Clifton Rocks Railway Restoration

Maggie Shapland (Restoration Chairman)

New Definitive History

The ups and downs of Clifton Rocks Railway and the Clifton Spa. The Definitive History’ was published in December 2017. It is 317 pages long and has 430 images. It costs £15 plus postage. It sets the context of why the railway was built and goes up to September 2017. It is very comprehensive and aims to give the answers to all the questions people ask about the Railway!

It is available from the Clifton Rocks Railway website, and to pick up from

  • Clifton library in Princess Victoria Street
  • Clifton Suspension Bridge visitor centre
  • Bristol Records Office, Create Centre, Anchor Road

Contents
Acknowledgements
Foreword Sir George White Bt
Introduction
1. Why here? It’s all to do with the springs
2. The People Involved: Investors, Engineers and Master Blasters
3. Construction story Trials and Tribulations
4. Changes in Architecture and Operation
5. Other Transport Links
6. Maintenance
7. Railway Artefacts
8. Railway Memories
9. Pump Room and Spa Development from 1880
10. New Uses for the Tunnel Wartime Conversion
11. Barrage Balloons Operation and Memories
12. Air-raid Shelter Operation and Memories
13. BBC Operation and Memories
14. Life after the BBC 1960-2004: Planning Problems and Dereliction
15. Life from 2004
16. Conservation vs. Restoration: the Mary Celeste experience
Glossary
Abbreviations
Endnotes
Contributors of memories
Image sources
Index

Open days 2020

Dates are unknown. We will not be participating in Doors Open Day for the same reasons as last year.
Some group tours have been organised but there is more Health and Safety work to be completed.

Access

Please note that it is not suitable for children under 7, and that visitors will be escorted through in groups of 10 on both Open days and visits down the tunnel. This is a condition of insurance. It is not possible to access the BBC section and the bottom station at the moment..

General

  • As from 28 November 08, we are now a Charitable Trust
  • Look at Clifton Rocks railway website to learn how to become a friend, book for trips and help us pay for conservation etc.
  • All work has been done by unpaid volunteers.
  • We wish to thank the Avon Gorge Hotel for their continued support and providing our electricity and insurance.
  • As part of our Feasibility Study we are carrying out a Survey of members and visitors. Click HERE to download our Survey form and send it to Maggie (email Maggie.Shapland@gmail.com, or write to me at the 97 Princess Victoria Street, Clifton, Bristol BS8 4DD).
  • If you have any photographs, items relating to the tunnel, memories then let Maggie know

Photos

Monthly photos 2005-> (updated February 2020)

Progress

look at the progress diary for work when we started to when we had to stop work (Feb 2005 to 2008) due to change of ownership of the Hotel. We were subsequently allowed to continue work from June 2014. We then had to stop work in September 2017 due to change of ownership of the Hotel. We have not been able to go down the tunnel since June 2017 but allowed to continue in the top station in April 2018. We have since been able to do open days, and organised group trips around the top station

2020

Just looking after the site and keeping it tidy. The book was published at the right time since it is very definitive with lots of photographs and helps people understand the whole picture and why the Railway will not run again.

  • March: Coronavirus has put the cap on any plans such as VE celebrations etc. The Railway is a confined space!

2019

  • January: Took a group of Nordic Walkers round the top station, and receptionists from the Hotel
  • February: We took three groups from Poland round the top station! They were students interested in a career in the rail industry
  • March: We took a group from the Rotary Club around
  • April: We spent a day sweeping, weeding and general tidy up ready for open day. Open day was a great success again. We had an exhibition in the Hotel too. We had 307 visitors round the top station (and 91 round the hotel). Everyone was very generous and we sold lots of books. We were able to spend time showing people the facade of the Pump room too as they came out from the back door. The portacabins were no longer blocking the view.
    It was announced on 30th that Ian Johnston (who bought the Observatory in 2015) had bought the Railway from the owners of the Hotel du Vin Group who were based in Malaysia. His ideas are broadly in line with ours, he just wants the top station to be open all the time rather than on pre-arranged dates. He also may hold events in the three shelters. He wants to work with us. The first thing he did was to let us have a set of keys provided we asked him first if it was OK. He also let Mike cut the padlocks from the tunnel gates much to his delight. We had been shut out by the Hotel since June 2017 for health and safety reasons. Watch this space!
  • May Our second open day with 328 visitors. Exhibition in Avon Gorge Hotel too with 92 visitors. Participating in National Funicular Day. 3 group trips too. Reading History group came in a vintage bus. Stella came all the way from Manchester with her family to look at our working turnstile. She was highly delighted to go through it and hear it click and watch the counter turn. She even did a recording of her going through. It was highly satisfying watching her satisfaction. She lived near the factory.
  • June: We did filming for Brown Bob Productions. It will be shown in Spring 2020. Brown Bob Productions was commissioned by UKTV to produce a television series with the working title The Architecture the Railways Built which is a presenter led factual programme that looks at the architecture that grew out of the railways, including the stations, bridges, tunnels viaducts, signal boxes, walkways, whole villages and towns.
  • August: one group trip. We organised some experts to do various survays for Ian. Good balloon fiesta since the balloons flew over the Railway, but weather meant only one flight
  • September: Big weeding and tidy up session. One group trip. We have not organised any more trips since we did not know what Ian’s plans were.
    Sat 14, Sun 15 September: We are delighted to confirm our own open weekend, free entry to all. We had 384 on Saturday and 306 on Sunday despite not being advertised as part of Bristol Open Doors. It was far more relaxed. Our last open day since next year sometime it will be open every day.
    ON SATURDAY we organised our own FREE VINTAGE BUS TO RUN HOURLY TO THE ROCKS RAILWAY FROM NEAR TO THE BUS STOP OUTSIDE CITY HALL, COLLEGE GREEN, AND WILL RETURN EVERY HOUR
    PLEASE NOTE THAT THE CLIFTON ROCKS RAILWAY WAS OPEN ON THE BRISTOL OPEN DOORS WEEKEND EVEN THOUGH THEY WERE NOT SHOWN IN THE OFFICIAL PROGRAMME. THIS IS BECAUSE THE ORGANISERS INSISTED THAT AN ENTRANCE FEE OF £5 PER PERSON HAD TO BE CHARGED AND £4.50 GIVEN TO THE ORGANISERS. THE VOLUNTEERS WHO HAVE WORKED HARD FOR THE LAST 14 YEARS RESTORING THE SITE BELIEVE THIS IS CONTRARY TO THE SPIRIT OF OPEN DOORS AND HAVE THEREFORE WITHDRAWN FROM THE OFFICIAL PROGRAMME SO THAT THEY CAN OFFER FREE ENTRY TO THE RAILWAY COME AND SEE US FOR YOURSELVES
  • December: One group trip of University engineers.
    18 volunteers went to the Observatory to look at plans that architects had presented to Ian, and to celebrate our work since February 2005. It was great that Ian was showing the plans at this stage rather than just before sending them into the Planning Department where we would not be able to have much influence. We were not keen on the plans and gave Ian and his team our feedback. He has spent more time finishing off the Observatory so we will hear from him again when he is ready.

2018

  • Jan: Successful book launch in the Avon Gorge Hotel despite the heavy rain
  • April: We were able to tidy up the top station ready for open day. Lots of weeds, dust, cobwebs as usual. We were also able to unblock a couple of drains which were making the wall wet, varnish the handrails. It was a roaring success. Had loads of positive feedback on open day and an influx of Facebook members. We sold lots of books. We had two new guides Sal and John. Rather cold, so was glad of a new CRR body jacket. We had 185 in the Hotel looking at the exhibition, and 377 round the railway. We also took part in Clueless. Molly Foss’s niece Georgina Foss came to visit. Molly features in the book since she worked in the tunnel for the BBC during the war
  • September: Still not allowed to do tunnel trips. We spent a day tidying up the top station ready for Doors Open Day. We had a very successful open day with 760 visitors on Saturday,946 on Sunday. People queued for an hour to get in. We sold 45 books on open day- most were autographed on request
  • December: Two students from City of Bristol College filmed the top station as part of their media studies course. Books still selling well with an extra spurt for Christmas

