Bristol Bridge

This is not, as most people assume, the Clifton Suspension Bridge, but the ancient bridge crossing the Avon – now the Floating Harbour – in the centre of Bristol.

This is from The Annals of Bristol by John Latimer:

William Vick, wine merchant of Queen Square, died 3 January 1754. His will included several gifts, with the residuary estate going to his sister Rebecca and Roger Watts, after leaving £1,000 to the Merchant Venturers, the major force in the city after the corporation, to invest and when this sum reached £10,000 it was to be used to build a single span stone bridge across the Avon from Clifton Down to the opposite side, and to be free of tolls. If this was impracticable, the money was to be transferred to the corporation, with £4,000 to young clothworkers of Minchinhampton [suggesting this is where Vick came from] or Bristol, with the remainder to found a Magdalene hospital, a  ‘useful and much needed’ charity.

“The terms aroused as much amusement as surprise, and witless gibes at the old wine merchant’s morality have been re-echoed on in our time. ”

This is one of the oddest incidents in the city, as Britain did not have the technology to build large span bridges at the time, and all bridges were still being made of wood and/or stone. The Bridge at Pontyprydd built about the time of Vick’s death, was a single span, but fell down twice before the present one survived. It was a fraction of the size that would be needed to span the spectacular Avon Gorge. It was not until well into the 19th century that the genius that was Brunel, together with other engineers such as Telford were able to make such large bridges, but with steel suspension bridges.

So, what was Vick thinking? The simple answer is, we can never know, but he could have been mad/senile as the wits suggested, or he might have been a great dreamer.

Another possibility is that his real intention was to fund a home for single mums, a charity that was popular in London and other major cities, but in Bristol it was assumed that only those who got the girls in the family way were the donors, so  rather than an act of generosity it was seen as an act of guilt. So, did Vick propose an impossible structure in order to cover his real intention, to help single mums?

The amazing story of the building of Bristol Bridge  can be found in my book Death and the Bridge:

Or on kindle, Civil Engineering and Civic Apathy:

and the story of Bristol Bridge builder, James Bridges Father Henry and his amazing musical/astronomical clock: The Big world f Mr Bridges’ Microcosm:


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