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History & Heritage

History & Heritage

Bristol began life as a village called ‘Brigg stow’, meaning ‘the meeting place at the bridge’ in the old Saxon language, clustered around a wooden bridge over the Avon. Much has changed over the centuries, and Bristol has now been one of England’s most economically and culturally important cities for almost a millennium. You don’t achieve that status without gathering some serious history, and contemporary Bristol proves a treasure-trove for history buffs! The area has been inhabited since the Stone Age, but rose to prominence in the Norman era, finally achieving city-status in 1542 with the burgeoning Atlantic trade. Since then it has given us icons as varied as Captain Blackbeard, the Concorde, and even the first chocolate bar. Join us for a quick rundown of the city’s historical highlights...
 
Few of Bristol’s structures are as iconic as the Clifton Suspension Bridge. One of the first projects of a young Isambard Kingdom Brunel, it had the longest span of any bridge in the world at the time of construction. It still stands as a remarkably elegant feat of engineering, its two proud stone towers linking the city centre to the parks and golf course of Leigh Woods.  
 
Another of Brunel’s masterpieces floats on the ‘glass sea’ of the Great Western Dockyard. The SS Great Britain is a 19th century passenger steamship which has been lovingly restored to its former glory. Take a walk around its luxurious first class cabins where clothes and possessions are laid out ready for use. Witness the everyday tribulations of life aboard a steamliner, from harassed cooks and minor surgeries to the engine room stokers who worked round the clock to keep the massive engine going. The ship is not the only thing to see, either, as the Dry Dock and accompanying Dockyard Museum tell amazing tales of the ship’s colourful history.
 
If you want to learn more about history and art from Bristol and further afield, there’s no place better to start than the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, which has a wide range of collections to suit every interest, stretching back a billion years! M Shed takes a delightfully unconventional approach to exploring local history, where you can see, hear and share the stories that have made Bristol what it is today.
 
Maybe you want to experience what life might actually have been like centuries ago? There are a range of beautifully preserved old houses and buildings to visit in Bristol and the surrounding area. The Blaise Castle House Museum is an 18th century mansion set in beautiful parkland, with weird and wonderful collections of domestic objects and clothing. Meanwhile the Georgian House Museum introduces you to the home of a sugar plantation and slave owner’s home, while Charles Wesley’s House shows the 1771 home life of ‘the father of the English hymn’.
 
A last, necessary stop in Bristol is St Mary Redcliffe Church. The beautiful Gothic building has been a site of continuous worship for more than 800 years, and Queen Elizabeth I once called it, “the fairest, goodliest and most famous parish church in England.” For Bristol to evolve from a wooden bridge to Liz’s 5-star review is no mean feat, and Bristol is packed with wonderful locations and sights which pay tribute to its fascinating history. 

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