Bristol is one of the finest historic cities in
the United Kingdom, and is a city I have been proud to live in since birth.
The exact origins of Bristol are uncertain, though it is likely that the Romans recognised the advantages of the area with its easy access along the River Avon.
The people of Bristol have always been inventive and enterprising, and one of the earliest relics of the area is a silver coin (see picture on the left) bearing the image of King Ethelred who died in 1016. The coin was minted at 'Briggestowe' - the early Anglo-Saxon name for Bristol, meaning 'the place of assembly by the bridge' - and is now in the Royal Collection, Stockholm. At an early stage Bristol had an eye on production and wealth.
The bridge must have been an important link for the early settlers. The site of Bristol had the advantages of a tidal river, surrounding hills as protection, and a natural moat formed by the rivers Avon and Frome. Ships could sail inland to the heart of the town, and so at an early stage Bristol was on the road to commercial development, exploration and trade. Enterprise and initiative flourished and Bristol grew rapidly around the original crossing point of the river (see the 2 diagrams to the right). The bridge was once lined with houses, and the Norman castle became one of the most important in the country. Indeed, it was the outward nature of Bristolians that led to the city's rise in importance and to the foundation of its prosperity.
Shipping was an important part of medieval Bristol. William Canynge was one of the greatest ship builders; by the mid 15th century he owned 9 ships built in the city and employed 800 men. He set a pattern for merchants to own their own fleets - the beginnings of Bristol's world-wide trade links.
In 1497, John Cabot, a seafarer who had settled in Bristol, set sail to discover the continent of North America. His son, Sebastian made other voyages of discovery and it was indirectly due to him that the trade developed between England and Russia.
Bristol's trade maintained its growth. By 1670 more than half of Bristol's shipping involved the tobacco trade. During the ensuing centuries Bristol consolidated its wealth and had a firm economic base on which to build during the industrial revolution.
The arrival of railways and canals brought Bristol within easy reach of London and other centres of manufacturing. Isambard Kingdom Brunel's 19th century Great Western Railway route is used today for high speed 'inter-city' trains- Bristol having 2 major railway stations, called Bristol Temple Meads and Bristol Parkway.
The picture on the left is an engraving by Lavar from
1887, drawn from photographs of the city taken from a balloon. At that time
the population was half of that of today, but the city was only an eighth
of its present size, and by the time the Bristol Bulldog was flying in the
1930's the population of the city had grown to almost 400,000.
At the start of the 20th century Bristol looked towards other form of transport and soon made a name for itself in the new field of aviation. The aircraft industry was established at Filton in 1910. Those early days of boxkites and Bulldog aircraft were the forerunners of today's giant aerospace industry. The name of Bristol has been synonymous with aero-engine development from the early days through to Concorde, satellites and space exploration. This industry at Filton (see picture below right) has produced a range of skilled workers accustomed to dealing with the advanced techniques and processes.
The city of Bristol suffered severe bomb damage
during the last war, with a great number of old and famous buildings, such
as the Dutch House, being destroyed. But the city has picked itself up again
since and is flourishing now. The city docks may have have lost the trade
in the last few decades but improvements have been made to the overall
look of the area, with improvements made to Narrow Quay, Welsh Back and the
Grove and most recently, the Centre has been remodelled around the Neptune
statue, shifting the road system to one side (controversially) to create
a water feature to celebrate the new millennium. The picture below left is
a reminder of what the Centre used to look like before the millennium
developments took place. The road across Queen's Square has now been closed
to traffic with plans made to tear up the tarmac and replace with a green
area, as it used to be. Broadmead has seen major changes over the years,
with the new Galleries Shopping centre replacing Fairfax House department
store. Out of town shopping areas such as Cribbs Causeway have expanded rapidly
and are still under development. Canon's Marsh has been extensively redeveloped
over recent years, turning it from a desolate car parking area to a modern
office area with a new science exploratory building.
