Book Storage Problem solved
Bristol Times. Eugene Byrne 1 April 2014
A FEW weeks ago, I received an email concerning the books which are to be moved from the lower floors of Bristol Central Library to make way for the Cathedral Primary School.
The initial plan, the message said, had been to move the stock to B Bond Warehouse in the Cumberland Basin.
“However,” it went on, “after outrage from library users and researchers as well as many objections from members of the public, The Mayor and Councillor Cook have had a rethink and have come up with a compromise solution to propose to the Council. The proposal to come before the Council will be to use Clifton Rocks railway as book storage.
“In support of the proposal, a councillor reminded the members that during WWII British Overseas Airways used the tunnel for storage and an office. This and other historic uses of the tunnel system, together with the news that a local society had been refurbishing the tunnel system, convinced this some councillors that it would be an ideal place.
“They were told how during the last war part of the railway had been fitted out by the BBC as emergency studios and transmitting station.
“The eight-metre wide, 150-metre long tunnel has a ceiling height of nearly six metres.”
The ‘press release’ was accompanied by a Photoshopped picture of library books down the tunnel.
“The surviving original rails could even be utilised for sets of movable book shelves,” it went on.
“Use of the existing old rails for book stack access would maximise available space and still leave enough room for those Library staff who would need to be posted there.
“Another advantage would be the fact that the tunnel can be accessed from the Portway as well as Sion Hill in Clifton. George Ferguson hasn’t yet made this ingenious solution decision public. It is anticipated that he will make an announcement as soon as negotiations with Clifton and Hotwells Improvement Society … are complete, hopefully at the Tuesday meeting in three weeks’ time.”
What? But that’s ridiculous! Surely this cannot be true?
But then again, no more ridiculous than stealing part of our historic library to hand over to a school.
I dutifully forwarded this to assorted councillors and other interested parties asking if anyone knew anything about it. I also responded to the original sender, asking how reliable his source was.
He then suggested I work out the date of the putative council meeting which would be discussing the plan.
Ah. Right. April the First. Read more: http://www.bristolpost.co.uk/Site-worth-visit-ndash-fooling/story-20889671-detail/story.html#ixzz2xectyVLY
ROLL BACK THE YEARS ON RAILWAY
BY LYNNE HUTCHINSON L.HUTCHINSON 07:00 – 16 April 2008 Visitors will be able to see progress on restoration of the Clifton Rocks Railway during an open weekend next month. The funicular railway, which links Hotwells with Clifton, has been closed for more than 70 years. But a team of enthusiasts have been working on what is one of Bristol’s greatest feats of engineering for the past three years and want to show people what they have achieved so far. It cost £30,000 to build the railway, which opened in 1893 and carried more than 100,000 passengers in its first six weeks. At the time it rivalled Clifton Suspension Bridge as a tourist attraction but business fell in the 1920s and 1930s as motor transport became widespread and the Portway opened. The railway closed to passengers in 1934. In 1941 the BBC took it over as an emergency headquarters and until 1960 it was used as a booster station. Having fallen into disrepair, plans were than put forward for restoration, spearheaded by Maggie Shapland at Bristol University. A series of open days have been held since and now visitors can see the structure again during the weekend of May 17 and 18, although children under the age of 14 will not be allowed into the tunnel itself because of insurance restrictions. Maggie said the volunteers had come a long way since starting work at Easter 2005, using donations from the public and money raised from guided tours of the tunnel. A limited company has been formed, Clifton Rocks Railway Ltd, and it hopes to become a charitable trust this year. Its grand ambition is to get the railway running again, but accepts this would cost millions of pounds. A number of artefacts will be on show during the open weekend and models have been made to show the railway when it was in operation. A large mechanical device known as a clack valve from the bottom station water tank has also been retrieved, together with some pulleys. Maggie said: “A full-size ‘end’ of a railway car painted in Sir George White’s tram colours of blue and cream with maroon and gold has been placed on the rails to give a good impression of a car disappearing down the tunnel. “Also on display is the original Victorian electric telegraph system used to relay signals to the bottom station, where an electric bell rang to signal the top car was about to descend. “This enabled the engineer to establish the necessary balance of water needed for the cars.” The event runs on both the Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 4pm. There will be a further two hours from 6pm on the Saturday, when the Military Vehicle Trust will stage a display of Second World War equipment outside the station as part of the Museums at Night event. A free hourly vintage bus ride from the Lloyds Amphitheatre in Anchor Road and the railway will also run on the Sunday as part of a rally celebrating 100 years of the Bristol bus.
RAIL TRACK WORK HITS THE ROCKS
08 November 2007
The Clifton Rocks Railway has had to close as it is no longer covered by insurance. A number of fully-booked tours planned by the restoration group have been scrapped and no-one has been allowed to set foot inside the 113-year-old railway for five weeks. Its closure is expected to be temporary and has come about because of a change of ownership at the Avon Gorge Hotel. Clifton Rocks Railway is located on the hotel’s premises. Its previous owner, Peel Hotels, used to take care of the insurance which allowed enthusiasts to work on restoring the world’s only four-track funicular railway. But in August the Avon Gorge Hotel was sold as part of a £15.5 million deal. The new owner, New Light Hotels, has yet to obtain insurance that would cover anyone working underground or visiting the railway. Clifton Rocks Railway chairman Peter Davey said: “The day the hotel was sold was the day our group no longer had any insurance. They are looking into it and told us as soon as it’s clear we can open up again.” A statement from New Light Hotels said the firm was aware of the problem and was endeavouring to reach a solution but safety had to be a paramount consideration.