2017

  • Jan: BBC radio 4 countryfile recorded
  • Feb: 6 trips
  • Mar: 8 trips
  • April: weeding, sweeping, painting ready for open day. 8 trips. Lovely dry day for open day with 313 visitors. The exhibition went down very well in the hotel too and gave people more time to chat. Marked out the location of one of the BBC arials on the top station. Safety barrier put on the top station roof. Unblocked a drain since water was gathering on the top station roof along by the back corridor, and cleaned some of the artefact shelves. 8 trips. Amanda Ruggeri of the BBC visited to create a web page about the railway for the BBC. http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20170718-the-underground-railway-that-became-a-secret-wartime-base
  • May: 269 on Doors open day. Blessed with a sunny day again. 8 trips
  • June: Locked out of the tunnel by the Hotel for Health and Safety reasons.
  • Sept: The numbers were up from the last couple of years. On Saturday we had 612 visitors, on Sunday 758. The queues stretched past the lookout point. We had 5 guides going round and round telling the visitors the story, so we never stopped. I survived on a bottle of lucozade each day, and someone in the crowd gave me a biscuit! We all got applause. The crowds were very appreciative and did not seem to mind waiting despite getting rained on every now and then.
  • Nov: Definitive book completed. Ready for sale after 12 December.
    The ups and downs of Clifton Rocks Railway and the Clifton Spa. The definitive history.
    It is 317 pages long with 425 images, many historic, many in colour, and will cost £15. It should be available from 13 December. The book starts at the bottom of the gorge and the development of Hotwells, followed by the development of the Clifton Spa, why the railway was built, the people involved, the construction, operation and maintenance of the Railway, development of the Hotel and Hydro, wartime conversion, dereliction, and the work of the volunteers. The last chapter deals with conservation versus restoration. Many memories of people who travelled on the railway, used the shelters, worked for BOAC, and the BBC as well as general Clifton wartime memories have been included. Contact Maggie Shapland.
  • On 14 December 9pm BBC2 there will be a programme about the Bristol blitz concentrating mainly on the centre but some footage in Clifton Rocks Railway. The first of this series of 4 programmes was shown Thursday 23 November. The other cities are London, Hull and Clydebank.

2016

  • Jan: We replaced the wooden stairs and wooden flooring over the water tank trough in the bottom station as they needed constant attention. It took us three days but now people can walk up the stairs three abreast with no problem at all! We held a well-attended AGM in the Hotel. We also did 9 trips
  • Feb: Mike Taylor started to make the intricate iron work that used to be over the top gate. We did 4 trips. A company wanted to make 10 part science fiction internet series with some filming in the tunnel. This was declined as it does not respect the history of the site.
  • Mar: The iron work progresses. Rosettes had to be cast at the foundry, some of the curly brackets were made by Dorothea Restoration, the sign box and sign by a sign maker but the rest has been Mike’s own work
  • April: we had a big tidy up for open day. The iron work has been sent away for powder coating so should be installed by the end of the month. Open day was very successful again. We were blessed with good weather too if a bit cold. Just as well it was not the following day! Everyone was so upbeat and cheerful. We had 385 visitors (100 more than last April). 6 trips down the tunnel.
    We also participated in the Radio programme ‘Clueless’. Maggie had to read out a clue to help the navigators find the next location.
    On the 30th we reinstated the top gate decorative ironwork. This has been admired by everyone
  • May: thanks to all my faithful band for coming to help. It was great to have the unveiling ceremony of the top station ironwork by Baroness Janke too who was impressed by all our work. We had 269 visitors so down on april but then the closing of the portway did not help. The weather was with us too. Peter and I appeared on Made in Bristol TV. Good article about the new ironwork in the Bristol Post. 6 trips down the tunnel.
  • June: We have decided to spend one day a month doing maintenance again rather than before trips and open days. So much weeding, sweeping, changing light bulbs each time. We have created a work list again to sort of priorities. Still lots of trips- 12 this month!
  • July: Only 7 trips this month. Our maintenance was weeding, sweeping and painting this month just for a change, but at least the weeds were smaller
  • Aug: 6 trips and fun getting balloons and fireworks by the new ironwork
  • Sept: 5 trips, a workday and 2 days of Doors open day. Saturday was punctuated by lots of whistles and helicopters overhead as the Tour of Britain caused adjacent roads to be closed. Despite this we still managed to get 472 visitors through. On Sunday we had 650 visitors and queues and better weather. We were able to get the cars out on Sunday since residential parking made this difficult on Sunday. As usual we had people from all over the world. We also handed out visitor feedback forms produced by Doors Open Day organisers from the Architecture Centre. These made good reading. People liked the enthusiastic tour guides, the artefacts, the history lesson etc. We had lots of claps again. We also had the great grand daughter of Philip Monro the architect of the railway and pump room all the way from Beaconsfield. We were pleased to welcome her and show her the Monro medallions and clock. The grand daughter had been round a couple of years ago so it was good to see another member of the family.
    We also replaced the railing sign boards which we had put up in April 2005 and had gone rotten. Gould signs made a good job considering the spaces were more trapezoidal than rectangular!
  • Oct: 12 trips down the tunnel and a day helping to take out an old cable- spending as much time in the tunnel as at home! On the 11th June 1941 a high voltage cable was installed down the north side of the tunnel to supply power from Clifton to the street lights on the Portway, and to the BBC section. The same cable was removed from the tunnel by Western Power on the 26th October 2016. They still had the original work sheets- which they gave to us. It still had power running through it until they disconnected the supply the day before. They’d originally intended to carry it all out by hand via the top station after cutting it up in to approximately 4mtr peaces, but after the first couple of trips carrying it back up the tunnel, they had a change of mind, and decided to take it all out of the bottom station since it was so heavy. Still not an easy task but a very wise move!
    Started writing a definitive book about the railway- a massive story.
  • Nov: 11 trips
  • Dec: Maggie Shapland and Mike Taylor- both volunteers at the Railway got married, and after the reception took visitors a trip down the tunnel. 86 trips down the tunnel and 4 open days

2015

  • Jan: Installed refurbished drinking fountain from Clifton terminus of the Port and Pier Railway. Installed overthrow from George Newnes time at the exit of the junction of Princes Lane and Sion Hill. Nigel Dando of Radio Bristol came to do an interview about the overthrow, as did Made In Bristol, and the Bristol Post. Celebrated 10 years of working at the Railway at our AGM. Maggie appointed as Vice Chairman. Liaised with Hotel to help GPO sort out fault in the live telephone cable holding 300 lines in the tunnel. 8 trips!
  • Feb: 6 trips
  • Mar: Filmed Antiques Road Trip which will be shown August/ September, had a tidy up ready for open day in April and did 6 trips. The back station now looks very smart having put paint on walls and ceiling. Andy Harris very kindly gave us his grandfather’s opening day medallion.
  • April: we had 288 visitors from all over the country plus Lord and Lady mayoress who stayed for 1 1/2 hours and looked around our exhibition (140 visitors) in the Avon Gorge Hotel too, so well pleased. Dry day but a cold wind blew. The new windows round the back were much appreciated by all, as was the overthrow sign. Trips down the tunnel for 5 days were sold out on the day so more will be planned ready for the next open day and many other groups also wanting trips so life in the railway is on the fast track. Thank you for your support. Fridge magnets, our new venture, went well too. We also did 4 trips
  • May: The weather was kind. We had 365 round the top station and 138 round the hotel (241 and 90 last may, 288 and 140 this april) so figures are up. It will be all hands to the pump in september at this rate.We sold all 40 trips and some more fridge magnets. The buses ran to time once they got going and they did not leave anyone stranded- though at one stage we thought it may happen. Watching passengers sitting in an open top bus with the big overhanging tree was quite fun! They were much appreciated with some passengers just trying them out for a free ride from Canons Marsh.Tom and Steff came to help Dominic and Ed look after the exhibition in the Hotel. Thanks a big bundle to John who offered his assistance from facebook and thinks dealing with our public far less stressful than Glastonbury and the other big events like that! This was his first open day and he has already helped with a couple of trips down the tunnel. Thanks too to Marion and Warren helping Dave at the top gate. All had plenty to do, but time to sit down too.I didnt really see the other guides as we were all circulating round but we kept up with the visitors, but clearly many thanks to our loyal band of volunteers. We could not have been so successful without all their help.
  • June: The Fulbright students came to see us again, and we did 6 trips for English Heritage again. 12 trips altogether
  • July: Edward Stourton of BBC Today came to see us. He is writing a book about the BBC during WWII, so where else should he come but here? 8 trips altogether
  • August: Ray George came to see me (grandson of George George). He have me a copy of the Aberystwth Guide Book signed by Croydon Marks (George George was the gang manster of Clifton Rocks Railway and Aberystwth Cliff Railway). Have now put a picture of him in the top station. Had some early mornings watching balloons and enjoying the balloons being framed by our new overthrow. “Clifton Rocks” 9 trips this month. Hard to keep up with the demand
  • Sept: We had an amazing turnout. So many visitors turned up and sometimes even clapped us! Some lost their your voices we got the weather right too. The free buses between Anchor Road and the Railway did stirling service on Saturday. Saturday we had 944 visitors, sunday we had 569 visitors. The last time we had a number like this was in 2006. Normally we have about 700 on the Saturday and 300-400 on the Sunday. Many came back on Sunday having seen the queues. It was much appreciated having a guide round the back who had more time to chat to the visitors after exiting the back door. Alan drew the raffle ticket for the 1893 opening day medallion so we have a winner who is highly delighted. Virtually all the 8 group trips were booked, and we went back into the tunnel the following tues, wed, thursday, friday! 11 trips this month! Tallt, a new local company celebrated their launch here. Historic Structures Engineers spent a week in Bristol and visited us.
    Appeared in BBC show Antiques Road Trip 14 September BBC2 4:30.
  • Oct: 8 trips
  • Nov: 9 trips. Grontmij came to celebrate 100 years of engineering. We took a group down on the 75th anniversary of the first major bomb raid in Bristol
  • Dec: We started to replace the large railheads of the top station railings having found an original one. We also did 5 trips. 91 trips this year- a record!

