CLIFTON ROCKS RAILWAY
WE ARE DELIGHTED TO ADVISE THAT AFTER MANY FALSE STARTS, THE RAILWAY IS IN THE EARLY STAGES OF RESTORATION, THE FOLLOWING LINK WILL HAVE UP TO THE MINUTE INFORMATION. OUR SITE RELATES TO THE SITUATION IN 2001 AND IS STILL GENERALLY ACCURATE FOR THE LOWER SECTION ALTHOUGH THE TOP STATION IS BEGINNING TO COME TO LIFE ONCE MORE!
CLICK THESE LINKS FOR
CURRENT RESTORATION ( OFF SITE LINK )
DETAILED HISTORY AND DATA CONDITION IN 2001 AND DESCRIPTION
OR CONTINUE ON THIS PAGE FOR A BRIEF OUTLINE OF THE PROJECT
AND INTERACTIVE TOUR
Built in the 1890's and something of a white elephant, the remains of the Clifton Rocks Railway - reinforced with concrete columns which hide the fine stone facade. The small arch on the left of the lower station is the final location of the famous Hotwell. It was previously connected by pipes to the Clifton Pump Room at the other end of the railway. Above the lower station you can just see some of the concrete reinforcement that indicates the run of the tunnel. Moves are afoot to restore the structure but this has so far proved impossible.
A feat of Victorian engineering, the railway was built to provide a shortcut to Clifton at the top of the hill and to allow passengers from the steamers in the River to reach the 'Hydropathic Institute' next to the upper station. It was powered by water with two pairs of passenger cars running in a tunnel on steeply inclined tracks, linked by a steel cable. Water was pumped into a tank in the top car, making it heavier than the lower one. It then descended ( under the control of a driver!!) and pulled the other car up. The system had three sets of brakes, a dead man's handle safety system and an electric telegraph between the carriages. Water was pumped back up the slope by an automatic starting Crossley Gas Engine, but in many cases, good management by the attendants enabled them to use the weight of descending passengers to raise the others and so economise on the use of the pumps!
The original purpose was to give easy access to Clifton, but the Merchant Venturers who owned the land on which the railway was built insisted that a new pump room was built to restore the fortunes of the old Hotwell. This was constructed alongside the top station but the fashionable 'waters' were already in decline when the project was completed. The Pump Room was a splendidly ornate hall with mouldings, wood panelling and a large fountain into which the health giving ( but alas polluted ) water was pumped.
The whole thing went massively over budget and was never economic due to the need to pay back borrowings. The railway exceeded costs by 300 % due to the unexpectedly poor rock and the number of rock falls and extra shoring up that was needed. At one time the conditions were so bad during construction that it became impossible to find workmen - specialist tunnelers were brought in from Canada!
The Railway went bankrupt in the early years of the 20th Century and was bought out by the Tramway Company in Bristol who ran it until the 1930's.
The Hotwell became polluted and was closed, while trams and motor buses provided an easier and more convenient link to the City. Even before this, the good residents of Clifton objected as they thought 'riff-raff' from the Bristol Channel pleasure steamers and the City would be able to reach their peaceful suburb. Various other uses were considered for the pump room but it was in the wrong place and fell into decay. The new road ( A4 - 'Portway') to the Port of Avonmouth ran directly past the entrance with just inches to spare and as most of the passenger steamers now moored further up the river, access was almost impossible, and the Railway fell in to disuse.
The tunnel was used during the Second World War as a reserve BBC Home Service broadcast station. Offices and studios were built in the main tunnel bore, gas filtration, generators and living quarters were installed in the bottom station. The old railway cars were removed and cut up for scrap. You can still see some of the rails and the top entrance still retains the ornate iron railings and tiles and is now being restored by volunteers. After the war no use could be found for the tunnel which was obstructed by thousands of tons of bricks and concrete. It fell into decay and although the shell is still there, all the fittings have gone and the tunnel is a silent and derelict monument to a bygone age.
The remains of the top station of the unique Clifton Rocks Railway. Pictures taken 2001 - it is now under restoration!
Construction begins: 7th March 1891
Railway opens: 11th March 1893
427,000 people carried in the first year. It was never as busy again.
Bankruptcy: and receivership 1908
1912 bought by Bristol Tramways Co.
1922 Road widened - access to railway suicidally dangerous!
1st October 1922 Railway closes.
March 1940 B.O.A.C. use part of the upper tunnel as offices and stores.
February 1941 Work begins to convert the tunnel to emergency recording studios for the BBC. Tunnel bricked up into chambers, steps built on both sides and rails covered with concrete. Railway cars and machinery scrapped and both stations converted for BBC use.
1960 B.B.C. abandon the tunnel and decay sets in.
ARE YOU BRAVE ENOUGH TO GO INTO THE TUNNEL?
FOR AN INTERACTIVE ADVENTURE!
All photographs copyright W. J. Farvis & Sons Ltd 2001. Text and photographs may be downloaded for educational and private use only without charge. Please acknowledge source and provide a link.
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