5 Things You Didn’t Know About Bristol

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Image © Paul Townsend

So you find yourself in Bristol, and you’re looking to see what the city has to offer. A cursory glance at any profile of the place will tell you that Bristol was crowned the Green Capital of Europe in 2015, it’s the spiritual home of trip hop and the famous British TV show ‘Skins’ was filmed there. That’s all very well, but in true Culture Calling style we’ve dug a little deeper to present you with a run-down of some of the lesser-known facts about the city.

1. It's the 'birthplace of America’

In 1497 John Cabot set sail from Bristol in pursuit of Asia, only to accidentally discover mainland America instead. Rumour has it that America may even have been named after one Richard Amerike (Sheriff of Bristol at the time Cabot set sail), who was one of the main backers for the great voyage. Cabot - or Giovanni Caboto in Italian - is thought to be of Venetian origin, but he moved to Bristol around 1490. The city’s central shopping centre is now named Cabot Circus in his honour.

Image Credit: Lee, Cabot Circus

2. It manufactures more hot air balloons than anywhere else

If you’re familiar with Bristol, you’ll know that hot air balloons are frequently spotted floating over the city. This is because Bristol is home to the world’s biggest manufacturer of hot air balloons, Cameron Balloons. Bristolians love this fact so much that they even devote an entire weekend festival to balloons every August: the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta. Crowds of tens of thousands of people gather to watch the mass ascents of hot air balloons, sometimes with as many as 100 balloons launching simultaneously. Last year it was announced that the world’s largest hot air balloon is due to be made by Cameron Balloons as a special project for Russian adventurer Fedor Konyukhov, who recently broke the record for circling the globe singlehandedly in - you guessed it - a hot air balloon.

Image Credit: GothPhil, Bristol International Balloon Fiesta

3. It hosted the world’s ‘first’ bungee jump

On 1 April, 1979, student David Kirke bungee-jumped from Bristol’s iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge in what is said to have been the world’s first ever bungee jump. Kirke was jumping as a member of the Oxford University Dangerous Sports Club, so he performed the jump in a top hat and tails while holding some champagne, naturally. The jumpers were arrested not long afterwards and promptly released after promising never to do it again. But they continued to jump all over the world, including from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. Thus the famous high-adrenaline sport was - officially, at least - born in Bristol.

Image Credit: Pitch87, Clifton Suspension Bridge

4. It's rubble was stolen after WW2 and transported to New York

Here’s a slightly more modern Atlantic connection: on the banks of the East River in New York there is a series of angular reddish buildings known as the Waterside Plaza. What most people don’t know is that they have been built from Bristol bricks. The story goes that after World War II American supply ships went to Bristol, which had been bombed to pieces by the Germans. They decided to take the debris back overseas, salvaging the rubble to build part of the Waterside Plaza on the New York river. The building now has a plaque naming the site the ‘Bristol Basin’.

Image Credit: Eden, Janine and Jim, Waterside Plaza Towers

5. Here be pirates

One of the most famous and fearsome Bristolians was the legendary pirate Blackbeard. Born Edward Teach in Bristol in 1680, Blackbeard headed a 400-strong gang and sailed in a captured slave ship he called Queen Anne’s Revenge. With this ship he went on to capture 23 other ships, stripping them bare and selling everything onboard. Blackbeard’s birthplace can be found by exploring the Bristol harbour-side, and he is even said to have had a hideout in the Redcliffe Caves.

Image Credit: Steve Sharp, http://redcliffecaves.org.uk

To organize a tour of Redcliffe Caves see here.