2014

  • Jan: Great British Railway Journeys Series 5 Episode 14 of 20 Thursday 23 January 2014 18:30 on BBC2 DURATION: 29 Minutes. Michael Portillo continues his journey from Southampton to Wolverhampton beginning today in Chippenham, where at Lacock Abbey he discovers how the world’s first photographic negative was made and learns how to make a print.
    He travels on to Bristol to visit the Victorian Clifton Zoo, where he finds tigers and polar bears before him also arrived by train. He also stops off at Clifton Suspension Bridge and Clifton Rocks RailwayAnnual Cable- the newsletter for friends of CRR produced and posted together with the Annual report.5 more trips. Still in great demand
  • Feb: 6 trips and the AGM
  • Mar: 4 trips including Merchants Academy
  • April: April Fool joke in the Evening Post. 4 trips for English Heritage quickly fully booked, 7 altogether plus open day and tidy up so pretty busy. So many weeds to remove, but a lovely sunny day to weed and clean inside and out, revarnish the hand rails and even repaint the back door
    Despite the wet weather in the afternoon (we had expected rain all day so got off lightly) we again had a very positive open day with 294 visitors (up from last April). We managed to park a 1935 MG, 1924 Lanchester and Moss kit car outside and had a successful exhibition in the Avon Gorge Hotel too. A jazz band also came to visit which caused a diversion.
  • May: Fantastic weather for our open day. We had 241 visitors to the station and 90 looked at our exhibition in the Hotel too. The Lord Mayor also came to visit us and praised our work. People had come from all over the country (and from overseas too). Our facebook page is getting a lot of interest as well as our website so these helped to advertise the event. May 2005 was our first open day so a momentous occasion.
  • June: 6 trips including American Fullbright scholarship students studying at the University of Bristol for one month. One of the students Caylin Moore was an athlete and a quarter back American footballer playing for the Marist football team and he asked us to time him running up and down the stairs! 3 minutes 9 seconds.
  • July: 10 trips including 4 for English Heritage. The steps or my legs are getting worn out
  • August: 5 trips and did a film for BBC Bristol to celebrate 80 years of BBC Bristol using John Craven as presenter, interviewing Peter Davey and David Pearce who started working for the BBC in 1943. The film will be shown on September 15 on Points West and Countryfile. We swept the outside of the bottom station in case they were going to film it! We also saw no less than 6 red admirals in the bottom station on one trip! Another trip coincided with the balloon festival so our visitors finished their trip with a fly past by a Typhoon. Very noisy.
  • September: After a work day with seven of us weeding, sweeping, painting we were ready for Doors Open Day.
    Beautiful weather both days. We had 678 visitors on Saturday and 378 on Sunday. It was hard work keeping up with the buses on saturday so queues built up in the afternoon. Lots of appreciate comments as usual
    On Sunday the 91 year old grand daughter of Philip Munro the local architect of the railway (the bottom station is called the monro waiting room), and the pumproom next door came to visit us all the way from Nottingham to have a look at the clock and medallions presented to the Munro family to celebrate the occasion of the opening in March 1893. After her father remarried after her mothers death the clock was never seen again since his effects were left to the stepmothers familyThis month has been very busy as we also did 7 trips down the railway.Participated in a short film presented by John Craven celebrating 80 years of BBC Bristol and includes Clifton Rocks Railway as part of Inside Out West (also on BBC One in the West).
  • October: 9 trips and we fitted some new railings at the apex made by Mike Taylor, AND took a group down! Watch this space as there is more work to come. We have put the hotel sign back on, but you can see the apex is a vast improvement to the rotten wood tied up with rope. Mike pushed the railings from home on an old GWR truck which came in very handy
  • November: Two new windows for the back station! It is unbelievably light in there now. All we need to do now is the paint the wals and ceiling!
  • December: Did a short film for Made in Bristol

2013

  • Jan: Not a very good start. 4 trips postponed due to snow and ice! Maggie did however manage to collect her British Empire Medal from Lord Lieutenant of Bristol Mary Prior on the day before the snow fell
  • Feb: Amongst our trips we took English Heritage members down from all over the country
  • On March 11 it was be 120 years since the railway opened.
  • 13 trips this month
  • April: Exciting month. Two open days, two trips and Michael Portillo came to film in the tunnel. Peter Main the Lord Mayor spent two hours listening about the history and considered it was an important part of Bristol’s heritage
  • May: Another open day (cold but well attended) and 7 trips including Ace Cultural Tours who did a return visit. Peter had an important birthday.
  • June: Another 6 trips including a group of prestigious Fulbright Scholarship students from USA who were on a 4 week visit at the University of Bristol. This is the first time Bristol has had the opportunity to host a Summer Institute and was excited to showcase the city’s rich heritage. These students will return to the US and their respective universities where they will act as ambassadors for our city. It not only promotes Bristol as a place to visit, but also as somewhere students might want to study in the future. We felt very priveleged to have been chosen as a place to visit. The shelters made more impact on them than the railway story. They also cleaned our helmets, swept the steps, and tidied up our bottle display as part of their community work. They then had a ride round the block in a vintage car so a good day was held by all. We also did two trips as part of the Love Architecture festival.
  • July: 6 more trips including Probus from Wells. Maggie retired from the University after over 40 years of service.
  • Aug: Fantastic 4 page spread in the new community magazine “Clifton Matters”. This is the third issue of this magazine.
  • Sep: 6 more trips down the tunnel by English Heritage. Sweep up session for Doors Open Day. Saturday 706 people visited us including the Mayor and the weather stayed dry with the free bus disgorging lots of visitors too. On Sunday due to traffic gridlock caused by the half marathon, and rain threatening most of the day and soaking us from about 3pm we still had 310 visitors all of whom seemed to enjoy themselves
  • Oct: 4 trips including Institute of Mechanical Engineers and the German department of Bristol University
  • Nov: 9 trips including Bristol Exploration Group and the Institute of Motorists. Attended the premier of the superb film “The Avon Gorge” which features Clifton Rocks Railway amongst other sites. Produced by Gordon Young, Bristol Film and Video Society.
    Maggie gave a talk in the Wesley Chapel as part of an afternoon’s conference discussing Bristol’s Heritage Buildings: Relics or Legacies?
  • Dec: Had a social get together of volunteers at Maggie’s house. We enjoyed mince pies, cake and mulled wine. We still had 6 trips to do including a team from the Strategic Projects department of the University- most of whom Maggie knew having done projects with them before retiring!

