*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 the observatory.

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 Victorian experience.

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.

Magic Mirror of Life Home Page and Site Map

What is a camera obscura?

Why we created this site

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
our visits to
US camera obscuras

Map and illustrated diary of
our 1996 trip to
Great Britain camera obscuras

Images of camera obscuras from our collection.

Some Images from our collection
Trade Cards with Camera Obscuras
Lost UK Seaside Camera Obscuras
Other Lost UK Camera Obscuras
Lost US Seaside Camera Obscura
Lost US Park Camera Obscuras
Other Lost US Camera Obscuras
No, it's not a camera obscura

Portable and box camera obscuras from our collection.
Wooden Camera Obscuras
Metal Camera Obscuras
Camera Obscuras with the Lens at the Top
Cardboard Camera Obscuras
A French Artist's Camera with supplies
Vermeer's Camera, a 1934 teaching camera
Camera Obscura Publications

Bright Bytes Studio Home Page (Jack and Beverly's Home Page)

Contact us at studio@brightbytes.com
Please read the Frequently Asked Questions before sending an e-mail.

© Bright Bytes Studio. Do not use images without permission.

Modified 8/2004