Friday, 26 April 2019

"We are going Up the Downs" Really?

Bristol, U.K.  children are likely to have heard a parent or other adult say "We are going Up the Downs". 

'Tis poor English, but it's designed to bring a smile to a child's face.

"Up" is in the sense that Sarasotans might say "up to Bradenton"  (or "down to Naples"), but also in the sense that one has to drive, or walk or cycle up one hill or other to get to the Downs.

But what are the Downs?,  (more accurately Clifton Down and Durdham Down).  

Originally public pasture lands,  they are 431 acres of open land on the north west of Bristol,  land which is designated for the recreational use of citizens and visitors in perpetuity.  

From the 1830's onwards the Bristol districts of Westbury Park, Henleaze,  and Redland were being developed as fashionable districts for the growing middle classes, (merchants, doctors, lawyers etc).

 Clifton and Sneyd Park were being developed  for the very wealthy who desired their mansions.

With imaginative  foresight the City Burghers came to understand that the great open spaces of the pasture lands were "ripe for despoiling (development)".  So in 1861, in order  to preserve this open space  the City Council bought Durdham Down and the **Society of Merchant Venturers bought Clifton Down, thus ensuring a grand open space for the people of Bristol.  

Clifton and Durdham Downs are jointly administered by the City and the Society.


431 acres of open space for walking, for sports (mainly football), and for the enjoyment of beauty.

The Downs were  (and maybe still are) a grand place for the pleasure of working people.  Back in the days when car ownership was rare the workers would take a tram, and later a 'bus  "up the Downs".  

My family was lucky -  we lived on 'bus route which took us directly there.

When I was little there was a small area at the Downs known as "the Dumps". It had been a (surface) lead mine in the 18th C, and the little hillocks and slopes were a great place to run up and down.  

They have more recently been leveled. Rats!

The Downs have a natural western boundary -  the Bristol Avon River Gorge, with the magnificent Clifton Suspension Bridge, allegedly designed alone by the great Isambard Kingdom Brunel, but in truth dependent on Sarah Guppy.

 The original plans for the bridge were drawn up by Bristol mother-of-six Sarah Guppy.
Guppy first patented the design for a suspension bridge across the Avon Gorge in 1811 and gave her plans to Brunel for free because she was a modest woman who wanted to see them used for the public good.
Bristolians love their bridge.  Mary Tudor is alleged to have said that when she died, Calais would be written on her heart.  

Bristolians will die thinking about the Downs, and especially about their Suspension Bridge.

At the Downs.  Observatory with Camera Obscura.

At the Downs.  Viewing platform in the Cave below Clifton Down,  and with views of the Avon Gorge.

The Avon Gorge and the Bridge.  The Clifton Downs are to the left.

A general view of The Downs 

There is a Railway Tunnel (Bristol - Severn Beach line)  deep beneath the Downs.  Here is a Ventilation tower on the Downs -  essential in the steam train days.

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