2012

  • Jan: Trips by the Burnham Yacht Club, the TUC (who were having a conference in the Hotel), and a finance company. Produced the annual newsletter the Cable for friends of the Trust. Gave a talk on Mr Woolley (and the Port and Pier Railway)
  • Feb: Went down the tunnel with members of the Photographic Society to take some more photos. A good chance to observe more details which I had not noticed before. The Guild of Registered Tourist Guides of the South West also hd a trip and enjoyed themselves. Much writing down of notes.
  • March: Thinking about our open days and patching up my model which had got a bit bendy in the damp. Helped more Heritage students from UWE with a group project, and gave some ideas and pictures to a teacher who had a group of 50 10 year olds doing a project of WWII. Revarnished the hand rails, started repainting the top station boards on the railings and did some sweeping of steps and replacing light bulbs. Great 2 page spread in the Bristol magazine promoting our next open day in April
  • April: finished repainting the boards on the top station, swept and washed the floor, wiped the pictures down and lost some cobwebs. Hung up a blue BBC lampshade! BOAC are green!
    402 visitors including Lord Mayor Geoff Gollop and the Lady Mayoress who stayed with us for an hour and a half and looked around our exhibition in the Avon Gorge Hotel too. A cold day but dry
  • May: Another open day, dry and sunny. Another group of appreciative visitors which gives us a really happy buzz. We even had a lady who had travelled on the railway. The photographic exhibition in the Hotel was much appreciated by all. We managed to get 4 vintage cars outside too! 7 trips down the tunnel too so pretty busy
  • June: 11 trips down the tunnel including 3 for the Worshipful Company of Engineers who gave us lunch for our efforts. We celebrated the announcement of Maggie’s British Empire Medal in the Queens Honours List
  • July: Much time spent in organising the exhibition down at the Records Office between 10 July and 28 September. Several interviews on Radio Bristol, and a nice feature in the Evening Post.
    This new display brought together for the first time a unique collection of photographs, objects and documents many of which have not been seen before, which tell the story of the railway, and ongoing work by the Clifton Rocks Railway Trust to research and preserve this unique piece of Bristol’s past.
  • Aug: 7 trips
  • Sep: Doors open day. Figures up- 772 on Saturday and 672 on Sunday. We had 2 buses driving people between Anchor Rd and the railway on Saturday, and a room on the hotel to display photos on Sunday. Beautifully sunny again, we managed to park some vintage cars again. Lots of interest as usual, and lots of questions. Very busy and no time to sit and chat or eat. People came from miles around. Also found time to tidy up the weeds, and do 6 trips
  • Oct: Mr and Mrs Gillard came to collect the 1893 opening day medallion they had won in the raffle held on Doors Open Day. 9 trips
  • Nov: 5 trips
  • Dec: Bought another special commemoration open day medal, this time presented to Mrs WK Munro. Another 5 trips including Mark Horton who used the railway as a case study visit. A record 71 trips this year!

2011

This year it is 70 years since the BBC started transmitting from the tunnel (September)

  • Jan: Invited to Chile to give a talk- but it clashed with one of our open days! 3 trips so still lots of interest.
  • Feb: Took a group of UWE photography students down. Doing lots of research about the BBC story. Catching up with our waiting list too.
  • Mar: Painted the railings, gate and cable wheels again. This really freshened them up. Improved the display in the top station.
  • Apr: More weeding. Over 300 people visited us on open day and enjoyed the photographic display in the hotel too. Many boked up for trips down the tunnel too. Still keeping up out average of at least one trip a week! Finished painting the gold on the railings
  • May: Two open days! More weeding, and improved the display of photos for the Hotel exhibition. The open day on 17th May clashed with 10K run and it was cold and windy but we still got a good number turning up despite the fact we had one the following week. Meant we could take our time more to show people round. Buses did stirling work too
  • June: 6 trips and I went to a Buckingham Palace garden party for services to Clifton
  • July: Visited by someone whose grandfather had installed the Crossley engines in the bottom station, and whose father had done the engineering work for the railway. I was shown the day books for 1901 and 1904-7
  • August: Had a big tidy up session ready for Doors Open Day in September
  • September: Doors Open Day 10-4. We had 696 saturday, 417 on sunday and 82 in hotel to look at our exhibition in hotel. Lovely atmosphere and often the groups applauded us after our commentaries. Lots of grateful comments and some had been back to see progress. Just about kept up with the buses disgorging passengers. We worked nonstop til 5pm on saturday and 4pm sunday. We sold over 330 raffle tickets for an original opening day medallion
    • This year it will be 70 years since the BBC started transmitting from the tunnel.
    • The Hotel has kindly let us use a room to display many photographs on the Sunday.
    • We ran a raffle to win an original 1893 medallion from the Railway first open day in 1893.
    • Visitors booked for 10 trips down the tunnel (we did 70 trips last year)
    • We heard from people with memories of the wartime and trips on the railway and would love to hear more.
    • Buses on Saturday.
  • October: BBC came into the tunnel to celebrate the 70th anniversary of transmitting from the tunnel
  • November: Wrote a paper about Alfred Woolley the engineer whose grandson had visited us in July for the Bristol Industrial Archaeological Society Journal. Contacted by three heritage students wanting asistance with their projects. Six trips and the AGM so pretty busy writing reports.
  • December: Three trips, including a popular one just after Xmas and a retirement party
    54 trips and 5 open days!

2010

  • Jan 2010: colder and snowier than last year so even more snow outside and more icicles in BBC section- captured by camera.
    10 day photographic exhibition in Photographique gallery in Baldwin very successful and covered well by Evening Post.
    10 day photographic exhibition in Photographique gallery in Baldwin very successful and covered well by Evening Post. This included new contributions gathered from other photographers, and additional archive images.
    Stephen Williams MP came to see us and said “I really enjoyed the exhibition and was amazed by the transformation since I visited the tunnel in 2005. The huge volunteer effort has been really worthwhile and I look forward to another visit to the site. I’m copying in my PA Wendy so she can contact you to arrange another site visit.”
  • Feb 2010: frost damage above the back door of the top station. 3 trips and a talk to the Austin 7 Club!
  • Mar 2010: 5 trips in March including the Bristol Strollers and Probus. We found a wartime bottle with a Guinness label under the stairs as we were walking up with a group (see the photos).
    Work has also started to put a new roof on the Pumproom to stop further deterioration until on restoration begins.
  • April 2010: lovely sunny open day but rain midday with commemorative clock on view in the tunnel for the frst time! This was held because we originally thought the buses were running in April instead of May. We put the 1925 Talbot, Moss kit car, and 1934 MG Q type replica outside to attract the visitors as part of the Drive It Day too.
    Interviewed several people about their memories
  • May 2010: open day in conjunction with Bristol Bus Rally at Lloyds amphitheatre Canons Marsh.
    The Avon Gorge Hotel kindly agreed to host an exhibition of our photographs on the same day.
    Over 500 people visited and it was a lovely atmosphere despite the rain and lack of buses in the morning. This time we had the Talbot, Moss and 1924 Lanchester limousine on show- very useful for taking everything home at the end- especially the very heavy clock.
  • June 2010: 10 trips down the tunnel. Gave a talk at the NAMHO (National Association of Mining History Organisations) conference on the construction of the tunnel and did 2 trips down the tunnel for delegates too.
  • August 2010: Still averaging over one trip a week. Temperature went up to 63 degrees and we got massive condensation, whereas the normal temperature of about 58 to 60 causes no problem at all
  • Sept 2010: We had very happy, positive open doors days again. Everyone was appreciative of our efforts with lots of happy laughter from the visitors and even applause. The photographic show in the Hotel on Saturday went down well too and the hourly bus was well used. We had a couple of our cars outside each day and delighted when a Trojan bubble car parked up too.
    Numbers were up, 758 on Saturday and 614 on the Sunday. We had to stay open until 5pm each day, so now very croaky
  • October 2010: Very busy doing a record 12 trips (116 visitors). We also found original Crossley gas engine plans so started to mark the floor out on the top floor of the bottom station
  • November 2010: Had our AGM, did 7 trips down tunnel including helping someone celebrate his birthday. 70 years since the Bristol blitz started, so these trips were very poignant. University students of the Fine Art Society came to discuss a special open day so they can show off some of work in March
  • December 2010: Three more trips down tunnel. The one after Christmas was well attended by people wanting to walk off Christmas excess. A bit icy in BBC section and more snow on the ground. Lowest temperature 42 degrees F.
    This year we have done a record 70 trips down the tunnel. 2250 visitors on open days, 659 down the tunnel