WARNING . . . THIS MAY BE A ROCKY RIDE
24 October 2006
As work on refurbishing Bristol’s historic railway gains momentum, LUCY PARKINSON looks at the past, present and future of Clifton Rocks Railway From Brunel’s iconic Suspension Bridge or the grandeur of the ss Great Britain, to the ornate Temple Meads Station or the world-class Bristol Old Vic Theatre and school, Bristol is renowned for its famous landmarks.Less well known perhaps is the city’s hidden underground railway – the Clifton Rocks Railway – the only four-track funicular railway in the world. Most people pass the 113-year-old railway without even knowing it is there. Built with great difficulty inside the cliff of the Avon Gorge, the water-powered railway runs from Sion Hill in Clifton, down through the limestone cliffs of the Avon Gorge to the Portway. It opened on March, 11, 1893, at a cost of £30,000 – three times the original estimate – and operated for 40 years against diminishing trade, before closing in 1934. But this did not mark the end of the railway’s life as it became an air-raid shelter and a secret transmission base for the BBC during the Second World War. It has been empty and disused since the BBC moved out in 1960, and for more than 40 years the railway fell into a state of disrepair.
This all changed when Maggie Shapland, a consultant at Bristol University, spearheaded an ambitious plan to restore the railway. Maggie has been passionate about the railway for more than 20 years but she and the team were not allowed to go down into the railway until 2000, when current owner Robert Peel bought the Avon Gorge Hotel – next door to the rocks railway – and gave permission.
For the past 18 months the volunteers have worked tirelessly to clear tonnes of debris and rubble from the railway in an ambitious effort to bring the railway back to life. Maggie, 60, of Clifton, said: “We started work in March 2005. The top station was covered in weeds, the hand rails were rotten, there were railings missing and trees growing up through the ground. It was in a very sorry state. “Since then we have spent hours and hours down there tidying up and finding things as we move vegetation. “It’s fantastic that we have come from people only being able to peer through the rubble and weeds at the entrance of the railway, to now being able to actually go down and have a look around. “We have come a long way in a very short period of time.”
As the restoration gains momentum, the Clifton Rocks Railway Trust is holding its first annual general meeting at the Avon Gorge Hotel next month, where members will discuss the future of the railway. The trust is also appealing for more volunteers to help with the ever-increasing workload. “It is so interesting and very rewarding to be involved in this project,” Maggie said. “But a lot of work still needs to be done. “Some people go straight to the ‘big picture’, intent on getting the railway running come what may. “However, we have to be realists and appreciate that a certain amount of groundwork has to be covered first. After all, before you can repair anything you have to know what is wrong with it, and you also have to know the limiting parameters of the site.” One of the major decisions yet to be made is whether to restore the railway to its original, pre-war state, or to preserve the alterations that were made with the arrival of the Second World War, including the modifications made by the BBC.
After a series of air raids on the city in 1940, local people started sheltering in the tunnel. By that time it had been bricked up into chambers, steps built on both sides and rails covered with concrete slabs for residents to sleep on. Mike Farr, 75, from Pill, sheltered in the railway as a boy of nine, living in Clifton. He said: “We lived very close to the railway. During the first few years of the war we had our own bomb shelter in the back garden, until they opened the railway tunnel in 1941. “Some of my pals were evacuated, but me and some others stayed behind and we went down into the railway during the air raids. “It was quite exciting really. We slept on the concrete ledges but we quite enjoyed it. All the children thought it was good fun and a bit of a joke but, of course, it wasn’t very funny for the grown-ups.” John Knott, 66, of Clifton Wood, also sheltered in the tunnel. He said: “It was our air-raid shelter when I was a baby and I’ve been interested in the railway my whole life. My mother used to go shopping in the city centre, get the tram back along the Portway and then catch the train up to Clifton. “I used to sneak down there with my friends in the 1950s, when I was a young lad. It was derelict and dangerous, but it was a big adventure for us. “It was very eerie and we only went into the top half of the tunnel because we only had cheap torches and the batteries kept running out. “I didn’t go back into the tunnel for about 50 years, until I went to an open day last year. I find it fascinating and I’d love to see it restored eventually.”
For now the future of the Clifton Rocks Railway is still to be decided, as Maggie explains: “There is an awful lot of thinking to be done and decisions made about the future. “Looking at the situation from a practical standpoint I have mixed views about whether the railway should be restored to a working entity, as this could spoil everything else that has happened since the railway closed in the 1930’s. “However, one thing should always be remembered – we would not be failures if we do not get a railway running again, but we will should consider ourselves failures if we damage the current structure in the rush towards an unfeasible restoration.”
For more information on the railway, opportunities to volunteer, or to become a Friend of Clifton Rocks Railway, visit the website at www.cliftonrocksrailway.org.uk .
