Ship Shape and Bristol Fashion

Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol, UK

I have thousands of photos scattered across a number of computers and external hard drives. I have recently started excavating these as I work on various designs, trying to find just the right image to mesh with my collection of silhouettes. While I am still working to expand the range of wildlife designs, I am also keen to showcase local scenes.

One of the largest collections of photographs comes from Bristol, my adopted hometown. I was originally introduced to the wonders of this West Country city as a study abroad student way back in 2002-2003. It is not hyperbole to say that this time shaped the rest of my life: I fell in love with both the city itself and the University of Bristol’s Department of Archaeology, returning in 2004 to study for an MA then staying for a PhD. A core part of my dissertation focused on Bristol’s iconic suspension bridge, and it’s the city I chose to get married in. A friend, another American who has been in Bristol for at least twenty years, commented, “Bristol has a way of getting under your skin and into your blood.” I have occasionally found myself saying, “I grew up in Bristol.”

So it’s probably not a surprise that Bristol was the first location I turned to when playing around with text-based designs. Continue reading below and throughout this week to get a sneak peek of these new designs and to see more of this fascinating city.

Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol, UK

The story of the Clifton Suspension Bridge begins in 1754 when William Vick, a Bristol wine merchant, left £1,000 in his will to build a bridge across the Avon Gorge. A spectacular design was produced in 1793, but proved impractical to build.

A competition in 1829 attracted 22 entries from both engineers and amateurs. Thomas Telford, the leading engineer of the day, judged the designs and rejected all of them on grounds of safety. Telford was asked to submit his own design but the decision to declare him the winner was unpopular.

A second competition was held in 1830, and the 24-year-old Isambard Kingdom Brunel was eventually declared the winner and appointed project engineer; this was his first major commission.

Work started in 1831, but the violent Bristol Riots of that year caused construction to be postponed until 1836. It took another five years to build the abutment on the Leigh Woods side and construct the towers. However, funding ran out at this time and the work was abandoned for over 20 years.

Brunel died in 1859 at the age of 53. His fellow engineers joined together to complete the bridge as a memorial to him, and it finally opened to great fanfare in 1864.

Avon Gorge, Bristol, UK
Avon River and city of Bristol, UK

Views from the Clifton Suspension Bridge take in the Avon Gorge, home of the second highest tidal range in the world (after Canada’s Bay of Fundy), warehouses from Bristol’s time as a leading industrial port, and other engineering marvels like the Clifton Rocks Railway. Check back on Tuesday to learn more about this piece of invisible archaeology.

Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol, UK
Off the Beaten Track Wiltshire

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