2009

  • Jan 2009: freezing. It was 43 degrees fahrenheit outside, 38 in the shelters and lots of icicles down the BBC area where it is draughtiest.
    Took Norman Thomas down to see what he could remember from sheltering in the wartime. He sang “Home on the Range” – very poignant, and we had a lovely three hours. Richard recorded it all with his video camera. This time it was 42 degrees inside, so was warmer than the previous week.
    We also went to see Temple Meads wartime shelters
  • Feb 2009: In February we took down the Civic Society. We also showed Jon House, the new Deputy Chief Executive of Bristol City Council, the top station. We also took down JetKing who are a Bristol-based band and play a blend of guitar-based indie mixed with electronica who wanted to find a suitable place to take photographs for their next album cover! Temperature now 44 degrees.
  • March 2009: Went to see the grandson of George George, the gangmaster of Clifton Rocks Railway. Did lots more trips- only 600 people left on my list, so please be patient I havent forgotten you! Temperature now 48 degrees.
  • April 2009: Lots more trips including helping someone celebrate their 60th birthday, and a private trip for the Antiques Road Show team based in Bristol. Temperature now 50 degrees.
  • May 2009: set up the new exhibition of Bristol Photographic Society pictures in the Hotel as part of very wet Open Day. Very successful and many positive comments. Once again in conjunction with free bus trips from bus rally at Lloyds Amphitheatre
    Took 60 University staff round top station as part of Positive Work Environment week. Ably assisted by Mark Horton of Archaeological Department who had walked us from the Water Tower to the Railway via the lead mines and the Observatory to the Railway
  • June -July2009: still doing at least one group trip a week. Shelter 1 now 60 degrees, shelter 3 57 degrees.
  • August 2009: helped Pete Williams with a photography project
  • September 2009: over 1200 people shown round on Doors Open Day. Beautiful weather, buses on Saturday again. Avon Gorge Hotel again let us use a function room to show off the Bristol Photographic Society pictures. Added another 400 people to our backlog of 600 people, despite the number of trips we are doing.
    The Rag Morris Mummers presented The Nine Lives of Isambard Kingdom Brunel by the side of the railway.
    GWE Business West held An Evening with the Avon Gorge Hotel and Clifton Rocks Railway
    Shelter 1 now 58 degrees, shelter 3 57 degrees.
    Did a trip down tunnel for Rotary Club on my birthday. Peter got the group to sing happy birthday!
  • November 2009: Robin Jones is editor of a monthly magazine called “Heritage Railways”. Approximately once a year, they bring out a special “Bookazine” on a chosen subject. The latest is on Britain’s unusual railways “Britain’s Wierdest Railways”, a soft back 132 pages long, came out in November 2009, and included a 4 page article on Clifton Rocks Railway using some of our photographs, as well as on 28 other railways. The book came out very well and is an interesting read. The magazine is for sale in WH Smith for £7.99
  • December 2009: Bought a clock made in 1893 to comemorate the opening ceremony. Temperature in tunnel now 50 degree F. Conservation Department of Council and Chief Archaeologist Bob Jones came for a trip. Very encouraging.

2008

  • February 2008: Hope to get insurance problems sorted out soon.
  • March 2008: Hope to be open beginning of April. Another article about Clifton Rocks Railway published in the BIAS journal
  • April 2008: Hope to be open beginng of May. The Hotel has had to do a lot of work for us to satisfy the insurance company including rewiring the tunnel and putting barriers all the way down the stairs. Article in the Evening Post.
  • May 2008: Seventh open day in conjunction with Museums and Galleries Month, and harbourside bus rally. Blitz night as part of Museums and Galleries at night event. The Lord Mayor came to visit us again.
    We are now allowed to start doing group trips so have a big backlog to catch up with. Announcement in the Evening Post.
    Please note that children under 14 are not allowed, and that visitors will be escorted through in groups of 10. This is a condition of insurance
  • June 2008: 11 trips including Geographical Association, AXA
  • July 2008: 9 trips including Ofsted and Friends of Museums
  • August: 5 trips
  • September: A lovely sunny Doors Open Day. We had to escort people through again and managed to keep up with the queues. Lots of nice comments and publicity. Marred by a yob who got on the free vintage bus ferrying people between the Railway and Industrial Museum who punched the conductor when he found the bus was not going where he wanted to go. 3 trips.
  • October 2008: BBC2 Newsnight! Peter Davey took the BBC team down to relate life in the tunnel to the Credit Crunch. 9 trips
  • Nov 2008: still doing at least one trip a week. 5 trips.
  • Dec 2008: we had the photographic sociey in to take pictures (2 trips each 3 hours). Their results will be able to be seen on the next Open Day

2007

  • March 2007: Read my article in http://www.camrabristol.org.uk, Pints West Spring 07 (CAMRA Real Ale journal) about bottles found in refuge areas
  • May 2007: models completed and booklet about barrage balloons in Clifton printed. Fifth open day in conjunction with Museums and Galleries Month, and harbourside bus rally. Blitz night as part of Museums and Galleries at night event.
  • July 2007: rescued a clack valve from the bottom water tank. This had been cut during wartime. The other valve is still in situe
  • August 2007: many more finds in refuge shelter. We were given permission to paint the bottom gate by Bristol City Council. Extreme weeding on top and bttom facade
  • September 2007: Sixth open day in conjunction with Doors Open Day. Still a top attraction. Featured in a video “Cliff Lifts of Great Britain” by Onlinevideo. Avon Gorge Hotel changed hands.

2006

  • From January 2006 we continued tidying up and started writing part of the feasibility study
  • 19 January 2006: Superb ‘heavy gang’ two page article in Clifton Chronicle with lots of photos
  • 14 February 2006: Competition to design a footbridge over Hotwell Road as part of the Brunel 200 festivities
  • March 2006: Article about Clifton Rocks Railway published in the BIAS journal
  • April 2006: one hour recording by Radio Bristol to be broadcast as a series at about 3pm at the beginning of May
    In top 50 Brunel 200 Ideas
  • May 2006: Article about Clifton Rocks Railway published in ‘Bristol’ magazine, and about open day in Clifton Chronicle and Evening Post. We also appeared on HTV news who were interested in our “new” Sion Hill tunnel (see April photos)
  • September 2006: Fourth Open day- Doors Open Day. Still a top attraction
  • October 2006: Clearing rubble from bottom station and searching under ledges
  • December 2006: Started making models

2005

  • In May 2005, after only 2 months work we opened for the first time to the public since the war.
  • In July 2005 we cleared the rest of the rubble (about 16′ by 16′ and 2′ deep) from the lines visible from top station. Hard hats, picks, shovels required!
  • In August 2005 we tidied up the facade of the bottom station and refurbished various artefacts ready for open day.
  • In September 2005, open for Doors Open Day for first time.
  • In October 2005 we have been having an internal cleanup and fixing leaks
  • In November 2005 we did some filming- shown on HTV West Thursday 2 March 2006 as part of the Secret Underground series
  • In December 2005 we did some research and more tidying up

Evening Post

Articles (updated 28 April 2010)

BBC use

Patrick Handscombe sent me this fascinating letter from Gerald H Daly (late Head of Engineering BBC West Region.) written April 23rd 1974 when he was researching the Railway’s History. It gives a brilliant insight into the work done and use by the BBC during the war. To see the photos too, see BBC old BBC radio equipment site which includes memories from the people who used the equipment.
If you have any experiences or photos please let me know (email Maggie.Shapland@bristol.ac.uk, or write to me at the Computer Centre, University of Bristol, Tyndalls Avenue, Bristol BS8 1UD)

Clifton Rocks Railway Work Progress Diary 2005-08

2005
2006
2007
2008

2005

Beginning of March 2005: The hoardings have now been removed from the railings and weeds and bushes cleared from the stairs. New frames have been welded in for the signs to be put back.

18 March: Scaffolding has been put up inside the entrance area.

23 March: The railings have now been shotblasted and grey primer applied

25 March: Grey undercoat painted by a willing band of volunteers- it took all day- there is so much complicated detail. One of the missing iron roses was returned. Part of the upper station area inside was cleaned out. The BBC did an article for the local news.

26 March: Another day painting- this time black top coat. Lots of interest following the BBC feature, and someone came to see us who still had his shelter pass. More of the upper station was cleaned out.

9 April: Gold paint has now been applied to the zigzag part of the railing, the rosettes and the numerous spheres. The scaffolding can now be taken away.

15 April: Superb signs saying Clifton Rocks Railway have now been fitted to the railings. Most of the interior walls of the top station were whitewashed – 2 coats. The old wooden handrails were removed and new ones are in the process of being fitted. Some of the debris was removed from the cable wheels which were just visible. The cable is still intact. The start of the 4 rails was discovered. Both the Evening Post and Telegraph came round, and much interest is being shown. The scaffolding can now be taken away. The Evening Post published the article with lots of photos 19 April

20 April: A bus bearing the Clifton Rocks Railway sign launched? at the Industrial Museum

22-23 April: The tiled area was jet washed in the week, so this weekend we did more of a sweep up, and cleaned off more of the walls of the top station. We also tried to make the ceilings waterproof. The handrails were fitted and varnished. The exposed wheels were partially cleaned and treated and some paint applied.