The chairman of the Clifton Rocks Railway refurbishment group, Peter Davey, is giving a public talk about the railway on Wednesday, November 15, at the Barton Hill Settlement, 43 Ducie Road, Barton Hill.
The Clifton Rocks Railway Trust’s annual general meeting will be held on November 24, at the Avon Gorge Hotel from 6.30pm.
RAILWAY TUNNEL IS BACK ON TRACK
17 October 2006
The restoration of the historic Clifton Rocks Railway will be discussed at a free talk tomorrow.Entitled The Rebirth of the Clifton Rocks Railway, the event will detail the restoration of the long-lost tunnel through the eyes of a volunteer. The interactive lunchtime talk will be given by Maggie Shapland, a consultant at Bristol University, who has worked on the railway for nearly three years.
Maggie, who lives near the Rocks Railway, leads a team of volunteers working to renovate the railway, which runs inside the limestone cliffs of the Avon Gorge, from the Portway up to Sion Hill. She has found many old artefacts at the site, her favourite of which is a lantern. She said: “I have spent hours and hours down there tidying up and finding things as we move vegetation. “It is so interesting and very rewarding to be involved in this project.”
The water-powered funicular railway opened on March 11, 1893, at a cost of £30,000 – three times the original estimate. The journey through the brick-lined tunnel took just 40 seconds each way and the four oil-lit cars took 18 passengers at a time. It operated for 40 years against diminishing trade, before closing in 1934. But this did not mark the end of the railway’s useful life as it became a secret transmission base for the BBC during World War II. It has been empty and disused since the BBC moved out in 1960. The lease was then held by Bristol City Council. Five years later it was bought by the owner of the Avon Gorge Hotel. It is now set to reopen and tours are available to look around the work which is being done.
The Rebirth of the Clifton Rocks Railway will take place in Westbury-on- Trym Village Hall, Eastfield Road, Bristol, tomorrow from 1pm. No pre-booking is necessary. For more information go to www.cliftonrocksrailway.org.uk .
RECORD NUMBERS GO THROUGH OPEN DOORS
30 September 2006 About 10,000 visitors took part in this year’s Bristol Open Doors Day, an annual event allowing people to look behind the scenes at some of the city’s architectural, religious and historical treasures.This year, 66 of Bristol’s landmark buildings were open to visitors. These included Red Lodge on Park Row, Redcliffe Caves and the Kings Weston Roman villa at Long Cross.
Visitor numbers were up at most venues this year and organisers say the weather was the best it had been for the past 13 years. People travelled to the event from as far afield as London, Kingston- on-Thames and even Argentina.
Several venues were visited by great-grandchildren with family connections, and the Bristol Record Office and the Muller Museum were kept busy with family queries. The majority of visitors were from Bristol, and Doors Open Day gave them the chance to learn about the city’s past and present.
Organised by Business West, Bristol City Council and the Architecture Centre, the Doors Open Day is one of the biggest of its kind outside London.
Event organiser Penny Mellor said: “This year’s event was extremely successful. We had good numbers and very nice weather. “We had about 50,000 visits recorded, which is about five per person. Some people do a few and others do a lot more. We may be talking about 10,000 people. “I saw a lot of people walking around town clutching leaflets. “We had half-a-dozen new buildings that were not open before, such as Merchant’s Hall, which was very popular, and the one-time Homeopathic Hospital, which is now a modern health centre. The day does take a lot of organising and this was certainly a good one and probably the best for weather. So numbers were probably as high as we’ve had.”
One of this year’s top attractions was the Clifton Rocks Railway next to the Avon Gorge Hotel, tunnelled into the rock face in the early 1900s.
It is currently being restored and the Doors Open Day enabled people to get into the top station, where they could take in dramatic views down the steep tracks.
Among the other attractions open to the public were the Royal Fort House in Tyndall Avenue, John Wesley’s Chapel in the city centre and Underfall Yard on Bristol docks.
Doors Open Day also included some of the city’s contemporary buildings, such as the City Academy, completed in 2005 and Bristol’s first example of the Government’s academy secondary schools programme.
BIRTHDAY TREAT FOR ROCKS RAILWAY ENTHUSIAST MAGGIE
30 September 2006
Friends of a Clifton resident who has been instrumental in the renaissance of a historic railway joined her for a 60th birthday celebration.Maggie Shapland was given a surprise birthday party, in the shape of a two-hour boat cruise on The Matthew, the replica of the ship John Cabot sailed across the Atlantic in 1497.
Mrs Shapland is leading a team of volunteers which has spent more than a year renovating the old Clifton Rocks Railway, which runs through the side of the Avon Gorge from the Portway up to Sion Hill.
The Clifton Rocks Railway Trust is supported by the Avon Gorge Hotel, Bristol City Council and sponsored by a number of local companies.
Constructed inside the cliffs of the Avon Gorge to reduce its visual impact, this water-powered funicular railway opened on March, 11, 1893, and operated for 40 years against diminishing trade.
Its closure in 1934 did not mark the end of its useful life as it became a secret transmission base for the BBC during the Second World War.
It has been empty and disused since the BBC moved out after the war but is set to reopen and tours are available to look around the work which is being done.
FOOD FUN, A TUNNEL AND A CYCLE RIDE
22 May 2006
Underground exploration and a celebration of food were just two of the activities on offer in Bristol over the weekend.
