Fear is the little death
Clifton Rocks Railway
Clifton Rocks Railway - Bristol - Sep 2014
Been done before but not for a few years and as it's quite local we thought it would be a good one to check out.
The Clifton Rocks Railway was an underground funicular railway, which opened in March 1893, linking the heights of
Clifton to the Spa of Hotwells and the steamship landing stages on the river. The engineer was Croydon Marks.
The tunnel cut, through the limestone cliffs, is 450 feet long and goes a vertical distance of 200 feet at a gradient
of about 1 in 2.2. The railway consisted of four cars in two connected pairs, forming two parallel funiculars, each
running on 38-inch narrow-gauge tracks. The system was operated by gravity, with water ballast being let into the
cars at the top of the station and out at the bottom, the filled cars pulling up the empty one and an oil or gas
burning pump returned the water to the top of the system.
The railway was extremely popular – it had 427,492 passengers in its first commercial year. However, it always
struggled to be a commercial success and finally closed in October 1934.
A decade later, during the Second World War, blast walls were installed in the tunnel and it was used as an air-raid
shelter for local residents, as offices by BOAC, and as a relay station and a (never used) emergency studio by the BBC.
The BBC continued to use parts of the tunnel after the war, but the doors were finally locked in 1960. Over the
following years the tunnel was used only for storage by the adjacent Avon Gorge Hotel who currently own most of the site.
In 2005 a dedicated group of volunteers, headed by Peter Davey and Maggie Shapland, was formed to preserve, restore and
research the railway. Over the years the Trust has cleared out much of the rubbish that had accumulated in the tunnel
and the stations – finding amongst the debris some of the original turnstiles, railings, light fittings, etc. which
have been restored and replaced on site.
There is a considerably more expanded history of the site here:- [http://www.cliftonrocksrailway.org.uk/history_06.htm
On a nasty, horrible, rainy Monday night in September we all climbed into the car and chugged on down to Brizzle to have
a look at the only funicular railway ever built in a tunnel! We met up with our guides Maggie and Mike who were brilliant
and gave loads of info about the tunnel while we were wondering around the place. Once we got inside everything seemed
much better and after we put on our obligatory hardhats and vests we ventured into the tunnel.
A very big thanks to both Maggie and Mike for a really entertaining evening with lots of facts, thank you for having us!
From the surface, the upper station appears to be a small single storey building, triangular in plan, with a facade of ashlar
bath stone faced masonry construction facing Princes Lane and the Avon Gorge. The Sion Hill elevation consisted of iron railings
between masonry piers: the railings are now covered with sheets of boarding. There are two entrances to the upper station, one
at the junction of Princes Lane and Sion Hill, the other onto Sion Hill itself.
The Sion Hill entrance had an ornamental iron arch above it. A visitor would descend down the steps from either entrance to
the top station onto a small platform which was below upper street level. In fact the platform extends under the pavement in
Sion HIll, and a series of small arched roof vaults between the rock face and a substantial steel beam, itself supported on
cast iron columns, support the pavement of the street above. The remainder of the 15 feet wide platform which is not recessed
under the pavement was covered by an awning of small glass panels set in iron frames (pavement lights) forming a floor on which
sightseers could stand and take in the view, or watch the cars ascending and descending the tunnel. Most of these glass panels
are still in place, but the grid of supporting steelwork in which they are mounted is in poor condition. At the head of the
tunnel was a timber screen, pay box and turnstiles, together with the two large pulley wheels.
What's left of the Top Station
Model of the Tunnel
Where you would of boarded a train at the top.
One of the original pumps
Odd tunnel that runs under the road at the top station which they have no idea what is was used for.
Odds and Ends found in the tunnel while clearing it up.
The tunnel is 500 feet long, semi elliptical in cross section with a roof height of 18 feet and a width of 27 feet 6 inches.
It climbs a vertical distance of 240 feet on a rising gradient of about a:2.2 that is a vertical rise of 1 foot for every
2.2 feet of forward travel. The tunnel was blasted and cut through badly faulted limestone and was brick lined in almost
its entirety with a wall thickness of 2 feet. Although the tunnel was lit by daylight at both top and bottom, this was
supplemented by gas lamps installed down the tunnel length.
Heading down into the tunnel on the steps the BBC had installed.
Original Bannister from the 30's
One of the old turnstiles
Old fitting for cables
Air Raid Shelter No. 1
Tunnel wall showing through the brickwork
Air Raid Shelter No. 2
Graff on the bottom wall
Rounded brickwork, made so people did not catch themselves while filing in and out.
Looking up at the tunnel
Air Raid Shelter No. 3