30 April: The new stair case received an undercoat and top coat, as well as the newly fitted and secured rear door. More work was done to tidy the upper station since there was still more wall to clear of dead plaster, and pillars to paint. Another drain hole in the ceiling was plugged to make the top station drier. This time we had to go into the undergrowth at the left of the station and disconnect a large set of rods attached to a lever inside. We tried to find what the rods used to be attached to, but after clearing out an armful of dead smelly leaves from a pipe full of water with no end in sight we decided not to! Some handrails were fitted and varnished. One cable wheel is now primered. More rail was exposed and some springs were found on either side of the rail- presumably buffering in some way but they were only small- see May photos. 5 rails can be seen

7 May: We now have one cable wheel painted completely, and the other with just Kurust (but not completed as we ran out). We hired a kango hammer and broke up the debris (about 1′ deep) over part of the rails and shovelled over a width of about 16′ and depth of about 10′. 6 rails can now be seen. The remaining 2 are under the wartime steps on either side of the tunnel.
We found September 3rd 1940 drawn in the concrete on top of the base station while we were having a well-earned rest from digging- this ties in with the British Overseas Airways construction (25 March 1940 they constructed an office suite and used part of the upper section of the tunnel for storage) and predates the BBC starting work in 1941
Pedestrians can now see the rails from the road if they peep through the railings- which was the whole part of the exercise. We ran out of energy so did not work on Sunday.

14 May: All starting to look very good.
Proper lighting fitted in top station. The missing stair spindles were fitted where they were missing, and the rest of the handrail fitted. The refurbished cantilever gate is now fitted at the Sion Hill entrance. Some Kurust was put on two rails. More sweeping. Very smart exhibition boards started to be put into place

20-21 May: open day- fantastic success despite the weather

June: well earned rest (sort of, since two of those weekends were spent painting St Andrews churchyard railings!). I was appointed chairman of the restoration subgroup. An impressive lamp bracket was returned, which will be painted in due course and put back into place on the top station.

2,3 July: huge 18 yarder skip, scaffolding and barrow hoist delivered. We shovelled the endless rubble from the rails- lifting it out about 60′ and dropping it in the skip in Princes Lane. 16′ wide by 16′ long and about 2′ deep is to be cleared. We had jobs for everyone who came- even Debbie who was 5 months pregnant- she weeded the steps and then performed a gallant job as rope lady to make sure the barrow did not hit the wall. We had 4 more new volunteers who worked like power machines, Tom and his brother particularly. We filled over half the skip, so next weekend should crack it. There seems to be just as much rubble as before! In fact, we uncovered another 4′ of rails and there is 12′ to go before we get to the blast wall.

10,11 July: had some hiccups with the shute to new skips which was very frustrating, but we managed to uncover 3′ on each day- only 6′ to go! We filled 1 1/2 small skips. It is never ending, and a total mystery how so much rubble got deposited there when access is so limited- it must have gone in through the windows on Princes Lane. It was so hot, and a couple of us cut ourselves since there is so much glass- so blood, sweat and nearly tears just about sums it up. I am covered in some very impressive bruises. We will have cleared 36′ of track by the time we have done. We had some new volunteers- to whom we are very grateful

17 July: we only worked on the Sunday since I was enjoying myself on Prescott Hill Climb on the Saturday. Still hot and sunny and we had lots of volunteers, so two had the cooler job of sweeping steps in the tunnel (except its so tiring having to climb back up about 200 steps when only half way down). We filled our skips and got to the wall so now have a wedge about 8′ wide, 6′ long and 3′ deep to clear. So one more day needed, and one more skip. We found brackets, a greaser, the panel off an American radio receiver, a large bearing, a pinion and differential, lots of glass prisms from the skylights

24,25 July: On Saturday, all rubble (about 16′ by 16′ and 2′ deep) cleared from the lines that can be seen from the top station. We had a bottoming out party to celebrate 267 manhours of work, three 6 yard skips and one 18 yard skip full. On Sunday we tidied up the smaller air raid shelter of debris, and some of the human debris lining the stairs- its a long way up carrying it all, so we stopped at lunchtime and went to see the Harbour Festival

30/31 July: Cleared the undergrowth from the bottom station, particularly along the top, repainted the letters and generally tidied up the area. Systemic weed killer applied to some of the plants in more inaccessible places. We had to make sure we had not forgotten anything, since we had a steep walk down the zig zag armed with ladders, brushes, water, watering can, weedkiller, saws, scrapers, paint etc. A very kind owner in the Colonade supplied us with a much needed cup of coffee, lent us a brush and showed us round his house.

14 August: Having had 6,7,13 August off, we had a very productive day, cleaning and painting rails, cleaning and treating the lamp bracket, rescuing, identifying and cleaning some artefacts for display, getting rid of weeds again, making top station more waterproof, especially by removing all the undergrowth from above the passageway from the main room to the back room, and generally gearing up for Open Doors Days

27/28 August: Having also had 20 and 21st off to go on a car rally, we had a very exciting time retrieving a 4 1/2 cwt turnstile from the tunnel. This involved it being slid down 27′ of rubble diagonally in a controlled way, pulled out of the hole, and then winched up 55′ of steps on planks. It was then placed on a trolley and pushed. Pete Luckhurst, our safety expert organised the method, and oversaw it all. We had the turnstile roped to the wall with someone to guide it along with two others who were also roped to the wall. There was then two other people also roped to the wall to belay the others. The winch was also hooked up to the wall. I thought I had measured everything to make sure it would go through, but it was a very tight squeeze through the last doorway! Thank you to every one who helped. The photos will show the action. 4 people then retrieved one of the large barriers and carried that up the stairs. Some turnstile railing was also retrieved, unfortunately much broken, and this now lies in bits like a great big jigsaw ready to be assembled. We then spent time refurbishing the bits, fixing the light bracket to the wall, and knocking more loose paint off the wall at the back of the station.
Incidentally, it took 10 hours to cut a hole in the blast wall to access the chamber where all the railway artefacts had been thrown in sometime in 1940. This was due to the quality of the bricks and also being double thickness. It is believed that this first chamber was not used for war purposes due to it being only 12′ under Princess Lane, and would serve the purpose of absorbing any explosion at the top.

2/3 September: Spent all weekend cleaning, tidying up and labelling. The gas light (regenerative type commonly found in railway stations) was reattached to its bracket- how amazing that the light (that had been very frail and looked very sorry for itself) should fit the bracket that had been removed 40 years ago and had even moved house several times with its owner! The light looked really good after being tidied up and made firm- some more bits need to be found for it in the rubble. All the brass valves open and shut beautifully.
Mike Edwards put together the barrier jigsaw. The turnstile actually turned and the counter ticked over. Mike Taylor mounted one of the very heavy water valves (one per car) on blocks and attached it to a pipe, both brought up from the chamber.

Open September 10,11 for Bristol Doors Open Days. Buses ran half-hourly between Bristol Industrial Museum and the Rocks Railway using old Bristol double-deck buses. Once again an unqualified success despite a flash flood on Saturday! 1650 came on Saturday and 1350 on Sunday and there was permanent queues both days.

25 September: swept though the bottom station waiting room and engine room. Walked up the steps three times with the rubbish which was enough for anyone, but there is just as much rubbish again to shift- but at least it is in tidy piles now! We made the floors more safe.

1 October: We had a day at Lynton and Lynmouth learning all about running railways!

8 October: we cleared up the rest of the rubbish at the bottom station including the toilets. We cleared 60 steps by the BBC rooms which had rubber treads (to deaden sound), many of which had disintegrated so were unsafe, the rest had caked debris. I swept another 75 steps while my power workers swept the bottom large refuge area including the chemical closet area where we found an original seat. The sound of spades echoed musically round the tunnel much to everyones delight! Bristol City Council removed the rest of the weeds which we could not reach which were growing out of the bottom facade, as part of their annual check on rock stability. They used a cherry picker which was a lot easier!

15 October: A lovely sunny day so we sorted out leaks in the top station detected a few days earlier. We discovered that the pump room roof drained directly onto the top station roof which drains away to a small drain- so we decided to add an extra gutter to go into the empty reservoir instead. Another roof drain was not connected to anything since the down pipe had rusted away, so just filled the first floor (the projection room) with water which then ran down the wall- we added a new down pipe to take the water out of the building. We also put mortar on top of the bricks on the passageway roof from where plants had been removed.

