Bristol: A Little Guide From A Student's Narrow View

Bristol is one of the most vibrant cities (currently bidding for European City of Culture 2008) in England, host to about half a million people. Lying between Somerset and Gloucestershire, it has been administered politically by both counties, and the county of Avon until in the late 1990's when Avon was broken up and Bristol again became its own county. If you're heading to the south-west, you'll pass by Bristol at the M4/M5 interchange. Almost all trains to the south-west go through the train station and you can even fly directly here from a few Europeans cities, if you like. You'd be silly to not visit if you're passing by.

A very very little guide on the history*

*Because it's mostly really boring.

Bristol began its life, sometime before the 10th century as Brigg Stow, 'meeting place' in Saxon. The sea placement meant easy trading to Dublin, and further south such as Somerset and Devon.

Fade-out and fast-forward to the 18th century (hold on, it's the interesting bit now)

As a city of loose ethics (although I stress it was accepted behaviour for the time), Bristol had it down in the 18th century. The tobacco trade with North America is absolutely thriving and its bringing in sugar from the West Indies. Of course, the sugar was all coming from slave labour, and in the 18th century Bristol was the hub of slave labour. Manufactured brass and iron goods were exchanged for slaves in Africa, they were then sent to the West Indies and America to be sold. Tobacco, sugar and rum came back to Bristol forming a triangle of trade which proved extremely profitable for the city. The slaves were probably less pleased about Bristol's prosperity. Other industries exploded from all the goods coming into the port, such as shipbuilding, chocolate, metal and brewing. The tobacco barons the Wills family built many of the city's nicest buildings (yes, even the foundations today are based on the deathsticks) including the Victoria Rooms and The Wills Memorial Building (main building of the university)

Yes, the interesting bit is over now. To get to today we have a riot or two, industries going up and down, buildings being built and so on. Like every other city. I don't have time to cover it all, so why not check out Isambard Kingdom Brunel (Grand Engineering Poobah), and if there are any history lovers here, there are two more in-depth links at the bottom.

The uptown place, the shopping places, the nasty places

It's pretty much where I live, so as good a place to start as any. Clifton is most notable for containing the University of Bristol (plug, plug), which a very nice person has noded all about. If you don't like 'bloody students' don't go there during term-time, your head may explode. Clifton is probably the nicest and most desirable area in Bristol, with lots of purty trees and easy access to useful stores in the Clifton Down (supermarkets, restaurants) precinct and the Clifton Triangle (more restaurants, sandwich shops for the poor students). Of course, housing prices are high as Bristol is generally a desirable place as it is. Whether the fact Euan Blair (son of Tony) lives there has an added effect on prices is yet to be seen. Well, probably not actually, I doubt anyone really cares.
Clifton is home to the lovely Clifton Suspension Bridge (you did read about Brunel, didn't you?). Unfortunately, it's also one of the main ways into the city for those not cheap enough to try and avoid the bridge toll, so does get pretty horrible during rush hour.

Broadmead and the Centre
Moving down from the University we reach Park Street, home of all the chic you could ever stomach. There are a lot of shops (and would you have guessed it, a couple more restaurants) which are designed to serve the all-important fashion needs for the nearby students and a few nice arty places too. The road brings you to College Green, where the council building is built, and down to the centre. You could easily be forgiven for coming to Bristol and thinking Broadmead is the centre, but it's technically not. The centre contains the Bristol Hippodrome, late-night takeaways, obligatory war memorials, a big centrepiece (a few poles shooting up from the ground in a circle, with advertising banners between them is the best I can manage to describe it I'm afraid. It's quite nice, though) and lots of roads away from it. Most of the clubs in Bristol are concentrated in Corn Street and Baldwin Street just off from the centre, putting it in a perfect position to let you sit and watch how many drunk students (they do turn up a lot, don't they') get in trouble with near-misses with cars late at night, and the fountain is always full of foam by the end of Friday. It would be pointless for me to go through each club in turn, but Bristol is generally considered as having some of the best nightlife in England, definitely the best in the South after London. Every taste is catered for and you'll often find some sort of special event (just two days ago a break-dancing competition against Bath was held. If that isn't class, I just don't want to know what is).
Broadmead is the main shopping area in Bristol, with your usual fare of high-street shops. If you shut your eyes and think of what national chain stores would probably be there, they probably are. There is nothing there to define it from other city centres at all. Nice if you like that sort of thing. The same is true for the out-of-town development at Cribbs Causeway (off the M5) where you are guaranteed to never actually find what you were looking for. Ever. I am not joking. No, I'm really not.

The rest
Here I will hand over to ascorbic, Bristolian through and through, to take you through the places you wouldn't really want to go to (I thought it was St. Pauls!):
"St. Pauls certainly isn't the poorest part of Bristol. Not by a long way. It isn't the most dodgy either. It's actually pretty OK, particularly the Portland Square/Brunswick Square bits, and City Road isn't all bad any more either. It's the bit in between that's dodgier and then only really at night time. It's no rougher than somewhere like Brixton really, and I feel far safer there than in places like Hartcliffe and Knowle West."

Landmark Links

Wertperch kindly pointed out some nodes on the more unusual facets of Bristol:

I can't say I've ever heard anyone say "pay on the nail." Perhaps I'm too common/poor/foolish/all of the above...

The Quick Fact Hitlist

Which brings us to the end

If you've made it this far on our tour, you've got a much better attention span than I do, so some serious congratulations are due. That skill will come in handy one day: cherish it. Thank you, and good evening.

The credits: - Good for the hardcore history - Pretty fantastic site with everything you need to know. Glosses over the nasty bits of Bristol history, unfortunately.
Both accessed on December 7th, 2002.

Bris"tol (?), n.

A seaport city in the west of England.

Bristol board, a kind of fine pasteboard, made with a smooth but usually unglazed surface. -- Bristol brick, a brick of siliceous matter used for polishing cultery; -- originally manufactured at Bristol. -- Bristol stone, rock crystal, or brilliant crystals of quartz, found in the mountain limestone near Bristol, and used in making ornaments, vases, etc. When polished, it is called Bristol diamond.


© Webster 1913.

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