Brunel Swivel BridgeBrunel's Other Bridge

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Brunel Swivel Bridge Project 2019

Brunel Swivel Bridge
Investigative work on the rotation of the bridge 2018
Brunel Swivel Bridge
Turntable perspective

Page contents

Preparation and Basic Conservation

This will be an exciting year in which we hope to have the Bridge turning again, 170 years after it was comnpleted to Brunel's innovative design. We plan to work on Saturdays, but there will be extra work-days as necessary to achieve our aim of trial turning in July. We must complete the levelling of the wheels, purchase and install a new steel-ring track, centralize and lower the whole deck-assembly, and strengthen the corroded structure, so plenty of helpers will be needed and all skills welcome, not only engineering!Our aim this year is to complete the repair of the turntable mechanism to a condition in which it can again turn for trial-turning to be carried out.
Our planned work is: This is an ambitious target for 2019, so we need lots of help! Engineering experience is not essential as there is a wide range of tasks to carry out.

The track is an enormous wrought iron forging (about 14 ft diameter) probably made by rolling to a circle which must have been joined by fire-welding, ie, both ends being heated to bright-white heat and hammered together. Excitingly we believe we have located the joint, evidenced by diagonal lines in the working face. The forging is a complicated shape, remarkably accurate and a real tribute to the craftsmen who made it in 1849. We couldn't match this quality of manual forging nowadays.
It is an amazing example of heavy forge-work which should be preserved for future generations.

We plan to work third or fourth Saturday per month, with extra days as necessary to maintain progress.

Workdays for current year.

In 2019 as follows:

Sounds like fun? No experience needed, all equipment provided, and you'll get really involved in helping to save Brunel's Other Bridge. We need your help.

Contact Geoff Wallis ( if you wish to help. We need to have an idea of numbers.

Overall Details of work


As you know, the Bridge is listed Grade 2* and is on Historic England (formerly English Heritage) Buildings at Risk Register. Whilst their funding is severely restricted, HE have been supportive in providing modest grants to carry out trials and erect a temporary roof, which were completed by Bristol City and Avon Industrial Buildings Trust with volunteer help last year.

EH/HE were impressed with the Mann Williams (MW) report that resulted from the grant-funded work that we managed on behalf of the council in 2015 and suggested that we discuss an application for further investigative work on critical areas identified in the report as part of this year's Heritage at Risk programme. They also suggested that we might request further assistance in other areas via their consultancy budget and service.

Contracts will be let by the Avon Industrial Buildings Trust and supervised by their Technical team, comprising Bob Watkins and Geoff Wallis.

We want to thank Bristol City Council, English Heritage, the local amenity societies, our faithful hard-working volunteers, and huge number of supporters for getting the Project this far.

The big challenge lays ahead in securing major funding. We have a well-specified and costed scheme for repair which will form a sound basis for fund-raising.

You can make a donation using a charity website. The main donation link now uses the Wonderful fundraising website:
Brunel Swivel Bridge

We have created a project on to also help us fund raise for our HLF bid

or you can send a cheque payable to
Avon Industrial Buildings Trust to:
The Treasurer, 24, The Bluebells, Bradley Stoke, Bristol BS32 8BE

Bank details for bank transfer:
Account name: Avon Industrial Buildings Trust
Account address: CAFCASH LTD
Kings Hill
West Malling
Kent ME19 4TA
Sort code: 40-52-40
Account number: 00006720

Leaflet giving information, asking for support and how to make a donation

Progress in 2019

We start at 9.30am so do please join us if you can. There is plenty of parking space and basic toilets are available. Please wear stout footwear, and you might like to bring overalls, gloves and something to kneel on. We have gloves, high-vis vest and a helmet you can borrow, and we provide tea and coffee!

Youngsters are welcome provided their guardians are with them full time please.

October Workday is cancelled.

September 2019

Many events happened in September including Institute of Stuctural Engineers conference on 6th in the Create Centre, BOB's 170th BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION Sat 7th- Sun 8th September 2019 10.00 am -4.00 pm, and Doors open Day September 14th 10-4pm We thank the wonderful volunteers for giving up so much time, inspiring our visitors to get involved, and for making the event so enjoyable for everyone.

Institution of Structural Engineers Conference, Create Centre, 6th September.
The Conference was a great success with 50 delegates enjoying papers on the Swivel Bridge and its maker George Hennet, Brunel's office staff and networks of contacts, some of the other interesting bridges Brunel created, and the use of photography on his many projects. The Institution hopes to publish the papers. The Gallery was filled with displays from local organizations, including BOB where Julian Baldwin's new 7 minute video of the work to date was shown. Refreshment breaks were times of lively discussion, excellent food, and free birthday cake.

