Skip to content

Redcliffe Tunnel

From James Coleman

I understand you may be familiar with Charles Richardson, who was chief engineer for Brunel on a number of railway lines, and was arguably the most important man involved in the Severn Tunnel project. Richardson conceived of the idea for the Severn tunnel, saw it through parliament, and was chief engineer for the first 7 years of the project. BIAS ran a news item on the installation of a plaque for Richardson at his former home in Clifton in 2015. One of Richardson’s admirable achievements as chief engineer was the construction of the costly and technical harbourside railway, from Temple Meads over a viaduct, through a tunnel under St Mary Redcliffe, over a bascule bridge at Bathurst Basin and onto Merchant’s Quay, Prince’s Wharf and Wapping Wharf.

I am contacting BIAS as it has come to my attention (as a nearby resident) that there is a proposal to completely fill the Redcliffe Railway cutting with student apartments, removing any trace of the cutting itself and fully obscuring the view of the historic Redcliffe tunnel portal which leads under St Mary Redcliffe. The proposal is currently at the pre-planning application stage. There is further information on the Friends of Bathurst Basin website: It would be a great shame to lose any trace of this part of the harbourside railway, particularly as it was the sole rail link between the Great Western Railway and the busy harbourside for over 30 years, and remained in use for 92 years. Construction started on the tunnel 153 years ago, and it forms an important part of the historic Redcliffe landscape, sitting alongside the General Hospital, the Ostrich Pub, and Bathurst Basin. Much of Bristol’s trading history owes itself to this 150 year old rail link, connecting London (and the rest of the country) to Ireland, the New World, Scandinavia etc.

I feel that Bristol’s rich history (especially architectural / engineering) are what give this city it’s charm, and losing this striking piece of civil engineering in the city centre will deny future generations the privilege of marvelling at Bristol’s industrial past. It would also be another point where Charles Richardson’s important contribution to the railways is simply forgotten. Given that a party was held inside the tunnel in 2006 to celebrate the 200th birthday of Brunel by the ICE, I wonder if a sympathetic use could be found for the tunnel and cutting, perhaps as an events or exhibition space, or even as a through route for pedestrians and cyclists to link the harbourside with Temple Meads and the new Temple Enterprise Zone.

Please let me know if BIAS would be interested in any way of helping to support the preservation of the cutting. I am considering a submission to Historic England for the cutting and tunnel to be listed, and if you would have any words of advice to support this process, I would be most grateful to receive it.

Some photos of the cutting and portal attached, which may be of interest.