The iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge stands as one of Bristol’s most famous landmarks. Spanning the Avon Gorge, this historic bridge has connected Clifton to Leigh Woods since 1864. It’s construction origins and unique role in bungee jumping history make it a fascinating feat of engineering.

In 1754, Bristol wine merchant William Vick left £1000 in his will to build a stone bridge across the Avon Gorge. But construction on the bridge did not begin until 1836, when renowned engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel commissioned to design and oversee the project.

Brunel envisioned a suspension bridge using wrought iron chains substituted for heavier stone. But the project faced setbacks and delays, only completed after Brunel’s death in 1859 and officially opening in 1864. Upon completion, it boasted the longest bridge span in the world at over 700 feet.

This ground-breaking design cemented Brunel as one of Britain’s greatest engineers. The bridge’s impressive neo-Gothic towers and striking harp-shaped cables make it an architectural marvel blending strength and elegance. 

In 1979, the Clifton Suspensions Bridge gained attention for an entirely different feat. On April 1st, 1979, the bridge became the site of the first ever bungee jump. Bristol University Dangerous Sports Club member David Kirke staged the daring stunt by leaping headfirst from the bridge using an elastic cord fashioned from latex surgical tubing. He performed the stunt whilst wearing a top hat and tails and holding a bottle of champagne, as one does!

Kirke, who passed away late last year aged 78, became a Bristol legend. This thrill-seeking bungee jump popularised the extreme sport and paved the way for bungee jumping off bridges and structures worldwide.

From Brunel’s innovative 19th century design to daring modern bungee stunts, the Clifton Suspensions Bridge stands today as both an engineering landmark and iconic Bristol symbol. 

Published: 22.01.24 by Phoebe Clutton