|*New* Vintage images of Clifton Observatory from our collection were added to this page 7/2004 .
|The Clifton Observatory, Clifton Down, Bristol
|Our visit on May 27, 1996
|On May 27 we checked into our Bristol hotel and walked to
Overlooking the Clifton Suspension Bridge, the Bristol Camera Obscura is in a building that was originally a windmill known as "The Snuff Mill". In 1777 the mill machinery was destroyed by a gale that turned the sails too fast and caused a fire. It was converted, in 1829, by the artist William West, into an observatory equipped with telescopes and the camera obscura.
We first visited the site in 1979 to find the tower derelict and deserted. We were told by a shop keeper in the area that plans had been made to restore and open it but legal problems had prevented it. We returned in August of 1985 to find it open and in business. The building had been made safe with rather rough modern materials. One bought a ticket in a concession stand at the base and then climbed the stairs to the camera obscura room at the top. In a small inner chamber the image from the lens in the roof was projected onto a dented 5 foot diameter concave table. The lens rotates 360o by means of a wooden pole that is passed around the table. We were there on a bright day and only one or two families came into the chamber so that we were able to make numerous photographs of the table and lens assembly. The views of Isambard Kingdom Brunel's suspension bridge and the surrounding area are very impressive.
On the 1996 trip we arrived on an overcast day, expected to find the
tower improved but found that little had changed. The refreshment stand
still sold tickets and we still made our way up the same shabby stairs
to the top level to the same battered table and wooden pole. The most
striking difference on this trip was the crowds of people. We were there
in late May during the Festival of Ships so it may have been an unusually
busy time. The press of people coming in and out and circulating in the
narrow space around the table made our plans to videotape a bit awkward.
It was, however, refreshing to see so many people enjoying this very
|Images of Clifton Observatory from Our Collection
|The albumen cabinet card below by W. Harvey Barton shows a view of the suspension bridge in the 19th century. A close examination of the area around the right pier shows the tower of Clifton Observatory and the lens assembly on top.
On our first trip to Bristol we bought this postcard from the early years of the 20th century in an antique market not far from the observatory.
The postcard below is postmarked 1906.
Frequently Asked Questions about the Camera Obscura (please check this page before sending email questions)
Links and a Bibliography about the camera obscura
Map and illustrated diary of
Map and illustrated diary of
Images of camera obscuras from our collection.
Some Images from our collection
Portable and box camera obscuras from our collection.
Bright Bytes Studio Home Page (Jack and Beverly's Home Page)
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