Bristol is a city in south-western England, on the River Avon. It borders on the
Unitary Districts of Bath and North East Somerset, North Somerset and South
The city extends to the coast of the Bristol Channel; the area of Bristol near
the coast is called Avonmouth. Suburbs of the city include Kingswood, Filton,
Patchway, Mangotsfield and Keynsham.
Bristol is England's eighth, and the United Kingdom's eleventh most populous
city. It had been, for half a century, the second largest English city after
London, until the rapid rise of Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham, in the
The Avon traditionally marked the border between Gloucestershire and Somerset.
In 1373 Edward III of England proclaimed "that the said town of Bristol withall
be a County by itself and called the county of Bristol for ever", but maps
usually instead show it as part of Gloucestershire, and as the city spilled
south of the river, it took the county with it.
In 1974 it was made into a district of the newly formed County of Avon, which
was abolished on April 1, 1996. It has now returned to its former status of a
county in itself.
The town of Brycgstow (Old English, "the place at the bridge") was in existence
by the beginning of the 11th Century, and under Norman rule acquired one of the
strongest castles in southern England. The River Avon in the city centre has
slowly evolved into Bristol Harbour, and since the 12th Century the place has
been an important port, handling much of England's trade with Ireland. In 1247 a
new bridge was built and the town was extended to incorporate neighbouring
suburbs, becoming in 1373 a county in its own right. During this period Bristol
also became a centre of shipbuilding and manufacturing.
By the 14th Century Bristol was England's third-largest town (after London and
York), with perhaps 15-20,000 inhabitants on the eve of the Black Death of
1348-49. The plague inflicted a prolonged demographic setback, however, with
population remaining in the region of at most 10-12,000 through most of the 15th
and 16th Centuries. Bristol was made a city in 1542, with the former Abbey of St
Augustine becoming Bristol Cathedral. During the Civil War the city suffered
(1643-45) through Royalist military occupation and plague.
The main front of Bristol CathedralIn 1497 Bristol was the starting point for
John Cabot's voyage of exploration to North America.
Renewed growth came with the 17th Century rise of England's American colonies
and the rapid 18th Century expansion of England's part in the Atlantic trade in
Africans taken for slavery in the Americas.
Bristol, along with Liverpool, became a significant centre for the slave trade
although few slaves were brought to Britain. During the height of the slave
trade, from 1700 to 1807, more than 2000 slaving ships were fitted out at
Bristol, carrying a (conservatively) estimated half a million people from Africa
to the Americas and slavery.
Competition from Liverpool from c.1760, the disruption of maritime commerce
through war with France (1793) and the abolition of the slave trade (1807)
contributed to the city's failure to keep pace with the newer manufacturing
centres of the north and midlands. The long passage up the heavily tidal Avon
Gorge, which had made the port highly secure during the middle ages, had become
a liability which the construction of a new "Floating Harbour" (designed by
William Jessop) in 1804-9 failed to overcome. Nevertheless, Bristol's population
(66,000 in 1801) quintupled during the 19th Century, supported by new industries
and growing commerce. It was particularly associated with the leading engineer
Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who designed the Great Western Railway between Bristol
and London, two pioneering Bristol-built steamships, and the Clifton Suspension
Bristol Bridge seen across the HarbourBristol's city centre suffered severe
damage from bombing during World War II. The original central area, near the
bridge and castle, is still a park featuring two bombed out churches and some
tiny fragments of the castle. (A third bombed church has a new lease of life as
St Nicholas' Church Museum.) Slightly to the North, the Broadmead shopping
centre was built over bomb-damaged areas.
The removal of the docks to Avonmouth, seven miles (11 km) downstream from the
city centre, relieved congestion in the central zone and allowed substantial
redevelopment of the old central dock area (the "Floating Harbour") in recent
decades, although at one time the continued existence of the docks was in
jeopardy as it was seen merely as derelict industry rather than a potential
Panorama of BristolAeronautics
In the 20th century, Bristol's manufacturing activities expanded to include
aircraft production at Filton, six miles (10 km) north of the city centre, by
the Bristol Aeroplane Company, including the key British role in the
Anglo-French Concorde supersonic airliner project.
Concorde components were manufactured in British and French factories and
shipped to the two final assembly plants by road, sea and air. The French
assembly lines were in Toulouse in southern France with the British lines in
Filton. Luckily the very large three-bayed hangar built for the Bristol Brabazon
The last ever flight of any Concorde, 26th November 2003. The aircraft is seen a
few minutes before landing on the Filton runway from which she first flew in
1979The French manufactured the centre fuselage and centre wing and the British
the nose, rear fuselage, fin and wingtips. The largest proportion of the British
share of the work was the powerplant, the Rolls-Royce/Snecma 593. The engine's
manufacture was split between British Aircraft Corporation, Rolls-Royce (Filton)
and SNECMA at Villaroche near Paris.
The British Concorde prototype G-BSST made its 22 minute maiden flight from
Filton to RAF Fairford on 9 April 1969, the French prototype F-WTSS had flown
from Toulouse five weeks earlier. Most of the employees of BAC and Rolls Royce,
plus a huge crowd, watched from around the airfield. Fairford was chosen as the
test airfield for Concorde because the runway at Filton was rejected for test
flying, its length was inadequate and there were problems with the slope, and
the first 1000 feet (300 m) of the runway at its eastern (A38) end could not be
used. However, from the end of 1977, all test flying on the second production
aircraft G-BBDG was done from Filton, following the closure of the BAC Fairford
In 2003 the two airlines using Concorde (British Airways and Air France) and the
company supplying spares and support (Airbus) made the decision to cease flying
the aircraft and to retire them to locations (mostly museums) around the world.
