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Bristol in Bristol

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Visit Bristol and the surrounding villages and stay in bed & breakfast accommodation:

Bristol, Gloucester.

For convenience, Bristol may be divided into seven main centres of interest. The old city is the area from Bristol Bridge, across Corn Street, up Broad Street to St John's Church. The first Bristol Bridge was built in the 13th century. It was the entry to the walled town of the period. Over the bridge are the remains of the Church of St Nicholas and its Norman crypt. A traditional curfew is still rung every night at nine o'clock from its re-hung bells. The tower of St Mary-le-Port adjoining is the oldest part of the city. All Saints is a Norman foundation, much restored in the 18th century when the present cupola was added.

In nearby Corn Street is the splendid Classical building designed by Bath's famous John Wood, the Exchange. The four bronze pillars outside are known as “The Bristol Nails” where the city merchants completed their financial dealings - “paying on the nail”. The Old Council House, rebuilt in 1828 by Sir Robert Smirke (who designed the British Museum façade) on the site of a l6th-century building, has an unusual enamel and brass staircase. Beyond the recently restored Guildhall is the tranquil little 17th-century Taylors Court; its buildings once housed the Merchant Taylors' Guild. In the angle of Broad Street and Wine Street stands Christ Church where the poet Southey was baptized. The remarkable figures (the Quarter Jacks) striking the old bells on either side of the galleried and canopied clock are leased to the church by the Bristol Corporation for half a crown a year. St John's Church is built over an original (and the last) of the city's gates. There is some fine Jacobean woodwork inside this originally l4th-century church. The two famous figures niched in the arch outside are Brennus and Belinus, the reputed founders of Bristol.

King Street, which has many good 17th- and l8th-century buildings, leads off from the Centre, another area of interest, and has the renowned Theatre Royal, first opened to the public in 1766 and therefore even older than the 18th-century theatre at Richmond, Yorkshire. It preserves its Georgian lay-out and original décor. The Victorians gave this delightful theatre a pleasing façade. In 1943, when its future was in doubt, an Old Vic company took over the theatre; since 1962 it has been administered by a Civic Theatre Trust, and a high standard of performance is maintained. Nearby is the 18th-century Coopers Hall and the earlier St Nicholas Almshouses on the corner. Llandoger Trow, built in 1664, is one of the city's oldest inns. Nearby is a beautiful example of very early 18th-century town planning in Queen Square, built to commemorate the visit of Queen Anne in 1702. Parts were destroyed in riots in 1831 and later rebuilt. The first American Consulate in Europe opened in 1792 at No. 37.

Although a whole rebuilding scheme has been completed in the Redcliffe area since the Second World War, it has done no more than give an added vitality to one of the most historically rewarding parts of Bristol. It is dominated by a graceful l9th-century spire rising 285 ft from street level, resting on the fine l3th-century tower of St Mary Redcliffe. This is the church described by Queen Elizabeth I on her visit to Bristol as “the fairest, goodliest and most famous parish church in the kingdom”. It has the breadth, width and height of a cathedral and has been cherished by the city these 600 years. The hexagonal north porch is exquisitely beautiful and all its carvings of men and beasts have survived every restoration or extension to the building. The church, with its 240-ft-long nave, its open parapets, immense areas of glass and superb flying buttresses, owes its first reconstruction to William Canynge in the 14th century. His son, also William and one of the greatest of all Bristol's merchant princes, considerably enlarged and enriched his father's work on the church, all of which can be seen in the stone, timber and glass of its interior. This younger Canynge, who was twice member of parliament and mayor five times, renounced his wealth in 1467 and became a collegiate priest of the church he had so generously endowed. He sang his first Mass in the church on Whit-Sunday 1467. This is still commemorated every Whit-Sunday when the chancel is strewn with fresh rushes and the Lord Mayor and Corporation of Bristol attend the service. Admiral Penn, father of Pennsylvania's founder, is commemorated here. Nearby is the house where Thomas Chatterton, the tragic poet, was born in 1752. It is now a Chatterton Museum. In Colston Parade on the other side of the church is Plimsoll House where the inventor of the safety loading line, Samuel Plimsoll, was born in 1824. Across Redcliffe Hill is the famous Shot Tower where in the 18th century William Watts experimented by dropping tiny quantities of molten lead into water from the top of the tower to make perfectly spherical shot. He thus made his fortune and his tower is still used for this same purpose.

The Temple Mead area, around the main railway station, has two interesting churches. One with a leaning tower is the old Temple Church which was much damaged during Bristol's air raids but is now preserved by the Ministry of Public Building and Works. The other is the fine 18th-century Classical Church of St Thomas built on Norman foundations. The Organ Gallery built in 1728 is one of the finest in the country.

The Broadmead area stretches from Old Market Street up to St James's. The modern shops and supermarkets which have sprung up since the Second World War, skirting the edge of St James's Park, are in the main a dull tale of missed opportunities. Among them are a number of historical buildings which survived both blitz and development. Just off Horsefair is the New Room, the first Methodist chapel in the world. John Wesley preached his first sermon here in 1739. On the other side of the Broadmead Circle are the cloisters of a Dominican friary which, having passed through various vicissitudes after the Dissolution, were acquired by the Society of Friends: hence their strange name of Quaker Friars. Further up, just off Haymarket, is St James's Church, reputed to be the oldest building in Bristol. Built by Robert, Earl of Gloucester, in the early part of the 12th century, it is said that every tenth stone acquired for the building of the great keep, was set aside to build this church. The Romanesque wheel window surmounting the interlaced arcades of the west front was described in a manuscript of A.D. 1150. The Stag and Hounds in Old Market Street is one of the most ancient inns and centre of a medieval fair where the Court of Pie Poudre (the dusty feet) is still ceremoniously opened every 30 September.