170th Birthday Celebrations Sat 7th and Sunday 8th September
Well over 500 people attended the two days of 170th Birthday Celebration held around the Swivel Bridge in fine weather conditions. Visitors of all ages had a go at some of the skills that built the bridge, including blacksmithing, riveting and stamping metal. John Willis kindly designed and built an interesting 'ride-on' model of the Bridge which youngsters had to balance before it could swing over a 'shark-infested' dock! The model has now been passed on to a grateful local primary school.
The challenge to 'lift the 70T Bridge' intrigued many, and our giant hydraulic jacks became the focus of fun as people of all ages found that they could indeed lift the Bridge one millimeter at a time. Our friends from 'Imagine that Coffee' provided refreshments, and of course there was yet more cake, in fact we ate our way through 2 1/2 large cakes over the two days, which resulted in donations of well over £200.

Several swingings of the Plimsoll Bridge and passing of the SS Matthew provided extra entertainment, as did a visit of a rather elderly-looking Mr. Brunel, but then he was over 200 years old!

Radio Bristol did four live interviews before the events, ITV News reported on them afterwards, and two local papers featured articles. We welcomed a number of politicians and other 'decision-makers' and felt that our aim of raising the profile of the Bridge was achieved admirably.

Bristol Open Doors Day
This success continued on the following Saturday when we welcomed a further 220 visitors, and there were subsequent interviews on Radio Bristol and BBC Points West.

At all these events the Mayor's new Western Harbour Development featured much in conversations, but it was generally felt that to be valid opinions would need to await the release of more detail.

Concurrent with these events a new collaboration between the AIBT and SS Great Britain Trust was announced, see Securing the future of Brunelís swing bridge. Together we shall look at the longer-term future of the Swivel Bridge in the context of the Western Harbour scheme and a possible resiting to Albion Dockyard. So, exciting times, do 'watch this space' ...and of course this our website.

NEWS RELEASE 22nd September 2019 Good news after five years work! On Saturday 21st September our team of volunteers moved the Bridge, not far, but enough to prove that the work to the turntable and wheels supporting the Bridge has been successful. What a great way to celebrate BOBíS 170th Anniversary !

The metal structure of the deck is not in a condition in which it can be swung across the working water-way, and we have been careful to keep it away from the edge of the Dock during trials. However, we now have an idea of the loads required to rotate the structure, information which was needed to refine the design of the new drive equipment that will eventually be required to rotate it.

We have now come to the end of this yearís volunteer workdays, so, on behalf of the AIBT Council, your colleagues and project managers, may I say a big THANK YOU to everyone who has helped this year. You have cheerfully jacked up and lowered 70 Tonnes, lifted 300Kg wheels, fitted bronzes, greased bearings, (and inevitably yourselves!), wrestled rusty bolts, cleared weeds, painted the shed, repainted the shed after vandalism, manned three very successful public days, run the website, been interviewed and photographed, publicized the project, and so much more. I hope you have enjoyed your involvement and will come along and help again next year. In the new year Iíll let you know the dates of the 2020 workdays. As we have been so active during September, and a number of people will be away in October, we have cancelled the work-day advertised for 19th October. See you next year, and THANK YOU again. Geoff
Photos of Progress Sep 2019

August 2019

Part 1
There are just three weeks left to the great 170th Birthday Celebration weekend so at our Volunteers' Workday on Saturday this week (17th August) we shall do some final planning. We have an exciting programme of demonstrations, several organizations are exhibiting, refreshments are ready to go, and the publicity is going well, but we still need more helpers on the day to lead 'Raising the Bridge', the 'Have-a-Go' metalworking skills , stewarding, and generally helping out. Do please come along and volunteer to help in whatever way you feel able. We'll brief and equip you. I know that you will find the event fun, and just as importantly you will be helping to raise the profile of this neglected gem and thereby help save it.

Part 2
The Institution of Structural Engineers is holding a conference on 6th September entitled 'Brunel's Bristol Swivel Bridge, Its place in his office and world' in the Create Centre. There will be papers about Brunel's assistants, how Mr. B used photography in his work, the history of our Swivel Bridge and recent conservation work (presented by Bob and I). We shall also hear about the replica of our Bridge that has been discovered in Russia!. You can book in to the conference on If you want to attend please book WITHOUT DELAY as it is booking up fast and places are limited to 65.