The Clifton Rocks Railway was opened up so people could see a new underground tunnel which has been discovered below Sion Hill. Families were also able to see work in progress on the restoration of the top station as well as a series of old photos which illustrate the railway’s history, from 1891 to the present day. It is still not clear what the 50ft tunnel was used for, although there are a number of theories, one of which suggests it may have been used by 16th-century monks and later by smugglers hiding their loot. It was discovered when a brick was removed from a wall, exposing the long, dark tunnel. Peter Davey, chairman of the Clifton Rocks Railway refurbishment group, said: “We wondered if the tunnel was for smugglers. “It seems to go towards Spring House which is opposite. “It might have gone to the Priory or it could have been a water system.”
Explaining the long-term aim of the group, Mr Davey said: “We would like to reopen and be part of a tourist trail that would lead to the SS Great Britain, the Matthew, the ferry services, Suspension Bridge, Cabot Tower and the Zoo – and then we could have a real reason to open.”
The recently discovered tunnel is blocked at the far end but during the weekend people were able to look down it from the opposite end.
DARK SECRET BELOW OLD ROCKS RAILWAY
12 May 2006 by Chris Allen
A NEW underground tunnel has been discovered below Clifton’s Sion Hill. Volunteers working to restore the Clifton Rocks Railway have opened up the subterranean passage after making a small opening in the rock face close to the railway’s upper station. Inside, they have found crushed rocks and broken paving – but nothing to link it to the railway. It is believed the secret passage may have previously been used by 16th century monks and later by smugglers to hide loot. Experts have yet to establish exactly why it was built, although it is believed it may have once belonged to the Priory or St Vincent’s Rock Hotel. There is a warren of underground tunnels in Clifton, many of which have not been opened up for decades. Peter Davey, chairman of the Clifton Rocks Railway refurbishment group, said: “We don’t know where this tunnel leads. “We opened it up after finding an archway and have now created an opening in the rock face large enough to climb through and have a look around. “It’s a long tunnel that runs underneath Sion Hill. “We don’t know if it was an escape hatch for monks or used by smugglers to bring things up from the river below. “We’ve found nothing inside the tunnel to suggest what it might have been used for – it’s a complete mystery.”
Visitors will be able to see into the new tunnel next weekend, when the historic Clifton Rocks Railway is opened up to the public. The railway’s upper station, near the Avon Gorge Hotel, will open its doors on May 20 and 21. It was opened last year for the first time in 70 years after being locked shut in 1934. The railway was opened in 1893 and cost £30,000 to build. In the first six weeks, it carried more than 100,000 people and rivalled the Clifton Suspension Bridge as a tourist attraction. Free buses will be laid on to take visitors from Bristol city centre to Clifton to view the railway. It will be open from 10am to 4pm on both days and entrance will be free.
AMNESTY FOR THE RAILWAY RASCALS
11:00 – 10 November 2005
By Simon Peevers
YOUNG scamps who pinched bits off the Clifton Rocks Railway in the 1960s have won unlikely praise for helping to preserve part of Bristol’s heritage.
Numerous items from name plates, to brackets and measuring sticks, disappeared when young boys, or girls, in the city ran off with them as souvenirs. Now a number of middle-aged men have come forward after deciding their consciences have got the better of them. But instead of being rapped on the knuckles, the confessors have been praised by Clifton Rocks Railway chairman Peter Davey, who said they have helped to preserve parts of the railway which may have otherwise ended up on the tip.
And Mr Davey has appealed to anybody else who may have a part of the railway’s history to come forward and return the stolen items – with no questions asked. He said: “A couple of gentleman have approached me over the past few months to say that they want to return pieces to the railway. “The first was a light bracket which is now back at the station, and there was also an original name panel with the initials of the railway company on it. My father has a photograph of the railway taken back in the 1960s, which shows where the missing panel should be. A gentleman from Somerset has had it in his garden since he took it more than 40 years ago.”
“It is quite funny to think that at the time some youngsters pinched bits from the railway and in doing so have made sure some parts have remained intact and not ended up on the scrap heap. It would be great if anybody else could come forward with original bits and return them to us.”
The railway was re-opened in May after a major renovation and months of hard work by the Clifton Rocks Railway Refurbishment Group. It was officially opened by Sir George White, the great-grandson of one of the railways founders.
HARD WORK PAYS OFF
11:26 – 07 September 2005
The Clifton Rocks Railway will be opened to the public this weekend to give visitors the chance to see what volunteers have done to aid its restoration. It used to run from near the Avon Gorge Hotel down to the Portway. Volunteers have been devoting their weekends to the railway, helping to remove vegetation and rubble from the site for the past 18 months.
At the end of May – as part of an ambitious plan to rebuild the whole funicular – the top station was finally re-opened to the public. People will have another chance to look down the 450-foot tunnel and learn more about the Clifton Rocks Railway Refurbishment Group’s plans to have the attraction up and running again within the next 15 years. When people visit the railway this weekend they will be able to view a number of artefacts that have been found by project workers as they toiled at the site.
