Preparatory work on the next phase of the £1 million stonework conservation programme on Bristol’s Victorian Clifton Suspension Bridge will get underway next month. Scaffolding will be erected at the Leigh Woods end of the bridge to give specialist conservators access to clean and repair the stone on the abutments – built on the rock to support the towers – and the parapet walls.
The six-month programme of conservation work, which will start when the scaffolding is complete, will include gentle cleaning techniques trialled and refined in the course of work by Frome-based contractor Nimbus Conservation Ltd on the Clifton abutment of the bridge last year. These involved light steam-cleaning and low-pressure abrasive cleaning. Erosion damage caused by weather and pollution will be repaired and, in the light of research and experience, harmful cement pointing used in the last century will be replaced with lime mortar of the type used in the original structure. The total cost of work on the two abutments will be £420,000.
Commenting on the arrangements, bridge master David Anderson said this week: “This is vital work if the 145-year-old structure is to be maintained for daily use by drivers, cyclists and pedestrians and for the enjoyment of visitors in the years to come, so we regret that some views of the bridge will be obscured by scaffolding and safety netting during the summer.”
But visitor services manager Mike Rowland, who runs the Clifton Suspension Bridge Visitor Centre located close to the Leigh Woods tower, has come up with a solution. He said: “Some of our visitors, who come to Bristol from all over the world, wanting to see and photograph the bridge, may be disappointed if they are unable to record uninterrupted views across it or from the lookout point in Sion Hill, but we have for sale a variety of pictures ranging in price from 50 pence for a postcard to £95 for a giant professional photograph, as well as greeting cards and wall posters featuring the bridge.”
Bristol-based conservation specialists Ferguson Mann Architects are supervising the conservation work which is being phased to be undertaken as the trustees of the charitable trust which maintains the bridge can afford to pay for it. Explains the trust’s chairman Dayrell McArthur: “Although it is essential to extend the life of the bridge and prevent deterioration, the trust receives no outside help towards its costs, either from central or local government, or from lottery funds so the running and maintenance of the bridge has to be paid for through tolls. “Our stone conservation work forms part of a much bigger programme of important maintenance projects planned to take place over the next ten years at a cost of £8 million and it costs a further £1 million a year to run the bridge. Therefore it is inevitable that we will have to increase the cash tolls paid by drivers in the near future.”
Footways on the bridge will remain open to pedestrians while most of the work is taking place and no peak-hour traffic delays are expected.