Striking features are highlighted in the docks - whether the refurbished SS Great Britain, illuminated at night in her original dock, or the soaring cranes on Princes' Wharf. Less pronounced but equally important parts are retained to give nostalgic reminders of earlier shipping - like Fairbairn's steamcrane (see photo on the right), a scheduled ancient monument under the care of the city museum.
Bristol also plays a big part in the media.
The city's two daily newspapers, the Western Daily Press and the Bristol Evening Post have their offices in a modern complex on Temple Way, not far from Broadmead. The BBC's Natural History Unit is based in Bristol, and leads the world in the production of wildlife programmes. Radio Bristol is the BBC's local radio station providing up to the minute local and national news. HTV West is the commercial television company providing programmes for the West of England, as well as contributing to the national ITV network. Operating from its studios in the Watershed complex in the city centre, GWR radio broadcasts music, local and national news and information.
TV-am was the ITV breakfast programme in the 1980's and the company chose Durdham Downs, close to the suspension bridge in Clifton to film the spectacular opening sequence to their 'Good Morning Britain' programme - more than 6000 Bristolians got up early on a Sunday morning to take part.
Bristol is also the home of Wallace and Gromit - the Oscar winning creations of Aardman Animations, based in Gas Ferry Road, near Canon's Marsh.
Bristol Zoo is one of the finest zoos in the country - a recent poll placing it in the top 10. It is also one of the earliest zoos. It features extensive collections of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles, plus a newly refurbished Penguin area, and not forgetting the polar bears (see left). Set in 12 acres of delightful gardens featuring many rare trees and shrubs, the zoo is hugely popular with children and adults alike. The zoo's animal collection include many traditional favourites and a number of rare or endangered species.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel is famous not only for railways, but for one of Bristol's best known landmarks - the Clifton Suspension Bridge. It was completed in 1864. Sadly for Brunel he was never to see his finished design as he died before it was completed, and in the end his design was heavily modified to cut costs. The two pictures here are of the bridge during the day and lit up at night with thousands of light bulbs. The light bulbs were replaced for a more energy efficient and cost effective lighting system which my say isn't as good as the old system. Indeed when travelling along the portway it can be difficult to see the new lights from a distance. If you are ever going to visit Bristol, you must go and see the bridge!
Throughout the year, Bristol is a place to be
enjoyed. Seasonal lighting at Christmas provides an attraction for visitors
from a wide area. Bristol has grown in prosperity out of its historic past,
providing new facilities, freshness of thought, pleasant surroundings and,
while constantly looking to the future, retaining a 'feel' for the past.
So Bristol has achieved a great deal. As the city has grown and developed, so has its stature as the regional centre for the West of England. It has to live up to its reputation and to the high expectations which have been created. The success of the past is proven; that success must continue.
Bristol is excellently placed in general, close to the River Severn with its port at Avonmouth now dealing with trade - especially foreign car imports. Bristol is also close to two of Britain's motorways, the M4 and M5, with the M32 feeding in to the heart of the city. Places like London and Birmingham are only a couple of hours away. You may not realise it but the M4 has been designated a Euroroute (number 30) - known as E30. Euroroutes are made up of many other roads in Britain (but not displayed on signposts!) and run for miles in many different countries in Europe, linking major cities. The are quite a few Euroroutes in the UK and I have compiled a short list of them. Click on the following link - EUROROUTES. (UPDATED 02 March 2002)
You have read on this page that Isambard Kingdom Brunel is famous for his Clifton Suspension Bridge and his Great Western Railway route - he also built as part of that railway the Royal Albert Bridge spanning the Tamar river at Plymouth. I took a couple of pictures of the bridge on a recent special railway outing to Cornwall on May 28, 2001. Click the link to see the bridge photos, plus some other photos taken on the day of the special train and Land's End.
There is so much to Bristol to go into great depth so below are some links to other websites to give you a flavour of what Bristol is like as a city and to encourage you to come and visit.
Links to Bristol on the
www.aardman.com/ (Wallace and Gromit)
www.avonvalleyrailway.co.uk (Steam Railway at Bitton)
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