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Discover Our Story

About Us

In 2015, we took on the incredible project of restoring Clifton Observatory. At this stage, we knew little of the observatory’s historical significance and the stories surrounding it. But as renovation progressed, we learned more of Clifton Observatory’s unique history. We wanted to preserve it and make it available to the public.

Over the last few years we have opened the 360 café, serving locally-sourced food and drink; our museum, which houses the Camera Obscura and details the history of the building; and the mythical Giant’s Cave with its panoramic views of Avon Gorge. The observatory has opened its doors for events, allowing residents of Bristol and international tourists alike to become part of the of its rich history. From couples sharing their wedding day, birthday celebrations and corporate conferences, we are able to host any event.

Clifton Observatory offers breath-taking views and a unique, unforgettable atmosphere.

History

1766

James Walters is awarded £200 by the Society of Merchant Venturers to build a windmill on Clifton Down.

1768

The windmill is damaged in a fire. The Society of Merchant Venturers funds repairs.

1777

A violent storm causes the windmill to catch fire once more, burning it to the ground.

1828

The Society of Merchant Venturers grant a 7-year lease on the ruined windmill at 5 shillings per annum to William West, who converts the old mill into an observatory.

1829

A competition is announced to select a design for the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Isambard Brunel submits four record-breaking designs, one of which features the Giant’s Cave as the starting point for the bridge.

1835

While excavating the foundations, West discovers natural caves. He proposes a plan of linking the observatory to the Giant’s Cave. The Society of Merchant Venturers approves the plan and excavation begins.

1837

The Giant’s Cave opens to the public with entry costing one shilling.

1860

William West dies at the age of 60. His wife and children continue to live at the observatory. Eventually West’s granddaughter Edith, a noted suffragette and campaigner for women’s rights, becomes the observatory keeper.

1897

To celebrate the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s exploration of Newfoundland, a committee proposes that the observatory be demolished and a tower built in its place. However, Bristol residents argue to preserve the observatory, and Cabot Tower is built on Brandon Hill instead.

1940

The Home Guard requisition the observatory as a communications and patrol base, and the basement is rented out to Clifton residents as an air raid shelter.

1977

Clifton Observatory, now a Grade II* listed building, is sold by the Society of Merchant Venturers. The Society requires all future owners to maintain public access to the Camera Obscura and Giant’s Cave.

2003

Concord flies over the Observatory in the final minutes of its last flight.

2015

The Clifton Observatory is sold into private ownership to a Bristol-born resident.

2017

The museum is established at the observatory.

Our Team

Meet The Team

Our talents and experience are diverse, but at Clifton Observatory, we’re united by one thing: a love for this unique and characterful venue, its extensive history, and unforgettable events.

We take great pride in the incredible project of restoring Clifton Observatory to its former glory, showcasing original architectural features and adding a little flair of our own. Our passion is events and customer satisfaction. We do our utmost to ensure a first class experience for all of our guests.

Jade Rockett

General Manager

Tbc.

Ian Johnson

Owner

Born in Clifton, Ian purchased the Clifton Observatory in 2015 & has been steadily restoring the building. He’s involved in restoring a number of landmarks and buildings in Bristol, including Clifton Rocks Railway, Armada House, The Wellhead and more.

Rachel Davidson

Assistant Manager

Working with both corporate and private clients, Rachel has spent the last four years working within venues, managing events from the point of sale and through to on hand management on the day.