Chairwoman of the restoration work, Maggie Shapland, is most impressed by a gas lantern that has been found at the site. She said: “I have spent hours and hours down there. I spend time there tidying up and finding things as we move vegetation. We have been doing things at the site rather than raising money for the project. It is so interesting and very rewarding to be involved in this project. I want lots of people to come along on the weekend and see all the pieces we have found during our work on the railway.”
The Rocks Railway project has recently been boosted by a donation from a Bristol security company. Red Security Management Systems presented the refurbishment group with thousands of pounds worth of CCTV equipment to deter people from breaking into the site. The company also installed the equipment at the restoration site. Treasurer James Bray said: “They have been so generous and so wonderful. “It is absolutely fantastic that they have made this generous gift to us.”
The Rocks Railway will be open on Saturday and Sunday from 10am. The event is part of Doors Open Day, which will also see venues including All Saints Church in Pembroke Road, Clifton, Redcliffe Caves, Clifton Suspension Bridge and Badminton School open to the public.
HISTORY ON THE ROCKS
Gerry Brooke 11:00 – 09 August 2005
A major attraction, and one which is sure to draw the crowds on Open Doors Day (Saturday, September 10) – is the long, lost Clifton Rocks Railway, which used to run in a tunnel through the limestone from near the Avon Gorge Hotel right down to the busy Portway. At the end of May – as part of an ambitious plan to rebuild the whole funicular – the top station was finally re-opened.
It was all due to the hard work of the Clifton Rocks Railway Refurbishment Group, which has spent the last 18 months removing vegetation and rubbish from the previously hidden station. The volunteers have already held two open days when hundreds of visitors turned up to view their work, look down the 450-foot tunnel and learn more about the plans to have the attraction up and running again within the next 15 years.
It was officially opened by Sir George White, the great-grandson of one of the railways founders. As patron of the project he said: “This is a very proud day. Detractors endlessly say that this cannot be done, but the fact that we have managed to refurbish the station in such a short time is a signal of our intent.”
Chairman Peter Davey said: “We have to build something at the bottom station for this to work, whether it’s a restaurant or a museum. At the moment I would say that there is a 50/50 chance of the railway re-opening, but we have to be positive. But people like the engineer Brunel, entrepreneurs like George White, and businessmen like George Newnes (who put up the money) were willing to ignore their critics and we are following their example.” The volunteers need to raise at least £20 million to fulfil their dream and are considering a National Lottery bid.
In the early days of Bristol’s electric trams, George White, the airplane and tram pioneer, naturally wanted to carry his network into Clifton. But this was bitterly opposed by the residents. Many ordinary Bristolians loved the Downs. They viewed it as something of a playground, somewhere to unwind and relax. White, who saw his life’s mission as getting people where they wanted to go, was determined to make a little money out of this habit and, not a man to be easily defeated, started looking at ways around the problem. He was familiar with the popular 900-foot funicular railway linking Lynton and Lynmouth, which had opened in 1890, and thought that something similar could be built in Bristol. Sir George Newnes, the wealthy publisher who had put up the finance for this funicular, was keen to help, and became a principal shareholder in the venture. But because the Merchant Venturers, who owned that side of the gorge, insisted that it should remain unscarred, the railway had to be built entirely underground.
Work started in the spring of 1891 and, although the tunnel was dug from both ends at once, work proceeded slowly because the contractors had to cut through hard, faulted limestone. Broken drills and rock falls were just two of the difficulties. When it finally opened, two years after the first sod had been turned, and at a cost of £30,000 (three times the original estimate) it proved to be an immediate success. Every one of the 6,220 people who travelled that first day got a gilded metal medallion as a memento, but for the operators it was the only day that they ever made a profit. In the first six weeks, the novel funicular carried more than 100,000 people. On bank holidays the company estimated that they carried 1,000 people an hour. It even rivalled Brunel’s suspension bridge as a tourist attraction. The railway, which had four tracks compared with Lynmouth’s two, linked into the Hotwells tramway system as well as with the pleasure steamers which called at the Hotwells pontoon.
What was it like to travel on the railway? Well, just like its cousin in north Devon, it used no engines, just a simple system of water and gravity in which the heavier car hoisted its twin up on a steel cable. When the cars – one at the top and one at the bottom – were loaded, they balanced each other. Water was then pumped into the top car’s water tank, which then made it heavier that the lower one. The brakeman would then release the brakes and the heavier car would descend, pulling the bottom car to the top. An electric telegraph linked the two so that each brakeman knew how many passengers they had and could adjust the amount of water in the tanks accordingly. When the upper car reached the bottom, the water was emptied out and pumped back to a reservoir at the top. The journey through the brick-lined tunnel took just 40 seconds each way. The four oil-lit cars took 18 passengers at a time, plus a brakeman who rode on a small platform. For safety’s sake each pair of cars had three sets of duplicate brakes. Although it was pitch dark in the tunnel, these were originally painted light blue and white with gold lining and ran in pairs, coupled with steel ropes. It cost one penny to go up but only one half-penny to come down.
In 1908 the company which ran the railway went broke and it closed. People would travel on it once for the novelty but few had cause to use it regularly. But this wasn’t to be the end of the story. George White came to the rescue and bought it in 1912, for the knockdown price of £1,500, and restored it to working order. Under its new owner, the funicular was run as part of the tramway system. But the railway received a bitter blow in 1922 when Hotwell Road was widened – making access difficult – and the Port and Pier railway line, which ran between Hotwells and Avonmouth, was taken up. It had been a useful connection. In the 1920s and 1930s, as trams were run down in favour of motor buses and the Portway built, business tailed off. The final closure came in 1934.