Part 3
Workday. The Swivel Bridge's new steel ring is now welded in place so we need to jack up and remove the blocks supporting it, and paint the new ring. Also, we need to tidy up the site, remove weeds, sweep up, scrape away mud that could cause visitors to slip, and prepare the site for the invasion on 7th-8th Septrember. So, gardeners, please bring your rakes, buckets, trowels, kneeling mats, etc.
Please note that we might get a shower on Saturday so a waterproof would be wise. Do join the team next Saturday if you are able.
Today was our last workday before the Conference in the Create Centre on 6th September and BOB's 170th Birthday Celebration on the subsequent two days so our gardeners weeded and cleaned the site and under the Bridge whilst the remaining stalwarts jacked up the deck and removed all the timber packers from under the rear and both side-beams, settling the deck down on its wheels again. We held our final planning meeting for the events and admired John's 'balance the bridge' models. Everything is ready now for the big birthday, so lets hope the weather is good.
Photos of Progress Aug 2019

July 2019

The Bridge is down on its wheels again and nearly ready for our contractors to weld the new ring to the old track later this month, but we have a number of things to do, so we meet again on Saturday this week 13th July, starting at 9.30am.

We must renew several greasers, fill our new grease gun and charge all eight bearings with grease, and remove the heavy chains that stabilized the Bridge when it was raised. We have finishing work to do on the new ring, and damaged paintwork needs to be made good generally. Painting on the little shed needs finishing, and we need to tidy the site in readiness for our September events, so 'gardeners' armed with rakes, buckets, trowels etc. to dispose of the weeds, moss and soil becoming established around the Bridge will be very welcome.
'Maggie worked hard squeezed under the Bridge scraping and wiping off the excess Denso Paste that had squashed out from between the new and old tracks, and then swept out the base. William Mather joined us for the first time (welcome William !) and worked with Bob to survey the two side girders in an effort to understand the twist in the structure. Julian and Peter videoed, and Julian then painted the iron name-plate on the shed and prepared the guttering for painting. Geoff renewed two screw-down greasers with nipples, added another packing under the new ring, extracted the chain that had been stabilizing the Bridge when raised, and painted the shed gutters and front doors. Our historian-researcher David Greenfield came up from Taunton to take photographs and prepare for his paper to be presented at the I Struct. E. Conference in September.

5 July: We need to get the new steel ring bedded centrally onto the underside of the wrought iron track before Dorothea welds it in place in July. I have prepared aluminium packers and Denso paste, so I invite you to help fit the ring on Friday 5th July please. We need to apply paste to the rusted underside of the old track to exclude water, insert the 3 mm soft aluminium plates, get everything aligned, and then jack/wedge up the new ring ready for it to be welded in place. We need several people to help as the whole ring needs to be raised into place and bedded in one go.

We plan to start at 9.30am so if you are able to help I would appreciate it. I'll supply the tea, coffee and biscuits!

There is also a workday the following week on 13th July when we need to complete other preparatory works.

Today 5th July was an 'impromptu' workday to prepare for our contractor who has programmed completion of the turntable work for later this month. They are very busy, so we don't want to miss our slot, especially as the weather is currently so good, and BOB's birthday party is approaching.

Ian, David and Geoff applied Denso tape and paste to the faying surfaces of the old and new rings, and the 3mm packings that lay between them. Aluminium has been chosen for the packers as it is sacrificial to the old wrought iron and will corrode in preferencially if water gets in. The Denso materials, donated by the manufacturer, are there to exclude water, but applying it in confined spaces was tricky and messy. Nevertheless, Ian stuck to the job, literally!.

The 20 No aluminium segments fitted perfectly and inspection revealed that the 3.5 m diameter heavy forged wrought iron track had been made to an accuracy of 3-4 mm, a fantastic achievement by the blacksmiths of the 1840's!

The two chains that restrained the Bridge whilst it was raised are now redundant, so Maggie removed these, whilst Julian and Peter videoed the whole process. Maggie took still photographs.
Photos of Progress Jul 2019

June 2019

A big THANK YOU to everyone who helped with the work last Saturday 25 May. We had a useful day fitting the new bronze collar, lowering the Bridge, clearing vegetation, painting the shed, etc,

As volunteers we have a deadline to meet in getting the 70T deck down onto its turn-table so that our contractors can weld on the new track in July. So, two additional work-days are planned for Friday 7th (rained off) and Saturday 8th June. You may not be able to help on both days, but if you can spare a few hours on one day at least, your help in operating the jacks, moving timbers, etc (and brewing up!) will be very welcome.

