On Wednesday 14th June the Year 9 Future Quest students visited the Clifton Suspension Bridge, one of the most famous of Bristol’s landmarks.
On a beautifully sunny day, we were quickly removed from the warmth and brightness of the Visitor centre to enter the huge vaults built into the supporting columns of the bridge. These were only rediscovered in 2001, after being forgotten about for well over a century. Sadly, the Victorians were extremely good at clearing up after themselves and left no artefacts for us to look at, although somewhere they buried a time capsule that has never been found…
Inside the vaults there were 5m long, very thin, stalactites hanging from the ceilings. These break off regularly and fall on visitors so we had to wear hardhats to protect ourselves. The original materials for the columns were passed down through tiny shafts built into the pillars: shafts that were so small that we were not allowed to explore them. The silence inside was total, and the size of the vaults made a great echo chamber as we all stamped our feet.
Back outside we started a competition to build our own bridges from newspaper, sellotape and string. The best ones support an amazing 16kg but ours gave way between 8 and 10kg. Chief Engineer for the bridge project was Dre Coles and his team who produced a very complex string suspension design that, although looking very weak, spread the weight across a lot of string and won the prize. It was, of course, then tested to destruction!
After lunch on the grass of Clifton Downs we went on a guided tour of the bridge, hearing tales of the Victorian lady who jumped and was saved by her huge skirt acting as a parachute, and other stories about Second World War pilots flying Spitfires under the bridge, and the sad tale of a 1950s jet pilot who made it under the bridge but couldn’t turn out of the gorge and was killed. The best story was from the construction period when two workers thought they would be the first to cross the gorge on the 45mm iron rail that Brunel had slung across it 60m above the water. Whilst the bosses relaxed in the pub these two men climbed into a basket and got halfway across before getting stuck and then almost killed. Probably not the fame they were expecting!
As we walked across the bridge to go home we were treated to a young man dropping to his knees and proposing to his girlfriend, who accepted his ring. It all happens on Future Quest trips!