For the precise location of all the aircraft see Concorde.
On 26 November 2003, Concorde 216 (G-BOAF) made the final ever Concorde flight,
returning to Filton airfield to be kept there permanently as the centrepiece of
a projected air museum. This museum will include the existing Bristol Aero
Collection which is currently kept in a hangar at Kemble Airfield, forty miles
(60 km) from Filton. This collection includes a Bristol Britannia aircraft which
would presumably also be brought to Bristol.
Another major aeronautical company in the city is Cameron Balloons, the world's
largest manufacturer of hot air balloons. Annually, in August, the city is host
to the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, one of Europe's largest hot air
Arts and leisure
The city has two significant football clubs: Bristol City F.C. who play in
Football League One and Bristol Rovers F.C. who play in Football League Two. The
city is also home to a Rugby Union club currently known as Bristol Shoguns and a
first-class cricket side, Gloucestershire C.C.C.
Each summer the grounds of Ashton Court to the west of the city play host to the
Bristol Balloon Fiesta, a major event for followers of the sport of hot-air
ballooning in Britain. The "Fiesta" draws a substantial crowd even for the early
morning lift that typically begins at about 6.30 am and a fairground atmosphere
is sustained throughout the day. A second mass ascent is normally scheduled for
the early evening, again taking advantage of lower wind speeds.
Ashton Court also plays host to the Ashton Court festival each summer, an
outdoors music festival which used to be known as the Bristol Community
St Mary Redcliffe church and the Floating Harbour, Bristol.The city's principal
theatre company, the Bristol Old Vic, was founded in 1946 as an offshoot of the
Old Vic company in London. It has premises on King Street consisting of the 1766
Theatre Royal (400 seats), a modern studio theatre called the New Vic (150
seats), and foyer and bar areas in the adjacent Coopers' Hall (built 1743). The
Theatre Royal is a grade I listed building and the oldest continuously-operating
theatre in England. The Bristol Old Vic also runs a prominent Theatre School.
The Bristol Hippodrome is a larger theatre (1981 seats) which hosts national
touring productions, while the 2000-seat Colston Hall, named for the
controversial local figure Edward Colston, is the city's main concert venue.
The music scene is thriving and significant. In particular, Bristol was the
birthplace of a kind of English hip-hop music often called trip hop or the
Bristol Sound, epitomised in the work of artists such as Tricky and Massive
Attack among many others.
The Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery houses a collection of natural history,
archaeology, local glassware, Chinese ceramics and art of a variety of periods.
The Bristol Industrial Museum, on the dockside, shows local industrial heritage
and operates a steam railway, boat trips, and working dockside cranes. The City
Museum also runs three preserved historic houses: the Tudor Red Lodge, the
Georgian House, and Blaise Castle House. The Watershed media centre and
Arnolfini gallery, both in disused dockside warehouses, exhibit contemporary
art, photography and cinema.
Stop frame animation films and commercials painstakingly produced by Aardman
Animations and high quality television series focusing on the natural world have
also brought fame and artistic credit to the city. It is where the British
Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has its regional headquarters, and Natural
History Unit. This was a key attraction to a number of independent media
companies who located in the city, and in recent times have grown into a
significant industry. Bristol is also the birthplace of the actor Cary Grant.
Bristol is home to two major institutions of higher education: the University of
Bristol, a "redbrick" chartered in 1909, and the University of the West of
England, formerly Bristol Polytechnic, which gained university status in 1992.
The city also has two dedicated further education institutions, City of Bristol
College and Filton College as well as a theological college, Trinity College,
The passenger terminal at Bristol International Airport, LulsgateThere are two
principal railway stations in Bristol: Bristol Parkway and Bristol Temple Meads.
Bristol was never well served by suburban railways, though the line to Avonmouth
and Severn Beach survived the Beeching Axe and is still in operation today,
while the line to Portishead has recently reopened to freight traffic.
Long-standing plans for a light rail system in the Bristol area have so far come
The city is connected by road on an east-west axis from London to Wales by the
M4 motorway, and on a north-southwest axis from Birmingham to Exeter by the M5
motorway. The M32 motorway is a spur from the M4 to the city centre.
The city is also served by its own airport (BRS), at Lulsgate, which has
recently seen substantial improvements to its runway, terminal and other
Despite being hilly, Bristol is one of the prominent cycling cities of England,
and is home to the national cycle campaigning group Sustrans. It has a number of
urban cycle routes, as well as links to National Cycle Network routes to Bath
and London, to Gloucester and Wales, and to the South-Western peninsula of
Many Bristolians speak a distinctive dialect of English (known colloquially as
Brizzle or Bristle). The best-known feature of this dialect, unique to Bristol,
is the Bristol L (or Terminal L), in which an L sound is appended to words that
end in a vowel sound. This is exemplified by the name of the city itself, which
has been transformed from the Old English Brycgstow to the modern Bristol. It
may also lead to confusions between expressions like area engineer and aerial
engineer which in "Bristle" may sound similar.
Areas and towns
There are several areas and towns that make up Bristol.
Bristol city centre
St Phillips Marsh
Two Mile Hill
Westbury on Trym
Tourist attractions and places of interest
Accessible open space
Museums (free/not free)
Ashton Court Festival
Aviation Heritage Museum
British Empire and Commonwealth Museum
City Museum and Art Gallery
Clifton Suspension Bridge
Festival of Nature
International Balloon Fiesta
John Wesley's Chapel
Old Vic Theatre
SS Great Britain
St Mary Redcliffe
Watershed Arts Centre