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About Bristol

Bristol, the largest city in the South West, has played a unique and important role in England's history. Once England's second city, the prestige of Bristol is reflected in splendid architecture, a rich maritime heritage, a wealth of attractions and beautiful estates and parkland.

In Anglo-Saxon times a settlement grew up between the Rivers Avon and Frome. Known as Brig-stow or 'the place of a bridge' and trading with Ireland and the ports of South Wales, the settlement grew in importance after the Norman Conquest of 1066 when a castle was built on what is now Castle Park.

Bristol's trading activity increased and the existing port soon became inadequate so, in 1239 a cut was excavated to divert the course of the River Frome. Trade started to flourish. Wealthy merchants built large houses near the quays and churches were embellished.

The city was trading with Spain, Portugal, the Mediterranean and Iceland and ships also left Bristol to found or support existing colonies in the New World. In 1497, John Cabot, an Italian financed by Bristol merchants set sail from Bristol in his ship, the Matthew hoping to find a passage to the spice islands. He actually discovered Newfoundland and this discovery was celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic in 1997.

By the 17th century Bristol was becoming an important centre for non-conformism. Quakers erected a meeting house in 1670 and John Wesley, the Methodist leader, had a chapel, or 'New Room' built in 1739. It remains today the oldest Methodist building in the world.

The city continued to expand and much original architecture remains including the area around King Street, Queen Square, Christmas Steps and St Michael's Hill. Beautiful houses were built throughout the city from the proceeds of Spanish shipping plundered of the coast of the Americas, funded by Bristol merchants.

To its discredit, the 18th century also saw the rise of Bristol's involvement in the slave trade and, as a result, ships returned to Bristol laden with goods from the New World, including cane sugar, tobacco, rum and cocoa.

In the late 18th century the elegant suburb of Clifton began to expand as merchants built houses away from the docks area. The Theatre Royal opened in King Street in 1766 and the city entered a more elegant and cultured era. Many of the Romantic Poets of this period spent time in the city.

By the late 18th century the harbour was starting to become a problem. The huge rise and fall of the Avon caused ships to become dangerously marooned at low tide. Work began on a Floating Harbour but the cost was so high that dock dues forced shipping to other ports. In addition, the bends of the Avon made navigation more and more difficult for the increasingly big merchant ships. Bristol, as a port, began to decline and the city suffered violent riots in 1831 which saw the destruction of many buildings.

The great Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel is responsible for some of Bristol's best-loved features. Bits of Brunel's Bristol include the Clifton Suspension Bridge, his great iron ship, the ss Great Britain and Temple Meads old station, terminus for the Great Western Railway.

New docks were built at the mouth of the Avon in the 1870's and Bristol continued as an industrial centre. The construction of aircraft, including Concorde, at Filton became an important post-war industry. Bristol is also the home of Rolls Royce. Today, Bristol is a large commercial centre, one of the most popular cities for business relocation and a major focus for media industries. Bristol offers a quality of life far above many other major cities. The harbour area continues to be developed, the old city is substantially restored and Clifton remains charming and elegant.


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