At the start of the last war the top part of the tunnel was used as a bomb-proof shelter and in 1941 the BBC took out the carriages and converted the lower section into an emergency headquarters – to be used if London’s Broadcasting House should be destroyed. They built a recording room, transmitter room, control room and studio, which could hold a dozen actors and was equipped for music and drama. A special ventilation shaft was also installed so that occupants could survive gas attacks. BOAC used the top part of the tunnel for storage. After the end of the war, and until 1960, the transmitter was used as a booster station. After the BBC had left, the lease was held by Bristol City Council. Five years later it was bought by the owner of the Avon Gorge Hotel.
ROCKS RAIL LINE OPEN FOR VIEWING
Evening Post 11:00 – 02 August 2005
Railway enthusiasts are busy removing rubble and debris from the remains of the top station next to the Avon Gorge Hotel in Clifton. Access during Doors Open Day on September 10 will be to the top station only, but visitors will have views down the steep railway tracks. There will also be an exhibition of old photos and plans for the restoration of the railway.
A vintage bus from the Bristol Industrial Museum will be parked outside. The station will also be open to the public the next day.
Volunteers are hoping to get National Lottery grants that will allow them to restore the railway. The project is likely to cost between £15 million and £20 million.
The funicular railway ran through a tunnel bored in the rocks between Hotwells and Clifton from 1893 to 1934. During the Second World War it was home to the BBC, British Airways Overseas Corporation and was also used by local people as an air-raid shelter.
Bristol Doors Open Day provides a chance to see inside some of Bristol’s most fascinating and historically-important buildings, which are not normally open or fully accessible to the public. Bristol was one of the first cities to stage this event, which has now been adopted nationally. In its first year, 1994, just 28 buildings were opened. This year 61 buildings, ranging from the Old Dock Cottages at Cumberland Basin to Wessex Water’s Sewage Treatment Works at Avonmouth, will be open from 10am to 4pm.
PUBLIC GET THEIR FIRST GLIMPSE OF REFURBISHED CLIFTON ROCKS STATION
BY HUGO BERGER H.BERGER (Evening Post) 11:00 – 23 May 2005
The first stage in an ambitious plan to rebuild the Clifton Rocks Railway has been reached, with the reopening of the top station. The Clifton Rocks Railway Refurbishment group aims to resurrect the funicular railway, which runs in a tunnel cutting through the rocks from Clifton to Hotwells. About 20 volunteer members have spent the past 18 months removing vegetation and rubbish from the underground station next to the Avon Gorge Hotel in Sion Road. They held two open days during the weekend, where hundreds of visitors viewed the refurbished station and learned about the dream to see the railway running within the next 15 years. The public were also able to look down the 137m (450 feet) tunnel.
The station was officially opened by the volunteers and Sir George White, the great-grandson and namesake of the founder of the railway. Sir George, who is patron of the project, said: “This is a very proud day for us. “Detractors endlessly say that this cannot be done, but the fact we have managed to refurbish the station in such a short time is a signal of our intent.”
The volunteers need to raise up to £20 million to fulfil their dream, and are considering a National Lottery bid. Chairman Peter Davey said: “We have to build something at the bottom station for this to work, whether it’s a restaurant or a museum. At the moment I would say there is a 50/50 chance of the railway reopening, but we have to be positive. “But these people like Brunel, George White, and George Newnes were willing to ignore their critics and we are following their example.”
Among the visitors, Thomas Clements, aged 81, of Bishopston, travelled on the railway with his grandfather in 1930 when he was a young lad. He said: “I cannot remember much about the day except we travelled up on the railway and then spent the day walking around Clifton. It would be brilliant if they could reopen it again.”
Another visitor, Colin Watson, 75, of Hanham, said: “It would be something really special if they could get it up and running again as it would provide a massive boost to tourism in the city.”
Visitors were also able to enjoy the first village fair in Clifton for more than 25 years, with attractions including bands, face painting, exhibitions and a display of vintage cars.
The tunnel was opened in 1893 and cost £30,000 to build – three times its original estimate – with the financial backing of the wealthy publisher Sir George Newnes. In its first six weeks it carried 100,000 people but business trailed off in the 1920s as motor transport became more widely used and the Portway road opened. The railway closed to passengers in 1934, but during the Second World War the BBC took it over as an emergency headquarters. After the war it was used as a booster station, but this was closed in 1960 and the railway was left to fall into disrepair.
STATION AT TOP OF GORGE TO OPEN AGAIN AFTER CLEAN-UP
BY JOHN THOMPSON AND KATHARINE BARKER EPNEWS 11:00 – 19 May 2005
Clifton’s historic rocks railway station is opening to the public this weekend after 70 years . The railway’s upper station, near the Avon Gorge Hotel, will open its doors on Saturday for the first time since it was locked shut in 1934.
The event is part of the Festival of Transport, which is being staged in Bristol this year.