30 October: we painted the rest of the blast wall black at the top of the tunnel, and the rest of time spent in sorting out leaks so we replaced the drainpipe in the back station (the old one was solid and the drain was broken), one cause of the top station floor flooding was fixed, but we now need to seal the steps leading down to the top station

6 November: rained heavily in the morning but at least the back of the top station is dry! Passageway has started to leak again. The stairs are still leaking so we put cement down one side and will seal it when it is dry. Now it is dark after work I can not do it then! We swept both large refuge areas and completed sweeping the steps on one side- just half the other side to finish! I lost count of how many times I went up the stairs with debris in trugs. We also started to patch up the ceiling.

20 November: crazy weekend! On Friday at 8am the Clifton Rocks Railway team played the SS Gt Britain team at 10 pin bowling for Children in Need. It was a close contest.
On Sunday we spent a lot of time tidying and setting up for filming, but also found time to have another go at leaks on the stairs and passageway. Since it is so cold now- we now get condensation on the ceilings! so more drips.
On Monday we spent all day filming for Secret Underground Bristol. It was a fascinating experience since we also had 4 people sitting in a refuge area in the tunnel reminiscing about sheltering there in the war, and a BBC engineer who described his experiences and the function of each of the four rooms the BBC used. At the end, we all applauded them. The film will be shown in the new year.

6 December: Did some more patching up of the ceiling, knocked some plaster off a wall and solved another leak. We also did some investigative work and found a complete Nico light rim for the gas light- unfortunately not another light. We also found loads of empty tins of Tiny Tim poodle food- was this the staple diet of tramps of the past?

2006

8 January 2006: we had a social get together instead of working. Sue brought mulled wine which we drank in the top station, I provided a cake in the shape of the railway. The deputy Lord Mayor came too and the Clifton Chronicle editor so I took them a trip down the tunnel. We then went on to Delphine’s house where she had provided a marvellous spread for us all.

15 January: I met Barbara Janke, our local Councillor and leader of the Council on the way to the railway so I took her a short visit before starting work.
We cleared out lots of modern refuse from a wartime water closet. We found fragments of a barrage ballon, and special anti-spark electrical fittings presumably for the sewing machines used during repair of the balloons which were made of very inflammable material (part of the tunnel was used by the barrage balloon section of Imperial Airways. Barrage ballons were used to stop the enemy aircraft flying too low since the many cables deterred the aircraft from flying below them- the nearest balloon was by the observatory).
In removing some rubble a number of interesting old bottles, cigarette packets, part of a silver pencil, part of a gas mask bag and a half penny dated 1940 were found. Some 1940’s graffiti was also discovered.

19 January: Superb ‘heavy gang’ two page article in Clifton Chronicle with lots of photos

5 February: another constructive day removing more plaster, improving lighting, and completed sweeping of steps

12 February: made some of the steps safer at the bottom station, and started digging out the trench between the bottom water tank and where the rails may end (the 20″ wartime blast wall may have meant some part of the rails have been cut or maybe the rails stopped just before). Trench full of dead rotten wood

19 February: started preparing the back door of the top station for painting. Made part of the first floor of bottom station safer and cleared out some of the modern cider bottles. Continued to dig out bottom trench. Found some calculations on the back of the panelling

4 March: much activity at top station- painting walls, patching up ceilings, painting back door, assembling a new railing, making some more exhibition boards and cementing up a hole in the floor. We received a lovely cake from a Sion Hill resident!

19 March: lovely sunny day, so lots more painting. The exhibition boards dried well outside. The back door looks very smart, the hole in the floor is no more, and the original pillars in the top station are now blue. The view onto the rails has also been improved. We have now found the bottom of the rails.

20 March: interviewed on Radio Bristol about my competition for designing a bridge across Hotwell Road. Unfortunately we had not agreed which side of the road to meet up- so had a bit of fun crossing the road before starting the interview!

2 April: another hole in the floor filled up, more patching the top floor ceiling, exhibition boards completed and contents of the others shuffled, stairs and rails weeded, drains investigated at the bottom

11 April: interviewed by the Bristol magazine- should be out in May

16 April: decided to make more boards as the story gets bigger so we now have an extra 10 in total to fill! We put some gutters down the wall at the bottom but water still runs everywhere. We did some measuring up. We also used finished patching up the ceiling and did other jobs which will be revealed if you come down on May open day!

29 April: did a recording with Peter Davey, describing the tunnel for Radio Bristol

30 April: more painting, more lighting in top station, and making safe in the bottom station

4-5 May: attended Association of Independent Museums (AIM) conference held on SS Great Britain

7 May: had a day off, so we went to Oldwood Pit to shift bricks!

8 May: attended Brunel 200 Ideas private viewing at the Architecture Centre since the idea to get the railway running again was shortlisted

11 May: Article about open day in Clifton Chronicle

14 May: full size back of a car placed on the rails, painted in George White colours of Oxford Blue and cream with maroon and gold coach lines. Much sweeping and tidying up ready for open day

21/22 May: Another successful open day with over 1100 people attending. It only rained on Sunday! It was fun watching the ITV presenter squeeze into the entrance of the newly found 50′ tunnel under Sion Hill (this leads to the garden of Spring House but is blocked off- it could be an ice house tunnel since it is on a slope). This tunnel attracted a huge amount of interest and we shall be doing some research into its age. There were stables on the site before the railway was built.
We also had the original electric telegraph signaller on display which was on loan. Thanks to everyone for being so appreciative of our efforts.

16 July: Having had June off to catch up with friends and hobbies, we set to work to prop up the panelled ceiling in the bottom station since it was on the move. We also sorted out some of the BBC vents which had fallen down in the staff room area and swept up a lot of rotten wood from the false ceilings too. More stuff to carry upstairs! We also went hunting for the rails under a refuge ledge and found a domestic gas mask. We also weeded the rails and top station roof.

30 July: We cleared some rubble from the top floor of the bottom station, and carried on fitting handrail. We had another look under the ledges and found bits of signs. We also investigated the “new” tunnel- when looking for the floor under layers of dirt we found a green bottle of Sunrise beer made by Ashton Gate Brewery (which could have been brewed between 1880 and 1920) along with lots of other bits and pieces. The tunnel was probably blocked up in 1940. It was probably constructed round about 1750 since white mortar was used. Upto now we have found Bristol United beer bottles and lots of fizzy lemonade bottles under the refuge ledges.

27 August: Refurbished and fitted a gate to the top station, found more bottles and signs, did some weeding and generally made things tidy for open day

9/10th September: Doors Open Day. Fantastic success and beautiful weather for a change. We had people queuing both Saturday and Sunday sometimes waiting upto 45 minutes to get in, because once they got in they were so interested. I will have to rearrange the boards a bit next time- learning curves! We received lots of encouragement. Many people had attended all 4 open days we have had and could see the changes.
944 visited on Saturday and 727 on Sunday.

26 September: celebrated a significant birthday in fine style by cruising round the docks in the Matthew (total surprise!). Several of railway gang helped me celebrate and I ended up in Evening Post again

8 October: shifted rubble on top floor of bottom station, fitted more handrail and put some plastic chairs in refuge areas for tired people going up the stairs

7, 24 October: Articles in Evening Post

29 October: put some of the troughs back that drained the water from the canvas tent over the refuge areas, marked out turnstile locations at bottom station and found some childrens shoes under ledges

12 November: spent some time looking for a fluffy white cat who managed to successfully hide in the tunnel for several days while his owner was on holiday. People were stationed in each refuge area and stairs waiting for him to reappear. He was eventually caught- but it is amazing how he managed to hide away when he should have been so conspicuous.

24 November: officially elected restoration/operations officer at our first AGM

26 November: dug out trenches at bottom station looking for the buffers. Instead we found the water chutes and suspect the buffers are under a 20″ thick blast wall. We also found a “Shelter 3” sign under the ledges in the bottom refuge area

December: started making models. I am making a sectional model, Dave a working cable car, and John Perkins a car

2007

14 January: filled a 4 yard skip in one hour flat! with wet wood debris from one of the upper rooms of the BBC area. We also finished digging out the water chute area in the bottom section, exposing 3 chutes (the other is under concrete). Some worked in pairs looking for artefacts under the ledges- thinner one underneath passing anything up to the other. I cleared up about 60′ of rubble between one pair of tracks under the ledge in one refuge area taking about 2 hours with a metal dustpan and trowel and got very wet and muddy in the process. You can now see a cable roller. I guess there are many more hours to go since there are two large refuge areas and one amaller one. There is always far more rubble on one side than the other. We do not understand why there is any rubble under the ledges and stairs anyway! We were lucky enough to have a University of Bristol archaeology student recording any finds.

