Clifton Rocks Railway. In the years since the club's formation in 1978, its members have visted some very unusual places and some very unusual railways, but Clifton Rocks Railway must rank as one of the strangest. Most readers will be familiar with the idea of the 'funicular railway', which is essentially a steeply inclined railway used to ascend/descend cliff faces and the like. Well known examples exist at both Hastings and Lynton, the latter being water-powered.

Unlike other funicular railways, that at Clifton Rocks is situated entirely in a tunnel, with the old line connecting the community of Hotwells at the summit with Bristol Harbour at the foot. The railway opened in 1893 but was never a great success and closed in 1934, having been sold in 1912 by the original owners to Bristol Tramways. It was 450ft. long and ascended 200ft. at a gradient of 1 in 2.128 on track laid to a gauge of 3ft. 2in. (The designers had intended the gauge to be 3ft. 8in., but this proved impossible due to difficulties in excavating the tunnel.) The railway was quadruple track, powered by water ballast – like the funicular railway at Lynton – and operated four carriages which ran as linked pairs on alternating lines. Maggie Shapland's birthday cake, photographed here, illustrates the arrangements, albeit rather crookedly.

This is the only underground funicular railway in the world, which helps to explain why a voluntary group has been established to restore it, although on 14 August 2009 Wikipedia reported the estimated cost of restoration as being £15 million. The club is indebted to member Richard Lewis for arranging a tour of this unique historic site.

Above: The entrance to the top station in Sion Hill, with Brunel's famous Clifton Suspension Bridge visible in the background. While Brunel designed the suspension bridge, its construction was dogged by political difficulties and, for many years, all that existed were the two towers on opposite sides of the Avon Gorge. After Brunel's premature death in 1859, the bridge was completed as his memorial, finally opening in 1864. April 2009. (Ivor Sutton)

Above: The entrance to the lower station in Hotwell Road. Despite closure of the railway in 1934, its structures continued in use until 1960. The tunnel was used as offices by BOAC (the British Overseas Airways Corporation, a forerunner of British Airways), as a radio station by the BBC, and as an air raid shelter. The BBC moved in during World War 2, when studios and a technical control room were built inside the tunnel and radio transmitters installed. The control room was maintained day and night until the end of the war, and the studios used for presenting programmes if there was a bombing alert. The transmitter continued in use as a local booster station until 1960, when it became redundant and the BBC finally withdrew. April 2009. (Ivor Sutton)
Above: Exterior detail of the top station. The gabled entrance behind the white BMW used to give access to the turnstile. The large building to the right which towers over the railway premises is the Avon Gorge Hotel, formerly the Grand Spa Hotel, which is one of several local organisations to support the railway's restoration. April 2009. (Ivor Sutton)
Above: The turnstile in the slightly gloomy entrance hall of the upper station. The posters on the wall relate the history of the railway and help to inform visitors on open days. Initially, metal tickets in the shape of a Maltese Cross were issued, but these were later replaced by more conventional paper tickets. April 2009. (Ivor Sutton)
Above: Inside the tunnel, volunteers from the modern CRR have cleared rubbish and rubble from the track and installed the dummy end of a tramcar to give an impression of what the railway would have looked like when operational, although it must be remembered that the railway, as built, used quadruple track. The other rails are still there, but buried, while the huge pulleys that controlled the tramcars remain in a similar situation at the top station. The side walls to the left and right are made of bricks from the London Brick Company and were installed in 1941, when the tunnel was divided up into a series of separate rooms. The tunnel originally would have been much wider than this. April 2009. (Ivor Sutton)
Above: During World War 2, one of the rooms in the tunnel served as an air raid shelter, known as the 'refuge area'. Nowadays, the tiered seating here is used occasionally as an auditorium. A screen can be mounted on the wall behind the photographer, which makes this an ideal location for showing historic films, slides, etc. In November 2005, part of 'Secret Underground Bristol', a TV documentary, was filmed here. Four locals who sheltered in the tunnel during the war came back to reminisce, while a BBC engineer returned to describe his experiences and the function of each of the four rooms used by the corporation. The film was broadcast the following February/March. April 2009. (Ivor Sutton)
Above: Descending via the service stairs from the top to the bottom station. The other side of the wall on the right can be seen in both of the preceding pictures. 'It's railway rambling, Jim, but not as we know it!' April 2009. (Ivor Sutton)
Above: A final look back up the stairs towards the top station. The wall on the right is the original tunnel lining, that on the left having been added during World War 2 when the tunnel was divided into separate rooms. The brackets on the right are an unusual feature. When opened, the tunnel was lit by gas, so they could have held gas lights. Alternatively, they might have carried telegraph or telephone cables to keep the upper and lower stations in contact with each other. If anyone can provide further details, we would be pleased to hear via the email link on our Contact page. For that matter, we would be interested if anyone could tell us of a more unusual railway ramble anywhere in the UK! April 2009. (Ivor Sutton)