have been made for safety, and for controlling the working of the cars. It is a matter of surprise to the visitor inspecting this line for the first time to observe the absolute and complete control the drivers have over the cars, and the easy motion and absence from vibration which attends the journey, makes the traffic upon this line a very popular one


The brakes arranged upon the car are such as to satisfy the requirements of the the most nervous of passengers, there being duplicate brakes for seizing by hydraulic pressure both sides of the rails of the line, duplicate brakes for arresting the speed should the cars, from any undue cause, exceed their proper pace, and duplicate brakes also for stopping the cars, should either one, or what is impossible, both the steel ropes break at the same time. These automatic and absolutely independent brakes are in addition to the ordinary controlling brakes which the conductor or driver manipulates upon the car platform. These controlling brakes have the great peculiarity in requiring that the operator or conductor shall give his attention to keep the car from stopping, instead of trying to make it stop Thus, shou1d the conductor become careless, or loosen his hold of the brake windlass handle, the car would immediately stop and with it of course, its companion car , although the attendant upon the other car might be unaware of the carelessness, of his companion. Tho action of the brakes, on account of the neglect or inattention of the conductor being to increase the pressure in the hydraulic mechanism and thus cause the hydraulic gripping brakes to instantly seize the rails on which the cars travel.


The speed-governing brake, which is arranged to prevent any excessive travelling of the cars, should the attendants become careless, or be desirous of going at too rapid a pace down the rails, also acts independently of the controlling brake to cause the hydraulic pressure to be increased and the rails to be gripped. An emergency brake is also arranged upon each car for the purpose of seizing the rails in the event of a stretching or breaking of either of the ropes, these brakes acting through independent levers and springs, which are always in readiness to arrest the cars upon a severance or slackening of any of their connections.

The line having such a very steep gradient, the engineers have considered it necessary to provide for that which will not only satisfy those fully acquainted with the mechanism of the cars, but what will also carry conviction to the ordinary passengers who only know that which is apparent upon an external inspection of the cars, and it is impossible to. view this wonderful little line without it being struck with the regard which has been paid to what is considered to be generally outside the province of engineer-- viz., a pure sentiment.

The cars cannot run down the incline by themselves. and if left untouched even after they have started upon their journey, they will stop perfectly still gripping the rails with a tremendous vice like tenacity It is only when both brakesmen wish the cars to go that they can move the act of turning the hand wheel on each car, raises a weight which is normally pressing on to a cylinder of water for the purpose of conveying pressure to the hydraulic cylinder connected to each brake-gripper. The water under pressure travels through duplicate independent copper pipes and exerts, except when the brakesman raises the weight, an enormous pressure upon the rails; and during the journey of the cars, should either of the brakesmen release their hold upon the hand wheels then both of the cars would gradually stop. The simplicity of the arrangements introduced, together with the entire duplication of the mechanism which cause nothing to be dependent upon one single portio n of the mechanism or upon one single connection, leaves nothing unprovided that experience can suggest for ensuring the fullest and most absolute reliability of the unique safeguards of the cars upon the Clifton Rocks RaiIway. During the first twelve months, 427,492 passengers were carried upon the line, and no accident of any kind has ever arisen to any passenger. The capacity of the lines for carrying passengers can be understood when it is stated that on Bank Holidays 1,000 passengers per hour have been carried.


A company was formed in the Spring of 1894 for taking over the line, Mr. G. Newnes M. P., being Chairman; Mr P. Fussell and Mr. G. Croydon Marks, Directors Mr. A. A. Yeatman,, Secretary; and Messrs. Osborne Ward, VasseIl.& Co., Solicitors.

This article is taken from "Clifton Illustrated The Official Description of the Clifton Rocks Railway" published about 1895

Provided By Maggie Shapland


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