28 January: we hosted a very enjoyable party for friends and volunteers. It was well attended with lots of varied food and mulled wine. There was no electricity so we managed with night lights and candles- which was very atmospheric

4 February: taking stock of finds. It looks like lemonade (especially by Brooke and Prudencio) was the most popular drink, followed by milk and beer (especially Bristol United). Lots of broken cups were found, and a couple of sugar bowls. Read my article in http://www.camrabristol.org.uk, Pints West Spring 07 (CAMRA Real Ale journal)

26 February: had to support the window pillars on bottom station

18 March: (group visits, classic car show and a 2 week holiday halted work!) we have put some more shelving up and went looking for more artefacts. These will be on display in May

8 April: 2 years ago at Easter we started work by painting the railings. Today we rearranged the displays to show all the new artefacts, started to reassemble some of the signs- which are a big jigsaw puzzle of delaminated ply, glued some of the broken china and did some weeding

22 April: carried on trying to assemble some signs, repainted the cable wheels, brought up another railing from the turnstile area, and weeded the top water tank walls

1 May: article in Somerset Life

6 May: more weeding, more wartime signs assembled, washed floor, secured shelves and painted back stairs. Donna brought some more signs, so we are really gearing up for open day. The Evening Post photographer came to take some photos of the new finds

13 May: more tidying up and signs put up on wall

16 May: article in Evening Post about open day. New booklet printed about barrage balloons in Clifton

18 May: more last minute jobs, including Mike and Alan putting some new surrounds on the turnstile to make it safer to go through.

19 May: got there at 8am to set up the merchandise, put the gas light up, put the models in place. At 4pm we closed our doors to get a quick snack, ready to open again between 6 and 8 to participate Museums and Galleries at night event. We decided to do something new by having a blitz evening in view of the fact we had so many war-time finds on display. Most of us had tin helmets and overalls with ARP badges, but we were surpassed by members of the Military Vehicle Trust who came resplendant in ATS and military uniforms. They also brought a searchlight, siren and green goddess which were placed on the lookout point. An amazing sight which must have brought back memories to some of the residents who have lived in Clifton all their lives. After closing shop, most went a trip down the tunnel and we then had fun with the search light and siren since it was dark. The Evening Post took more photos, including a superb picture of the search light against a backdrop of the suspension bridge. So after 14 hours, I was ready to go home to bed.

20 May: easier start to the day as we only had put the gas light up, and give a radio interview for Original Bristol which was launching that day. The harbourside bus rally meant that numerous vintage buses disgorged passengers every half an hour. The rearrangement of the boards seemed to work so we avoided the huge queues we had before. The weather was fantastic, and everyone was very complementary about all the hard work we had put into the project, many had come back to see progress. A big thankyou to everyone who helped show 1100 visitors through the top station

June and July: we did lots of group trips but no work for a break

22 July: Back to work – we put acro props in the top and bottom station, did some weeding, revarnished the handrail, put some more handrail down the tunnel, and pulled out a clack valve complete with thimble filter from the bottom tank. It needed three to move it in the tank and three to lift it out. We had some new helpers so it was a rewarding experience for them

3 August: Guy did some extreme weeding – budlia from top station windows above the tunnel entrance so 30′ above rails

12 August: sunny day so weeded bottom station exterior- Guy being star weeder again but but all 12 volunteers did stirling work too, painted bottom gate (with permission of Bristol City Council), put more acros in bottom water tank and finding a yellow porcelain pulley, put more varnish on top handrail and another look at the wartime sign jigsaw. Tom, who runs a museum came to have a critical look at our display.

26 August: Nicky, Mike and Jenny finished painting the bottom gate. Michael and Guy took away the undergrowth from the bottom station exterior. We also measured up the bottom station to work out where the rails would have gone to and where the water pipe went to upstairs. We also searched in Refuge 2 and found lots of items- a little doll, toy aeroplane, a domino, ladies face powder top, small bottle of cologne, part of a cut glass bowl, a whole brooke and prudencio ginger beer bottle and many more bottles. Mike made a new part for the curved part of the top handrail

28 August: spent all day tidying up for open day and putting new items on display. We also put some new wartime signs up. Varnished the new bit of handrail

31 August: another article in the Evening Post about new finds in the tunnel

4 September: Avon Gorge Hotel changed hands

8/9 September: Another very successful sunny Doors Open Day with over 2100 visitors. Rupert Eveleigh from HTV came to interview us, as did Supreme FM radio. Even the Lord Mayor came to visit us!

September: Access not allowed over 7 months while an extra set of lights was installed and barriers added to the stairs by the hotel

2008

  • 16 May: Finally got back in at 6pm and was able to tidy up and get everything organised with my faithful gang ready for open day next day. We left a token patch of weeds on the stairs because they were pretty.
  • 17-18th May: Children under 14 are not allowed in now, and visitors had to be escorted through in groups of 10. This is a condition of insurance. We perfected our new regime throughout the day. Although we had less visitors we took more money so people obviously enjoyed our guided tours with running commentary complete with a handout to take home. The Military Vehicle Trust brought two searchlights and a siren in the evening. We were visited by an unmarked police car and amazed to see that the police were in full combat gear with various guns in holsters. Fortunately they were just cruising and were very friendly and even showed us their machine gun in the back. A photographer from the Times Educational supplement also took loads of pictures of one of the ATS girls, and the searchlights lit the sky. On Sunday, the buses disgorged their passengers and we managed to keep up with the visitors. I was really touched by the Lord Mayor coming to see us again. It stayed dry apart from early evening thank goodness. Big thanks again to everyone who helped the event run so well.

Technical Facts about the cable wheels and rail

  • The diameter of each wheel is 6’1″ with 16 spokes, the rim holding 2 cables. The wheels are 5’3″ apart. The wartime wall has been built on top of them
  • The cable/ wire rope was made by George Cradock and is still in place
  • The gauge is 3′ 2 1/2″. 6 rails can be seen: 1 more is under the left hand steps, and 1 under the right hand steps put in during the war. 29″ is between the sets of rails, and 30″ in the middle where the original hewn steps are.
  • The rail itself is 5″ tall, 4″ base, the rounded width is 2 1/2, height 1 1/4″ so flat bottom rail. Its base is wide, while the top is narrower.
  • The rails are pinned 25″ apart with a simple pin. The rails lie on wood, not concrete. The larch sleepers are rotten. May photos show the pin and rail.
  • More facts (added 12 July)

Open Day 2005

Probably over 5000 people entered Rocks Railway in Clifton on Saturday 21 May and Sunday 22 May despite the rain and wind, and were all hugely interested. Sir George White, great grandson of the great George White who founded the railway, performed the opening ceremony. Visitors were only able to visit the top station due to Health and Safety reasons but were able to see down the railway tunnel and see the cable wheels and rails.
There was an excellent exhibition for the Clifton Rocks Railway in the top station with Peter Davey and other volunteers explaining everything.
This was to raise public awareness of the railway and rally support for its full restoration. As part of the planning for the event, it was intended that the hoardings currently hiding the top of the station are removed, the railings repaired, the signage replicated and the area generally tidied up.
This formed part of the Bristol Public Transport Heritage weekend (Streetcars of Desire). This was centred on Bristol Docks and the Industrial Museum at Princes’ Wharf where there was a Rally and Running Day on the Sunday.

  • Displays and activities for the family at Bristol Industrial Museum on both days, with a chance to ride on the Museum’s Lodekka bus.
  • On both, there was an impressive display of vintage cars at Rocks Railway and stalls, entertainers and dance in Clifton- theme ‘Clifton Rocks’. The Clifton jazz band even entered the top station much to everyone’s surprise!
  • On Sunday, a major rally of buses was at the Amphitheatre and at the Industrial Museum, with stands and displays.
  • Many people took a ride around Bristol on vintage buses following the routes that they operated.
  • Take the Rocks Railway bus upto Clifton Rocks Railway to see restoration progress (both days). This saved the inevitable problems of parking. Unfortunately the bus painted with the Rocks Railway logo broke down so we were not able to see it. I took photos of the amazing sight of double decker buses going down Princess Victoria Street.
  • free
  • Part of Museums and Galleries Month.

Useful websites