The City of Bristol

Brief History

Bristol is the largest city in the south west of England, 105 miles (169 km) west of London, and 44 miles (71 km) east of Cardiff, with a population of approximately half a million. The city lies between Somerset and Gloucestershire and has been politically administered by both counties in part at various times. However, Bristol is historically a county in its own right and is properly entitled the City and County of Bristol.

The city grew up around the original junction of the River Frome with the River Avon, adjacent to the original Bristol Bridge in the eleventh century. Despite its inland harbour location, in the 17th and 18th centuries, it was one of the world’s greatest ports. Newfoundland was discovered by John Cabot in 1497 and the merchants of Bristol exploited the New World with fortunes being made from sugar, tobacco, slaves and rum.

When slavery was abolished, trade declined and Bristol became noted for engineering and synonymous with the famous engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Projects he was involved with included the Great Western Railway, the magnificent Temple Meads Station and, most famously, the Clifton Suspension Bridge now symbolic of the city.

It was Brunel who played a major role in the cutting-edge design and construction of the floating harbour, which is still in use today. This new lock system trapped water in the city’s central harbour and allowed ships and boats to stay afloat without being affected by the changing tides.

Bristol is now a modern, vibrant and attractive city with richly varied architecture including fine old churches; elegant Georgian terraces and crescents (especially in the Clifton suburb) and imposing Victorian public buildings. The ancient church of St. Mary Redcliffe was described by Queen Elizabeth I as ‘the finest parish church in England’.

The Anglican Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity is located on College Green and is also a fine architectural example that attracts many visitors and not to be confused with the Church of St. Mary.

Sightseeing of the city can be by open top bus and guided walks and the best way to see its maritime heritage is by water.

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