Report 8 June Saturday 8th was warm but windy., just right for the strenuous effort of jacking up the Bridge, removing timber blocks and lowering it to just above the turntable wheels. Unfortunately, having done that the ground at the east end compressed slightly, so we shall have to make adjustments next workday. Many thanks to Charlie (in the middle of exams), Ian, David, Julian, Geoff and Bob for your help.

Thanks too to young Bailey who jacked, sawed and chopped up old timbers, to Martin who continued to beautify the little shed, to Peter who videoed, and Maggie who helped generally and took photos for the website. Thanks Anne for bringing Bailey.

The next Vols workday after that is 15th June.

The Swivel Bridge is now down near its operating level but needs to be raised an inch or so to allow the new track-ring to be finally aligned and welded on, which we plan to do on Saturday this week, 15th June, starting at 9.30am.

Also, do please put the BOB 170th Anniversary event on 7th and 8th September this year in your diary. Thank you to everyone who has offered to lead an activity, man the exhibitions, cater, steward,

and help set up/break down. More help is needed, so please reply if you have ideas or would like to offer help. Can anyone make an appropiately decorated (big) cake?
Photos of Progress Jun 2019

May 2019

Well, I'm delighted to report that Dorothea have made the huge new turntable track and laid it in place on the restored wheels, and the new central bronze collar has been fitted, so we are now ready to lower the Bridge. If you haven't seen how we shift 68 Tonnes, come along and find out. If you have, then we need your help! We also have a clever arrangement for moving the Bridge sideways, so our next work-day will be interesting, nay, exciting.

It is on Saturday 25th May, starting at 9.30am, and breaking around 2.00pm for a planning meeting for our September 7-8th birthday party. We have lots planned for that event so need YOUR help demonstrating, hosting visitors, stewarding, making/selling refreshments, and lots more.

On 25th we need 'gardeners' to dispose of the weeds, moss and soil becoming established under the Deck, a job that will become harder once the Bridge has been lowered, so please bring rakes, buckets, trowels etc.

The door of the little shed needs to be painted, paintwork made good on the wheels, grease to apply, and plenty of other tasks, so there will be something to do whether you are an engineer or not. Also one or two volunteers with smiles and leaflets are needed to talk to visitors and explain what we are doing..

The new 20mm steel turntable liner-ring is in place and Dorothea Restorations plan to start welding it in place on 22nd July, so the race is on to lower the Bridge onto its ring and get it lined up. The weather was fine on Saturday 25th and ten volunteers helped, so we achieved much, although frustratingly not quite as much as we hoped. Geoff and Julian Beel fitted the new collar around the pintle, and then Ian, Charlie, Julian and Geoff installed rollers and plates under the east end of the Bridge to allow it to move as necessary. They then jacked the tail end up, removed some timbers, and lowered it several inches. Unfortunately the 12 inch square softwood timbers have started to soften after three years and acted like springs, so that when we raised the Bridge to release them, frustratingly they expanded too and were difficult to extract. We are therefore going to hold two more work-days in June to lower the Bridge. I'll send out a separate e-mail, so do please watch out for that, and come and help as we must be ready for our contractors.

Bob continued his survey work and helped generally, whilst Martin Kay continued painting at high altitude on the little shed, which is now starting to look very neat. John Willis and Maggie S cleared large areas of soil, grass and moss, so those areas are now looking good too. Julian Baldwin kindly videoed, including the new collar fitted in the pit under the turntable, and we welcomed his Video Club colleague Peter Heaven who joined us for the first time. Thank you for joining us Peter, we hope we shall see you again. A big thank you to everyone who helped, especially Charlie who has boundless energy and took a day off in the middle of taking twenty GCSE's. We wish you every success in your exams Charlie.'

We held a planning meeting for BOB's 170th Birthday party on September 7th and 8th. Thank you to everyone who has offered to help., and if you would like to be involved too, just e-mail me on, or phone me on 0758-4060-806.

Photos of Progress May 2019

April 2019

Our next volunteers' work-day is Saturday 13th April so do please come and join us.

Our contractor has the new turntable ring ready to fit, so we need to get ready by moving the old wheel, and fitting grease-nipples to the NE wheel's bearings. We need to prepare and fit the new bronze collar, and then start the process of lowering the deck with our two 50 Tonne hydraulic jacks.

This time of the year means a lot of weed-clearing is needed, so please bring rakes, buckets, trowels etc., and something to kneel on.

The door of the shed needs to be painted and the site tidied generally. One or two volunteers with smiles and leaflets are needed to talk to visitors and explain what we are doing, so you don't need to be an engineer, just keen to see this amazing structure restored and willing to help.

