Having arrived at Bristol Temple Meads Station, it was clear to see this station had a history. Established (and built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel) in 1839-41 as the terminus and offices of the Great Western Railway’s London to Bristol line, and a train shed built in 1852 (designed by S C Fripp) to serve the Bristol and Exeter line, and finally a third station was built in 1865-78 designed by Sir Matthew Digby Wyatt) as a through station, it is interesting to know that during the Second World War a wartime engineering school was established, where tunnels were dug below the station, and were used as an air raid shelter. A section of track was also used for the safe training or track maintenance skills during this wartime period.
There are vaults beneath Temple Meads station, but these are not usually open to the public (I believe that there are guided tours available on a Bristol Doors Open Day). These vaults date back to the original 1870 construction, and give a fascinating insight into Victorian times. Tramway tracks and pulleys for goods and catering supplies were transported underneath the station. These supplies were taken up to the platforms in dumb waiters and winches, and were loaded onto the trains dining cars or into the station cafes. There is a warren of storage rooms and vaults dedicated to spirits and beers (now empty of course) and wine cellars indicating that once a large volume of wine was stored here. Nowadays only an ageing label or two of times past can be seen: “Bin 9, half bottles Chateau Palmer 1957”. Today a wine merchant would price Chateau Palmer 1957 at around £200 per bottle! In 1965, the first original station was closed.
Standing on the platform, memories of years gone by came flooding back – during the 70’s the sight and smells of diesel engines pulling freight on these lines, such as Peaks, Deltics, Warships, Westerns and Hymeks, together with the electric 1-1’ers to Portsmouth Harbour – Bristol Temple Meads holds fond memories and it was good to just stand and reminisce.
After a short car ride to Clifton, it was time to explore. Clifton is a much sought after area to live in Bristol with its large Georgian houses, beautiful courtyards and elegant terraces. Some of these houses however, are not quite what they seem! For instance, The Lido. This is a real gem. Tucked away within a courtyard of terraces this innovative environment, with its elegant swimming facility is most certainly worth a visit. An evening swim perhaps, followed by a glass of wine, or a coffee and cake, or may be make use of the spa facility. The ambience and sophistication of this hidden treasure is missed by all who pass by unaware ….!
Walking along the tree-lined roads taking in the architecture, the dominant building of the Catholic Clifton Cathedral presents itself.
In 1829, the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 encouraged the building of conspicuous places to worship, and Bishop Peter Baines had the idea to build a splendid classical church in Bristol. It WOULD have been one of the largest and grandest churches in England, but sadly the money ran out and it remained half built for 10 years. Funds were finally secured, but it was redesigned to make it smaller and less ornate. It was completed in 1848. The first Bishop of Clifton was appointed in 1850 and this church was the main Catholic Church in Bristol for 125 years. However, sadly it was never execrated as a Cathedral. It was known as the Pro-Cathedral. After falling into disrepair, today it stands as offices/appartments.
So, it was time for a new place and new cathedral. The new cathedral now stands on the grounds of a large house called St.Vincents Hall. Architects spent three years designing it in close collaboration with the church authorities, and in 1970 Laing Construction started the build and finally finished in 1973. A copper tube containing the plans of the building, a medal from the Pope, current coinage, a letter from the Bishop and copies of the London Times and Bristol Evening Post were placed under the foundation stone which was laid by the then Bishop of Clifton.
It is rather an unusual modern building, made from solid white reinforced concrete (this keeps the noise form the traffic out, the heat in and reflects the daylight). The internal layout is hexagonal and is designed to seat 900 people. The altar is made from a block of Portland stone. The space over the Sanctuary is 90 feet high, and the organ was made in Austria. The wood is oak and the pipes are polished tin. The two bells (these come from the Pro-Cathedral) are in the concrete fleche at the foot of the main cross on the roof, and are controlled electronically! This new Cathedral was completed in May, then consecrated and opened on June 29th 1973. The Cathedral is regularly used for music in public concert and tuition, and it is the Parish Church for the people living in the immediate area.
My meandering took me next to Clifton Village. Here there were boutiques selling jewellery, art, gifts and fashion and some jolly fine meat at the butchers. These up-market independent shops were great to browse around, and the Victorian shopping mall Clifton Arcade was a great place if you love all things vintage! The arcade was built in 1876-78 by self- taught architect/builder/entrepreneur Joseph King and was originally known as either King’s Arcade or Clifton Bazaar. Arch House Deli is definitely worth popping into with its gourmet delicatessen food and wine from around the world – and it has recently been awarded the Deli of the Year at the Great Taste Awards 2011. A real favourite with the locals is just on the corner – Primrose Cafe. Take time, browse the menu and enjoy a myriad of delightful tapas, or a light bite, or book a table for the evening, or this doesn’t tickle your fancy, then pop round the corner to The Clifton Sausage!
Walking along Royal York Crescent, it was hard to believe that during the 1800’s these beautiful homes were once owned by the War Department who considered building barracks there! Public opinion and the powers of persuasion meant that this never happened thankfully!
