This fireworks display was being held to celebrate the bicentenary of Isambard Kingdom Brunel's birth. He was an engineer who built many a thing in the South West and one of the most talked about is the Clifton Suspension Bridge. The display was to go hand-in-hand with the turning on of the new bridge lights that have been worked on for the last year, so promised to be something special.

I decided to go up to the Clifton Suspension Bridge at about 10am and have a look at the setting up. The road and one pedestrian walkway were still open so there were plenty of opportunities to take photos.

The bridge from above

- Click on any thumbnail image to view a larger version -

1: View of the bridge from below showing the full span 2: Side view of the bridge - you can just make out the waterfall gerbs hanging down below 3: View of the bridge from the other side 4: The bridge from road level looking across it 5: Useful advice from The Samaritans - hope you can get mobile reception up there! 6: Brunel 200 poster 7: Have you seen this jacket?

I approached Mike of Pains Fireworks - the person who actually designed tonight's show - and asked him a few questions. He told me that it was going to be a twelve minute display that was to be fired to classical music. There was going to be some comets set up on top of each tower on either side of the bridge along with shells, mines and candles all across the road. Speakers were to be set up all along the River Avon and around the Cumberland Basin so that we could all hear the music that accompanied the fireworks.

He told me that the bridge was going to be closed for cars at midday but the pedestrian walkway would remain open until 6pm. That would prove to be a much better time to get some up-close photos as they would be setting everything out in their final places.

View from the bridge, looking down

As I don't live far from the bridge I was able to upload the photos I had taken to the UK Firework Review Members' Forum along with a report on the day's proceedings, its first ever "semi-live" bulletin! And there was going to be even more photos as I planned to go back up in a couple of hours.

1: Cables, junction boxes, racks, tools and even a wheelbarrow! 2: Sorting out the shells prior to loading 3: Boxes of pyro
Loading shell racks 5: Wiring up what look like single shot candles 6: View over shell tubes 7: Various shells

When I returned later in the day the road was closed and the bridge was a sea of people, all taking pictures of the set up and asking the crew all sorts of questions. I was interested in getting some photos too and finding out a bit more. At one point I was leaning a bit too far over the barrier and almost fell over it, I don't think they would have been best pleased with me if I did!

Shell racks being set up on the bridge

There seemed to be hundreds and hundreds of shell racks, all being loaded up and wired to the correct boxes. The biggest shells were six inches, most of which were to be fired towards the end of the display. There were boxes and racks spread across the bridge that were full to the brim with shells.

1: Big shell racks 2: Organising what goes where 3: Various candles 4: A line of shell racks 5: Boxes and tubes 6: Fusing up
7: Connecting one of many cables - this display used miles of wiring

Pains had a full army of busy crew that were each doing their own section. Some were doing shells, some doing the candles, some doing the wiring and others placing out various bits into their correct positions.

Fusing and setting up

It was very cold on the bridge with the wind blowing, which in turn started to make the bridge move a bit. Just enough to make me start feeling sick!

1: Electrical connection/junction box 2: MORE cable! 3: Lots of candles, angled on racks 4: Angled shell tubes 5: Big tubes
6: Pyroclock precision fuse delays 7: More preparations

I took lots more photos and then retired to find where I could be filming the display from. I came across a security guard and asked where the best place to film from would be (just to see where she would be sending everyone) and she told me that they would be sending everyone to the other side of the river where the refreshments and toilets were. It looked like I was going to be in one of the less crowded bits. Speakers were already set up and the food stalls and fairground rides were appearing. I found the perfect place to film from, a spot that was directly in line with the bridge.

Plaque showing the bridge's vital statistics

When I uploaded more photos and my latest bulletin to the UKFR forum I was asked several questions from members about the display, which I didn't know the answers to. This meant another trip to the bridge to try and find out! I think the crew were sick of the sight of me by now, and by the look on some of their faces the crew seemed to be bored with answering the same questions from the public. "Where will be the best place to watch?". "What time is the display?" and the best one I heard: "Why have you closed off the bridge? I've had to park miles away and now I have to walk across!".

I asked some of the technical questions that I had been asked to find out for members, but the one that no one on the bridge seemed to know was what the budget for the display itself was. By now they were waterproofing everything, which I thought was a bit pessimistic as it was a lovely sunny day and there was not a cloud in sight.

