A Brief History of Bristol

Jul 19, 2018

Bristol, the hipster’s city. This south-western industry giant is now an ever-growing capital of all things hip.

One of the nation’s best music scenes is partnered with cutting-edge trends in food and fashion, and a rich collection of museums and cultural spots, blended together to make Bristol one of the UK’s top destination spots.

Reinvented as a modern tech city in recent decades, Bristol’s history is grounded in maritime trade and its importance as a gateway to Europe and North America.

Evidence of human habitation of the Bristol area stretches back as far as the paleolithic era. However, the city in a more recognisable form first appeared during the Saxon age as a small market town known as Brycg Stowe (or “place by the bridge”).

Even in these early days, the settlement’s proximity to the sea made it an ideal location for a port the town saw a variety of simple trade and commerce pass through its streets.

Bristol’s importance as a gateway to Ireland and Scandinavia made it a prime candidate for the construction of a defendable position in the years following the Norman invasion of England.

Even in these early days, the settlement’s proximity to the sea made it an ideal location for a port and the town saw a variety of simple trade and commerce pass through its streets.

Bristol’s importance as a gateway to Ireland and Scandinavia made it a prime candidate for the construction of a defensible position in the years following the Norman invasion of England. In the decades after 1066, a stone castle was erected to this end.

Wool and wine passed through Bristol’s port by the tonne, whilst fish was imported from Iceland amd the waters north of the British Isles. By the mid-14th century, Bristol was the third largest town in the nation, with around 20,000 inhabitants.

Bristol earned city status in 1542 and as trade continued to grow after the discovery of the Americas, so too did the city’s boundaries. The expansion was built on the back of slavery and the importing of tobacco and other goods from the West Indies and North America. As an estimated 2,000 Bristolian ships made up a huge portion of Britain’s slave fleet, transporting hundreds of thousands of captured Africans across the Atlantic.

The city’s population hit 61,000 as the 19th century dawned and continued to rapidly expand, thanks in parts to the efforts of one of its most famous sons: the celebrated engineer Isembard Kingdom Brunel. Brunel designed the Clifton Suspension Bridge, which spans across the River Avon, and also constructed the Great Western Railway between Bristol and London.

As the Industrial Revolution swept across the nation, Bristol’s long maritime history rocketed into the modern age, again courtesy of Brunel’s developments. The famous engineer contributed to the design of Bristol’s locking, floating harbour, which prevented vessels from becoming beached during low tides along the river and designed the great transatlantic steamship, the SS Great Britain.

Aircraft production became Bristol’s primary industry as the city passed into the 20th century, with Bristolian planes making up much of the Royal Air Force’s fighter numbers during both World Wars. Being such a key component of the war effort made the city a target for Luftwaffe bombers during the Blitz raids.

These days, Bristol is amongst the UK’s premier culture spots, a hive of media and music.

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