Time for a cup of tea, but it would be a cup of tea with a view! Wow, what a view! The Avon Gorge Hotel’s White Lion Bar was the perfect setting. Its casual atmosphere offers gastro style dishes in a fabulous al fresco dining environment on the large heated terrace – with Clifton Suspension bridge as the backdrop!
This world famous bridge, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel – who sadly he did not live long enough to see his magnificent creation – was undergoing restorative work at the time of my visit. It was originally designed for light horse drawn traffic, and amazingly still meets the demands of the 21st century commuter, with around 12,000 vehicles crossing it each day.
Whilst sipping my tea, I noticed two Mounted Police riding across, shortly followed by the Beluga A300 – 600ST Super Transporter Airbus (adapted airbus to carry large and awkward aircraft parts such as wings to France from Filton) flying over it!
Passing by QEH – founded in 1586 Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital is an independent school for boys in Clifton, (recognised pre 1980’s by their traditional blue coat daily uniform), has been designated by English Heritage as a grade II listed building; this includes the terrace steps and walls, as to are the walls of the lodge and gates. It has 560 boys, and is Bristol’s only all-boys school. It is named after its original patron Queen Elizabeth I.
M-Shed on Bristol’s historic Harbour side is a new history museum of Bristol. With its many artefacts, archives, music, films and art, tells of the city’s history from prehistoric times to the 21st century. You can explore the war time experiences, industrial heritage, engineering history, Bristol’s trading past and its role in the transatlantic slave trade, as well as its music and art history. There are working exhibits too on the harbour side including steamboats, trains and cranes, together with a café that opens onto a public square on the dockside.
Wills Tower (University of Bristol’s main building) houses the entrance hall, libraries, great hall and council chamber. It stands dominant, dramatic and tall – 215 feet at the top of Park Street.
On the opposite side of the road is Jaimie’s Italian Restaurant, full with parents and children dining, and enjoying the half term holiday. Fully booked!
The Royal West of England Academy (RWA) is Bristol’s finest art gallery which houses five naturally galleries, and a commercial gallery. The RWA stages major one man, mixed and open exhibitions all year, and it exists for everyone with an interest in art and design.
Exhibitions have included ‘Charity’ – Damien Hirst’s twenty two foot high bronze statue which stood on the RWA’s balcony as a monumental and epic comment on social injustice. Charity was originally installed outside London’s White Cube gallery as part of Damien Hirst’s 2003 exhibition Romance in the Age of Uncertainty.
I certainly remember placing spare coins into the Spastics Society collection boxes held by the little girl together with her teddy bear, her leg in callipers, outside High Street stores in most towns up and down the country during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Damien Hirst remade her to highlight this erosion of society’s values and put her on a pedestal.
Park Street; what a lively, vibrant, young, street this was – and full of shoppers. It is a great place to window shop or just to sit at a café a and watch everyone else on their way to somewhere! Browns restaurant was busy, as busy as the building has been! It has served as the city’s museum, art gallery and the University dining rooms. Hobgoblin was an Aladin’s cave, with plenty of instruments on show; great for the folk and ceilidh scene! I particularly enjoyed The Tea Birds who have recently opened their vintage tea shop (and who sell cup cakes to die for).
Bristol’s graffiti and outside artist Banksy has thrilled many; it was a real pleasure to see an original in Frogmore Street. It can be seen at its best if you stand on the little bridge in Park Street.
College Green at the Cathedral is a fine open space for enjoying a quiet read, or sitting on the grass enjoying the late summer sun, there have been many a demonstration held here; including this one under the banner of Occupy. Bristol is famous for its Mayor – who can often be seen around town – you will always recognise him – he wears red trousers!
Looking upwards, you cannot help but notice the Shoe Tree – brilliant! What hopes and dreams are up there I wonder?
Bristol’s science museum and natural history museum are rolled into on. There is always plenty going on during the school holidays. I rather enjoyed watching the reflections from the clouds on the chrome plated planetarium, but watching the children find that their own body shape had changed was hilarious! It was voted Visitor Attraction of the Year 2011 by Bristol Tourism and Hospitality.
Lunch beckoned, and time for a rest. Bristol’s The Watershed’s café bar (complete with its free wifi) offered a good selection of hot meals and drinks. The Watershed is a media centre, which promotes creativity, innovation and talent – in whatever form it comes in.
It has an interesting and varied programme of independent films, and also holds themed evenings and live music. The relaxed ambience and excellent setting made for a very pleasant afternoon.
Across the water along the dockside is M Shed. A place to discover the history of Bristol, through objects, people and stories. Safe in the confines of a huge building, the transit shed – children and adults together can spend time in this fascinating building – all for free. During the warmer months its great to watch the steam cranes, together with the steam train Henbury all working too.
Thank you Bristol. There is so much to see and do in this city. Maybe it’s the reason why nearly half a million people live here.