New tombstone and artwork celebrate an 18th-century engineer

The life of the world’s first woman to patent a bridge has now received an official commemoration as part of Women’s History Month.

Born in 1770, Sarah Guppy was an engineer and inventor who patented her first design for a bridge in 1811.

Guppy has often been incorrectly credited with designing Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Clifton Suspension Bridge.

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Sarah Guppy’s grave has now been restored and is in St Andrew’s churchyard. She also commemorates her daughter, who predeceased her mother in 1838.

Instead, he patented his idea for a chain bridge before the announcement of the first competition for a bridge over the Avon Gorge.

However, the “innovative and unduly careless” engineer was a friend of Brunel’s.

Sheila Hannon, who runs the Show of Strength Theater Company, believes the couple stayed under the same roof at the former Arnos Court under the ownership of William Reeves, now the Arnos Manor Hotel.

The little-known engineer was believed to also live in the building that is now the Lansdown pub in Clifton.

His time here has been commemorated with an artwork by the prolific Bristol-based stencil artist, Stewy.

Restored from a lost photo of Guppy, Stewy recreated her image and sprayed her stencil on a top-floor window of the pub, overlooking the street below.

Sarah now looks out the window of her old home, thanks to artist Stewy. Photo: Archie Lippiatt.

Guppy died in Clifton in 1852 and was buried in St Andrew’s Churchyard, where Sheila discovered his grave while doing research for her play on the 18th-century engineer in November 2021.

The tomb was in such poor condition that Sheila had it removed and raised funds to restore it. A memorial to celebrate her life will take place on Saturday 25 March at 11am in St Andrew’s Cemetery via Birdcage Walk.

Chris Curling, Sarah’s four-time retired great-grandson, will be at the ceremony. Curling is also the great, great, great-grandson of TR Guppy, the engineer who worked on and financed Brunel’s projects, including the Great Western Railway and the SS Great Britain.

Lead photo: Archie Lippiatt

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