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  • width 28′
  • Height 200′
  • Length 450′
  • Gradient 1:2.128
  • floor to crown 17′
  • gas lit
  • first tunnel to be blasted with electric detonation, first shot performed by Lady Wathen, wife of Lord Mayor
  • only underground cliff railway in the world
  • linked pleasure steamers at Hotwells, rail link to Avonmouth and tram link to Bristol centre to Clifton where the Hydropathic Institute was sited next to the Hotel


  • track 38″ (narrower than the expected 3’8″ due to the problems of digging the tunnel)
  • 4 lines
  • larch sleepers bolted by fang bolts


  • 40 seconds journey
  • water pressure 1,000 lb/sq”
  • stops when water pressure 250 lb/sq”
  • water pumped by Crossley 4 stroke oil engine at bottom station from reservoir at bottom station to reservoir at top station
  • water reservoir under waiting room at base station and between top station and ballroom (in 1920 water flooded the ballroom resulting in a bill for £96.16s.0d)
  • could carry 1000 passengers per hour
  • first 6 weeks carried 11,000 people
  • can seat 18 passengers
  • painted in livery of light blue and white with gold lining and lit by oil
  • brakes operated by each conductor and top station operator
  • 2 cables per car, working as connected pairs on the water-balance method
  • braking system precursor of modern ‘dead man’s handle
  • visitors to Clifton used left hand side cars, those to the Hotel the right (was then the Grand Spa Hotel)
  • last ran 2 july 1934, finally closed 30 september 1934
  • removed from tunnel feb 28 1941. The top two were winched down 4 april 1940, and the whole exercise was harder than expected. The contractor was paid an extra £30 for his trouble.


  • cost of a return ticket on opening day was 4d, travellers received a metal ticket in shape of Maltese cross
  • early tickets were buff, 1d up, 1/2d down. Through tickets 2d were pink.
    Operating times June to September: 8:30-10pm weekdays, sundays 2:30-10pm
    October to May stopped 1 hour earlier
  • by 1928, fares 2d up, 1 1/2d down. Mail carts cost 3d, and bicycles 2d (2 1/2d= 5p). For 3d you could travel by tram from Hotwells, up the railway to Clifton, and back to centre by motor bus

Land and costs

  • The top station held stables when George Newnes leased it in 1893
  • £50 per year ground rent for 900 years payable from 1894, 5 shillings per year to the Merchant Venturers
  • expected to cost £10,000 like Lynton, but actually cost £30,000
  • Clifton Rocks Railway Company was formed by George Newnes in 1894 to operate the service
  • Company went into receivership in 1908 due to decine in passenger use
  • sold to Bristol Tramways and Carriage Company in 1912 for £1,500
    who spent
    • £3328 in 1914
    • £1824 in 1914
    • £73 in 1919
    • £34 in 1920
    • £201 in 1925
  • In 1922, Hotwells Road widened at bottom and Port and Pier railway (running from Avonmouth to nearly under the Suspension Bridge) dismantled, severing the train link to the funicular railway
  • Ministry of Works for Imperial Airways was a tenant for £100 per year who rented the top station
  • Surrendered to Bristol City Council July 1941
  • BBC began negotiations to release covenants instructing the tunnel must be kept for railway purposes.
  • Jul 1941, BBC, Ministry of Works, Bristol Corporation granted permission to build structures inside the tunnel (Bristol middle for air raid shelter, BBC towards the bottom). It only took three months to complete the structural work. BBC paid rental of one shilling a year for 21 years. The roof of top station structure dated 3 September 1940.
  • The Grand Hotel Company (possessed the original lease), sold their interest, released the covenants, but retained land titles
  • value of land occupied by railway in 1945 was £200,000
  • July 1946, BBC removed equipment apart from transmitter and used the tunnel as a local signal booster station. Ministry of Works surrendered its lease
  • 1955, tunnel uneconomical for BBC, so lease renegotiated and they moved to top station where the installed a 40′ aerial
  • 1958, tied buttresses constructed on the face of the bottom station
  • 1960, BBC withdrew from the Railway
  • 1961, Nuthalls caterers wanted to buy tunnel, but a covenant was still in place that they could not do anything to prejudice the use of the tunnel for Civil Defence purposes in the event of war. This red tape removed in 1965
  • 1990, legal action taken to halt demolition work in the Pump rooms next door to Railway for an extension to hotel (granted permission in 1986). Plans also included flattening the top station of the railway Big campaign by residents to save it.
  • 1991, we celebrated the 100th birthday of the start on the railway by driving the Lord Mayor from the Mansion House to the top station and then down to the bottom station in a 1924 Lanchester tourer, where he unveiled a plaque. Fireworks to signify the detonation were set off at 7pm. Tony Robinson led a candlelit procession dressed as Brunel, down the zig zag footpath.

People concerned

  • George Newnes (1851-1910) solely financed the project. He published magazines such as the Strand, and published many technical books
  • Sir George White (1854-1916) businessman, secretary of Bristol Tramways, founder of Bristol Aeroplane Company, philanthropist, governor of Bristol Grammar School, president and Treasurer of Bristol Royal Infirmary,
  • Baron Marks of Woolwich (1858-38) designed the railway. He was an international entrepreneur, engineer, patent agent and politician. His first railway was at Lynton and Lynmouth (designed 1888, opened 1890), and Bristol was a similar design with similar cars.
  • Philip Munro local engineer living in Nailsea was the architect
  • Messrs Hayes of Thomas Street constructed the tunnel