1: Yet more cable 2: Loading shell racks 3: Junction box now wired up 4: Fusing shells 5: Mmmm... wondered why Phil was so keen to get off the bridge! 6: Another side view of the massive bridge 7: The Crazed Monkey Crew!

The time came to pack my bag full of munchies and drinks for the long wait. This event had been advertised on the local news for a long time and it's for a person that means a lot to the people of Bristol, so it was going to be busy.

The display was due to be fired at 9pm so I wandered down to my little spot at 6pm. Those on the UKFR forum know that I also take part in hot air ballooning so on the way to my spot it was good to bump into a ballooning friend of mine who was telling me that he was going to be tethering a hot air balloon. Usually that wouldn't be a problem but it was pretty windy so I hung around for a while to see what amusing shapes the balloon will make. Unfortunately it proved too windy to do this so I retired to my filming spot only to find that everyone else had the same idea as me - to get there early. Bugger!

Short video showing the bridge and some setting up. Click on the image to the left, download the complete file before playing. Windows Media format, 45Mb

Everyone seemed to be there with their children, parents, brothers, sisters and pets. I even overheard someone (that I think had been dragged along) say "You should have brought your telly; we could sit and watch the telly now". It's quite amusing when you're on your own to do a bit of people watching. There were a few people that were more interested to see what they were missing on telly and others that seemed to be asleep standing up.

All wired up and waterproofed

As time passed my mind was hard at work trying to figure out the best place to put my tripod to get the best shot. I hopped over the fence and moved my tripod on the edge of the bank only to get shouted at over the speakers to get back over the fence. The whole of Bristol must have realised what I was doing as there were speakers placed all up around the bridge, the road underneath and in the park behind us!

After the shame of being shouted at over the entire speaker system I decided to stay put behind the fence and just place my camera over the barrier. My friends turned up with their tripods not long after and I kept my shame to myself and blamed someone else!

There was many a person putting their tripods in front of ours to get a good shot so we were constantly checking through our viewfinders to see whether they would be in the way. One person even moved the fence to get down onto the bank below getting the best shot, but I knew he would get shouted at so said nothing as I didn't want to be the only one that had my shame brought to the attention of everyone in Bristol. Unfortunately nothing was said and I had mixed feelings of feeling stupid to be shouted at over the speaker system but feeling special to be noticed!

Whilst waiting, it appears the crew had checked the weather forecast and waterproofing the shells seemed appropriate as it rained down on us. It was bad enough that my hands were numb with the cold but now I was wet too, great! But after some time of munching on foreign chocolate, drinking a flask of tea and trying to explain to someone where we were with not much success, the time came.

The voice of Adam Hart-Davis came over the speaker system to announce the start and to raise a toast to Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the countdown commenced. The display started with three comets from either side of the bridge, fired at each other followed by a pause of about ten seconds to show the new lights. This was now time to start the display with strobes on the bridge and then the waterfall began. This looked fantastic, lighting up everything around it. Lots of different size shells were thrown into the air with mines and comets in different colours all along the bridge. Comets were even fired from each tower along the side of the bridge, all to music and it looked great.

The waterfall (shown above) was fantastic and the music went well with the meaning of the display. The single shot comets that I saw set up on the bridge earlier in the day at extreme angles worked well and gave an interesting effect when fired. The lights on the bridge looked brilliant and lit up the night sky, it was well worth waiting for.

The thumbnails below only show a portion of each full picture and they are all worth looking at.

Complete fireworks display by Pains Fireworks. Click on the image to the left, download the complete file before playing. Windows Media format, 104Mb

After the display we realised that the hot air balloon had beaten the wind and managed to be tethered, glowing like a giant light bulb.

Thanks to the crew of Pains Fireworks for putting up with my questions and letting me lean over (not fall, thankfully) and take lots of photos - Phil Hooper AKA Crazed Monkey.

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Setting-up source images ©2006 Phil Hooper as noted. Firework display source images ©2006 Chris Noad as noted. Title image derived from an image ©2006 Chris Noad. Background montage comprises images requested to be credited to Bristol's Museums, Galleries and Archives; Brunel 200; University Of Bristol (from Video courtesy and ©Phil Hooper.
This presentation ©2006 UK Firework Review, all rights reserved.