The idea for the reopening came from James Tonkin, vice-chairman of the station’s restoration group, and Robert Peel, the new owner of the Avon Gorge Hotel. Mr Tonkin said: “About a year ago we decided it was time to stop sitting around and talking and we decided we were going to get something done. It was time for action. The catalyst was the Bristol Festival of Transport this month.”
Up to 20 volunteers have been giving up their weekends to clear the entrance and upper station of undergrowth and other rubbish to open up the structure and the metal railings have been grit-blasted. When all the vegetation and other rubbish has been taken away the public will be able to see down the tunnel.
As they come out of the top station they will also be able to see into the run-down pump room, which is part of a multi-million pound scheme to refurbish the hotel. The group’s long-term plans also include clearing a way down to the bottom station, where the original wooden ceiling panels still survive.
The railway was opened in 1893 and cost £30,000 to build. In the first six weeks it carried more than 100,000 people and rivalled the Clifton Suspension Bridge as a tourist attraction. But business tailed off in the Twenties and Thirties as motor transport became more widely used and the Portway opened. The railway closed to passengers in 1934 but, in 1941, the BBC took it over as an emergency headquarters and, at the end of the war until 1960, it was used as a booster station.
Mr Peel’s firm Peel Hotels owns the Avon Gorge Hotel and announced the possibility of reopening the railway at the same time as he unveiled a multi-million pound scheme to refurbish the hotel – and build a car park on part of its terraced gardens overlooking the Avon Gorge. Support, via a charitable trust, for a project to re-open the derelict Clifton Rocks Railway was announced as part of the investment.
FINANCIAL BACKING WOULD HELP IMPRESSIVE PROJECT
11:00 – 30 April 2005
During the past few years I have become a frequent visitor to your very interesting city. Last Sunday I was in Clifton looking at the site of the Rocks Railway when we were asked by a lady volunteer at the site if we would like to know more about the history and proposals for the site.
We were treated to a potted history of the railway and its future; the lady volunteer was an excellent ambassador for the city of Bristol and for its tourism, she was to be cong ratulated. I was amazed to find that this project has no formal funding. Surely the city council or English Heritage could offer some help on this part of Bristol’s history? I hope that the project is able to continue. This is working history and as such should be retained.
Larry Watson, Coventry.
He was referring to Lin Coleman (she is holding the drill in the May photos!)
IT’S TIME TO ROCK ‘N’ RAIL
19 April 2005 Evening Post
Volunteers have started work on an ambitious £15 million project to open up the Clifton Rocks Railway – not only as a tourist attraction but also as a part of Bristol’s transport infrastructure. BOB BEALE reports. In the shadow of Brunel’s famous bridge and next to the Avon Gorge Hotel on Clifton’s Sion Hill, enthusiasts have been hard at work restoring another part of Bristol’s engineering heritage. It is just the start of an ambitious £15 million project to get the Clifton Rocks Railway going again as an integral part of Bristol’s transport and tourism industries. The railway is a 500 ft tunnel blasted through the limestone of the gorge from Sion Hill to The Portway. The lower station entrance can be seen by motorists travelling from Cumberland Basin to Bridge Valley Road but the top entrance, above the hotel, can be passed without a second glance. Now a group of volunteers has started the work which could see the Rocks Railway back in operation.
The initiative was kick-started when James Tonkin, vice-chairman of the restoration group, met with Robert Peel – the new owner of the Avon Gorge Hotel. Mr Tonkin said: “A group of us would meet at the Ring O’ Bells pub in Nailsea and talk about doing something with the railway and then people from Clifton also became involved. About a year ago we decided it was time to stop sitting around and talking and we decided we were going to get something done. It was time for action. The catalyst was the Bristol Festival of Transport in May.” Up to 20 volunteers have been giving up their weekends to clear the entrance and upper station. Mr Tonkin, who is a joiner, recruited his apprentice Adam Whiting, from Nailsea, and safety expert Peter Luckhurst to help with the project. Mr Luckhurst said: “Originally, James asked me to come and have a look at the safety element but I got hooked and have been coming to help ever since.”
The group has cleared away undergrowth and other rubbish to open up the station’s entrance and grit-blasted the metal railings. Two staircases were built either side of the tunnel when it was used during the Second World War and it is now possible to see all the way down the staircase to the bottom entrance on the Portway. A short trip down the staircase gives views into the chambers used for BBC broadcasts during the war and also the blocked-up tunnel.
Last weekend, two members of the Severn and Pilning History Society, Lynne Coleman from Shirehampton and Mike Edwards from Severn Beach, gave the station a lick of paint. Ms Coleman said: “The hard work started at Easter and since then we’ve been painting and shoving pots of rubbish into the skip. “I think it will be fantastic to get this place up and running for the public in May.”
Clifton and Hotwells Improvement Society member Margaret Shapland was sweeping the stairs last weekend. She said: “I’ve lived here since 1978 and often tried to get something done. “I have always been offering to do something to clean it up and couldn’t get anywhere so it’s been really nice to get started.” But this is only the start of the group’s ambitious project.
