The Murless Fund

View of pedestrians on Clifton Suspension Bridge, c.1864-1880 Note: the surface carriageway has not yet been asphalted (ref: AA-1-S-57)
View of pedestrians on Clifton Suspension Bridge, c.1864-1880 Note: the surface carriageway has not yet been asphalted (ref: AA-1-S-57)

The objective of the SANHS Murless Fund is to support the preparation of heritage items and collections to be made available for public study, education and enjoyment through digital media. The primary focus of the Fund is towards historic maps, plans and associated material, but the Fund Committee will consider applications for other categories such as documents, artefacts, photographs and bibliographic material. In past years the Fund contributed to the “Know Your Place – West of England” digital heritage mapping project, and also to two South West Heritage Trust (SWHT) projects – one being to digitize the remarkable collection of 58,000 historical acetate images of Somerset people and scenes, taken by the Wellington photographer Stanley Kenyon between 1938 and 1994. The second project was to digitise the fragile journal of John Bowen of Bridgwater, which records part of a three month voyage in 1816 that he made from Calcutta (now Kolkata) to Lucknow in Oudh (now Uttar Pradesh, Northern India).

In December 2018 the Fund made a further contribution to SWHT and to the Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust (CSBT) in support of projects to conserve and digitise their historical photographic collections.  SWHT holds a number of glass plate negative collections, which in their original state are fragile and difficult to make available to researchers. The Trust has identified priority collections for digitisation, including over 600 glass plates by photographer William McCutchan from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the glass plates from the Kenyon photographic archive from the mid-20th century.  The collections provide wonderful insights into life in Somerset, showing vanished buildings, industry and local events. With the aid of a donation from the Murless Fund, the Trust has been able to purchase new high-specification digitisation equipment.

Stereoscopic views were immensely popular from the late 1850s onwards. The technique uses two photographic images taken from slightly different angles to replicate human vision; when seen through a viewer the illusion of a 3-D image is created. In 2018 the archives of the late Adrian Andrews – an expert in the history of engineering and of the Clifton Suspension Bridge – were donated to the Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust.

Within the archives was a collection of over two hundred stereoscopic photographs, one hundred of which feature the bridge and the Avon Gorge area. These offer a rare visual record of its construction, from the 1850s through to its completion in 1864 and beyond. The photographs show workmen atop the towers hauling up 24ft-long wrought iron links, and jib cranes, scaffolding, and other equipment taking materials up and across the Avon Gorge. Sometimes dates inscribed on the back of the stereoscopes pinpoint when components were put in place. The images also document changes on the bridge after construction, for example, the original kiosk, gas lighting and signage prohibiting trotting. Other images demonstrate the Avon Gorge’s centrality to Victorian Britain: its paddle steamers, ferry, quarry workings, taverns, the Portishead Railway and tourist sites such as Hotwells Baths and Clifton Rocks Railway. Indeed, the collection is a window into the revolutionary changes of the era.  

The collection has been cleaned, conserved and digitised, with support from The Murless Fund and the Aurelius Charitable Trust. The western pier and half the suspended span of the bridge lie within the boundary of the historic county of Somerset – the Murless Fund contribution was directed to Somerset-related items in the collection. Digitisation enables these stereoscopes to be examined in great detail and for surrogate copies to be made, thereby enriching the learning resources at the Clifton Suspension Bridge Visitor Centre. The photograph above shows an image before and after cleaning. The images have also been made available online at:

For further details of the Murless Fund (SANHS) or to apply for funding, contact the Fund Administrator:

Dr David Greenfield
33 Barrow Drive
Taunton, TA1 2UX