The University of Bristol is growing rapidly and marks another of the city's areas of interest. This was the first British university to offer a faculty in drama. its high tower is in a carefully reproduced Perpendicular style and was opened in 1925. The Great George bell which strikes the hour commemorates the visit of George V. Nearby in Park Row is the Red Lodge built for the Elizabethan merchant Sir John Young. Now a museum and cultural centre, it was once a girls' reformatory financed by Lord Byron's widow. The richly carved oak room is a particularly splendid example of period panelling. The nearby 16th-century Grammar School, though founded on the present site, was entirely rebuilt in late Victorian times. More interesting is the neighbouring Royal Fort, a house built by a rich Bristolian merchant in 1761. The interior plasterwork and sweeping staircase are elegant.

The last of the areas lies around College Green. Across the way from Cabot Tower on Brandon Hill is the 12th-century Augustinian abbey, now Bristol Cathedral. Commenced in 1142, it retains much of its Norman solidity, particularly its fine chapter house. From the 13th to the 15th century new chapels, transepts, choir and aisles were built. In the l6th-century choir stalls can. be seen some of the most imaginative of carving, in a later age, Grinling Gibbons created his superb organ case for this not too well known cathedral. The east Jesse window has l4th-century glass. The fine bosses in the roof of the north transept can now be seen to advantage since all the dirt has been removed by modern processes. Further up, in a turning off Park Street, stands a perfectly preserved house of the late 18th century, built by John Pinney, who made a fortune in the West Indies. It is called the Georgian House. All its décor, furniture and fittings are Georgian. The New Council House is neo-Georgian; not everybody likes it, but it sweeps in a graceful curve about College Green. Queen Elizabeth II opened it in 1956. On the other side of the Cabot Tower is the Queen Elizabeth Hospital School, founded in 1590. As at Christ's Hospital, boarders wear the ceremonial blue cassocked coat with yellow stockings and buckled shoes.

Two other places of interest deserve mention. The first is St Stephen's Church in the centre with its hundreds of gilded bosses in the roof of the nave and its monument to Martin Pnng, a sea captain who sailed with Sir Walter Raleigh and discovered Plymouth Harbour, where, the Mayflower docked. The other is the famous Christmas Steps at the top of Colston Street, which is named after one of Bristol's many l7th-century benefactors, Edward Colston. The Steps lie just behind Quay Street and were built about 1669. Good antiques, old books and silver can still be discovered. At the top of the steps is the Chapel of the Three Kings of Cologne, a curious and ancient connection with the Rhineland city.

About 4 miles north of the city, out over Durdham Downs, going out by Westbury Road, is Henbury. Here are 400 acres of woodlands. This is Blaise Castle Estate. The castle is a folly with four castellated towers, built by Thomas Farr, Master of the Society of Merchant Venturers, in 1771. There are foundations of an ancient chapel to St Blaise nearby and caves. The reconstructed farm-house kitchen gives an idea of the old rural way of living. An l8th-century corn-mill and John Nash's early l9th-century thatched dairy have been preserved. The Blaise hamlet comprises nine thatched cottages on Hallen Road, also designed by John Nash for estate pensioners and grouped round a contrived village green, complete with a pillared sundial on a stone village pump.

As the prosperity of Bristol increased in the late 18th century the wealthy began to move out to Clifton. The elegant Windsor Terrace and Cornwallis Crescent date from this time: Royal York Crescent and the Paragon were built a few years later. Many famous civic houses and institutions have their setting in this pleasant area. It also has a famous Victorian public school. Clifton is best known for its Suspension Bridge, built by Brunel in 1864. It spans the Avon Gorge, separating Gloucestershire from Somerset, at a height of 245 ft above the river's high-water level. Leigh Woods at the Somerset end are National Trust property. Above the Suspension Bridge is the Observatory with its camera obscura. Bristol Zoo also has its home in Clifton; it has a fine collection of animals, well displayed.

The Avon Gorge has some of the finest panoramic views any city can offer. The famous Scarlet Lychnis, known as the Flower of Bristowe (this was an earlier form of the name; the present “I” is a quirk of Bristol speech that also turns ideas into ideals and bananas into bananals) and almost indigenous to this city, grows on the rocky slopes of the Bristol side of the Gorge.

About 4 miles north east of the city centre on the A38 is Filton, once a village. Now it is a huge centre of a giant aircraft industry. The British Concorde prototype was built here. Hidden away is the parish church, mostly modern but still possessing its fine medieval tower with its 12 curious gargoyles.

Nearby cities: Bath

Nearby towns: Axbridge, Berkeley, Chepstow, Chipping Sodbury, Clevedon, Keynsham, Nailsea, Portishead, Stanton Drew, Thornbury, Weston-Super-Mare

Nearby villages: Ashton, Avonmouth, Bedminster, Brent Knoll, Brislington, Burnett, Cheddar, Cotham, Downend, Dundry, Easton, Felton, Filton, Fishponds, Frenchay, Hallen, Hambrook, Henbury, Keynsham, Kingsdown, Kingswood, Long Ashton, Lulsgate Bottom, Mangotsfield, Pill, Sea Mills, Shirehampton, Staple Hill, Stapleton, Stoke Gifford, Warmley, Whitchurch, Winterbourne, Yatton

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