Chairman Peter Davey has recruited several volunteers through giving talks about the railway. He said: “It will be good to be part of the festival in May but what we want to do in the long term is to get the railway running again so it forms a key part of Bristol’s transport, education and tourism. “We see it as linking up with a tram and then a ferry as a key commuter link to the city centre, with a museum at the bottom end and an observatory overlooking the suspension bridge to the right and the city to the left. “It could be sensitively designed so as not to be overly intrusive on the side of the gorge. “Also, we see the railway as a big link in a Bristol tourism trail taking in the docks, the ferry, the bridge, the ss Great Britain, the Matthew and other attractions. “Brunel had vision and we have got to carry that on. “We estimate it will take up to 10 years and cost £15 million. “We hope to be talking to the National Lottery people in a year or so as we anticipate the bulk of the money will have to come from them.”
What started with a small group of volunteers and a lick of paint will hopefully bring back to life yet another part of Bristol’s fine engineering past.
l For more information on the history of the railway, visit http://www.subbrit.org.uk We are grateful to Subterranea Britannica and Richard Hope-Hawkins for allowing us to use information from that site.
Feb 19 Evening Post:
Work has started on a scheme to restore one of Bristol’s greatest feats of engineering. The Evening Post revealed last June that the Clifton Rocks funicular railway, which has been shut for more than 70 years, could be resurrected.
Avon Gorge Hotel owner Robert Peel has agreed to support a project costing up to £15 million to re-open the funicular – and that was the spur Peter Davey, of the Clifton Rocks Railway Refurbishment group, and his fellow enthusiasts needed to get things moving.
Now the group is planning an open day for the public to raise interest in the project. Mr Davey said: “We are really thrilled because we talked about this 10 years ago but the hotel weren’t interested. So now we have been able to get started. We plan to be able to open the top station to the public over the weekend of May 22 and hope we can get all the health and safety and other issues cleared up by then.”
Work has started clearing the upper station of the 450ft ride between Hotwells and Sion Hill, which closed in 1934. When all the vegetation and other rubbish has been taken away the public will be able to see down the tunnel, possibly all the way down to the bottom station. As they come out of the top station they will be able to see into the run-down pump room which is part of a multi-million pound scheme to refurbish the hotel. Photos:
The group’s long-term plans also include clearing a way down to the bottom station, where the original wooden ceiling panels can still be seen.
Mr Davey said: “The railway is very much part of Bristol’s heritage and we would like to create a trail taking in the ss Great Britain, the Matthew, the records office and @Bristol, and why not include a ferry?” He was delighted that, on the day work started, members of the refurbishment group found two of the original wheels used to turn the cable.
The railway was opened in 1893 and cost £30,000 to build. In the first six weeks it carried more than 100,000 people and rivalled Clifton Suspension Bridge as a tourist attraction. But business trailed off in the 1920s and Thirties as motor transport became more widely used and the Portway opened. The railway closed to passengers in 1934 but in 1941 the BBC took it over as an emergency headquarters and, at the end of the war until 1960, it was used as a booster station.
Mr Peel’s firm Peel Hotels owns the Avon Gorge Hotel and announced the possibility of reopening the railway at the same time as he unveiled a multi-million pound scheme to refurbish the hotel – and build a car park on part of its terraced gardens overlooking the Avon Gorge. Support, via a charitable trust, for a project to reopen the derelict Clifton Rocks Railway was announced as part of the investment.
On 29 June 2004
The Evening Post announced plans to reopen Rocks Railway again – an underground link between Clifton and the river Avon that has been closed for 70 years.
Hotelier Robert Peel has pledged to support a scheme to fund the estimated £10 to £15 million cost of reopening the funicular railway, which closed in 1934.
Mr Peel’s firm Peel Hotels owns the Avon Gorge Hotel and announced the possibility of reopening the railway at the same time as he unveiled a multi-million pound scheme to refurbish the hotel – and build a car park on part of its terraced gardens overlooking the Avon Gorge. Peel Hotels is preparing to talk to the city council’s planning department about a multi-million pound refurbishment scheme to reopen the ballroom and pump room, and add extra bedrooms to the hotel.
Support, via a charitable trust, for a project to reopen the derelict Clifton Rocks Railway would be part of the investment, but the refurbishment scheme also includes controversial plans to turn some of the hotel’s terraced gardens into car parking spaces, something the hotel currently lacks.
Mr Peel said: We believe the railway could be part of a very exciting heritage trail linking Brunel’s Temple Meads station and ss Great Britain, then taking the rocks railway up to Brunel’s suspension bridge and then the zoo. No other city in England could offer this kind of experience.
The hotel group would support a charitable trust to raise the estimated £10 to £15 million needed to restore the railway. The grandiose scheme would depend on the support of planners for the hotel refurbishment plans. Managing director Mr Peel said the aim was to transform it into a prestigious 4-star hotel which would once again attract American visitors to the city.
He said: It would be wonderful to restore the ballroom and pump room, add more bedrooms and restore some of the gardens. But at the end of the day you must have residents’ parking. The people of Clifton are our neighbours but we must have their support (to make it a prestigious 4-star hotel).
Peter Davey, of the Clifton Rocks Railways Refurbishment group, described the railway as a little gem which deserved preserving and reopening. He said: This is a very exciting development. Obviously everything will depend on whether the hotel is successful in its overall plans.
Julie Faulkner, of Clifton and Hotwells Improvement Society, said she would welcome moves to refurbish the hotel and the surrounding area.