We welcomed a new volunteer Heather Gordon who immediately set to work erecting the lifting-gantry with Bob and moved the old, redundant, turntable-wheel out of the way of the Bridge sub-structure ready for it to be lowered. Julian, Geoff and David burrowed under the lowest part of the Bridge and fitted parts of the new bronze collar to hold the Bridge central, which requred them also to jack up the bridge a few centimeters.....quite hard work! We found the collar was slightly under-size, so Julian is kindly machining a bronze make-up piece. John Willis and Heather did great work clearing the whole site of grass and weeds, and it looks better now than it has done for months, well done folks.

We welcomed Julia Elton of Clevedon Court, Andrew Smith from the I. Struct. E in London, and Richard Harris, Editor of the ICE journal Engineering Heritage and History who were conducted around the site by David Greenfield and Bob Watkins. Richard expects to publish the papers presented at the conference 'Building Bridges with Brunel' on 6th September in the Create Centre. Put the date in your diary!

March 2019

Workday Saturday 16th March
At our first work-day of the year in February we made good progress levelling the the south west wheel, packing up the south east wheel to its correct level, gardening, and painting the hut,(well done Martin!)

Our next workday is Saturday 16th March so do please come and join us then. Our tasks include levelling the south east wheel and fitting the new central collar after jacking the Bridge with our two 50 Tonne hydraulic jacks.

Our gardeners need to vanquish the weeds and grass growing under and around the Bridge and clear the slippery moss, so please bring rakes, buckets, trowels etc.

The fourth wall of the shed needs to be painted and the site tidied generally. One or two volunteers with smiles and leaflets are needed to talk to visitors and explain what we are doing, so you don't need to be an engineer, just keen to see this amazing structure restored and willing to help.

There is plenty of parking space on site but the bridge leading onto the Island is currently being re-timbered. This is due to be finished by 15th but if the work over-runs you may have park on Brunel Lock Road (max 3 hours meter-parking) or in Underfall Yard Carpark 15 minutes walk away, (free, no time-limit) If you don't have too much to carry you could take the Metrobus to Cumberland Basin stop, just five minutes walk away. As I say, the work should be finished by next Saturday, so check when you arrive.

'Hurray! Today we passed an important milestone by levelling the last of the four wheels which support the Bridge and allow it to turn. We have been working on this for two years, have replaced one wheel and several bearings, and have had to survey and re-survey the wheels several times. They are all now within 3mm of the same level, so should support the 70 Tonne structure well. AND 25% of our workforce was under 20 so the next generation are already involved! 8 year old Bailey helped operate the chain-hoist, clean a bronze bearing and got involved with the work on the wheels themselves, whilst 15 year old Charlie helped Geoff remove and refit the packings under the four heavy bearing blocks. Bob resurveyed the four wheels with John, our newest recruit, acting as staff-man. David and the lads removed the two caps from the north east bearings and fitted foam rubber seals to ensure that the grease enters the bearings properly, whilst Bob continued surveying outside the Bridge to relate the height of the wheels to the levels established around the structure previously. Maggie heroically spring-cleaned the base of the Bridge which sounds easy but is a tortuous task involving lots of climbing and contortion. Martin, thank you for continuing to paint the shed (nearly finished!) and Anne, thank you for supervising Bailey. You are ALL stars.'

Please see for future work-dates.

February 2019

We met on Saturday 16th February for our first workday this year, and hoped to complete the refurbishment of the turntable wheels.

On our first workday of 2019 we welcomed two newcomers John Willis and Geoff Harrison. Welcome gentlemen, and thank you for helping on your first visit.

Thank you too to everyone else who joined us. Martin valiantly cleaned and painted the north wall of shed 149 whilst John and Geoff de-weeded the area around the Bridge. Julian Baldwin valiantly came to help however he could despite nursing an injured shoulder, Julian Beel levelled the turntable's south west wheel whilst Geoff W, Charlie, David and Maggie raised the south east wheel, cleaned rust off the underside of the plummer-blocks with an angle-grinder, -a really messy job. Finally we greased surfaces for protection and re-bedded the bearings on 18mm steel packers to bring this wheel to the same height as the others. Still more to do here as the wheel leans, so come and help us in March. We held a planning meeting for this year's events to celebrate the 170th anniversary of Brunel's Other Bridge.

Do come and join us on March 16th when we hope to fit the new central collar and start lowering the Bridge. Look at the reports page to see the summaries of the results of inspections of the bridge. Updated 11 January 2016

Photos of Progress in 2019

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