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Bradshaw’s Guide

Clifton suspension bridge from the north east cliffs, Bristol, England. Taken between ca. 1890 and ca. 1900. Original: Library of Congress


The terminus of the railway is situated on an eminence rising from Temple Meads, where the two lines diverge respectively to London and Plymouth.

Bristol is a cathedral city, seaport, and parliamentary borough in Gloucestershire 118 miles from London, on the Great Western Railway, and the Via Julia, or Roman road, made by Julius Agricola, which crossed into Wales at Aust Ferry. The beautiful watering place of Clifton is on the west side. Bedminster, within the borough bounds, belongs to Somersetshire. Its port is artificially made by excavating floating docks, 3 miles long, out of the old bed of the Avon (for which a new course was made), about 8 miles from King’s Road in the Bristol Channel, the tide rising 40 to 50 feet. Since the tolls were reduced in 1848, the registered tonnage has risen to 71,000, and the foreign trade doubled. Much West India and Irish produce finds way into the country through this port, The chief manufactures are engines, glass, hats, pottery, soap, brushes, &c., besides various smaller branches, and a trade in sugar, rum, &c. This place has, from the earliest times, been an important seaport, from whence old navigators used to start. One of the foremost was Sebastian Cabot, a native, who sailed hence in 1497 to discover Labrador. Kidrapping, also, for the American plantations used to be practised here, and it shared with Liverpool in the iniquities of the slave trade. In the present day it is noted for having sent the first steamer across the Atlantic, the Great Western (Capt. Hosken), which sailed on the 2nd May, 1838, and reached New York in 15 days. Two members. Coal and oolite are quarried.

The oldest part of the town is in Ternple, Peter, and other streets, where picturesque timber houses are seen. There are many buildings worth notice. At College Green (where a new High Cross has been erected) is the Cathedral, a plain, shapeless, early English church, built in 1142-60, and about 174 feet long internally; it has a tower 133 feet high, with some effigies of the Berkeleys, &c., and various interesting monuments and inscriptions. The latest is that of Southey, a native. Near is a Norman chapter-nouse 43 feet long, the cloisters, gate, &c., of a priory founded by the Berkeley family; also apart of the Bishop’s Palace, set fire to in the riots of 1831, when Wetherell was appointed Recorder. The bishop now resides at Stapleton. A more interesting church is that of St. Mary Redcliffe, a truly beautiful early and later English cross, 247 feet long, rebuilt in the 15th century by the famous William Canynges, and now partly restored. St. John’s, St. Peter’s, St. Stephen’s, St. James’s, the Temple, and St. Mark’s are all ancient edifices. At All Saints, E. Colston, a great benefactor to his native place, is buried. The Guildhall, in Broad Street, has been rebuilt in the Elizabethan style, and among other curiosities it contains an ancient chapel Henry VII’s sword (he visited it in 1487, taking care to entail a sumptuary fine on the citizens because their wives dressed too gaudily) a series of grants from 1164, seals from Edward I., Lord Mayor Wallis’s pearl scabbard sword (given in 1431), and Alderman Kitchen’s silver salve (as old as 1594), which, being stolen in the riots of 1831, was cut into 167 pieces, recovered, and put together again! Other buildings are, the Council House, with a statue of Justice by Baily (whois a native); new Custom-house (rebuilt since the riots, in Queen Square, near William of Orange’s statue; Exchange, in Corn Street, built by Wood, of Bath, in 1743; Merchant Tailors’ Old Hall, in Broad Street; Stuckey’s Bank, which was sent ready made from Holland; Philosophical Institution, with Baily’s exquisite Eve at the Fountain in its museum. Bishop’s College and the Blind Asylum are in the Park, near the Horticultural Rooms’; Proprietary and Baptist Colleges; Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital on Brandon Hill which is 250 feet high.

St. Vincent’s Rocks are 300 feet high; at the Observatory a suspension bridge over the Avon to Leigh Wood is worthy of notice Another beautiful spot is at the Zoological Gardens, near Cook’s Folly, on Durdham Down. The Clifton Hot Wells, or sulphur springs, near here, are excellent in cases of scrofula and chronic diseases. The following most feeling lines were written at this place by the second Lord Palmerston, in the last century: — 

Whoe’er, like me, with trembling anguish brings
His dearest earthly treasure to these springs,
Whoe’er, like me, to soothe distress and pain,
Shall court these salutary springs in vain;
Condomn’d, like me, to hear the faint reply,
To mark the fading cheek, the sinking eye,
Prom the chill brow to wipe the damps of death,
And watch in dumb despair the shortening breath,
If chance should bring him to this humble line
Let the sad mourner know this pang was mine,
Ordained to love the partner of my breast,
Whose virtue warmed me, and whose beauty blessed;
Framed every tie that binds the heart to prove,
Her duty friendship, and her friendship love;
But yet remembering that the parting sigh
Appoints the just to slumber, not to die,
The starting tear I checked — I kissed the rod,
And not to earth resigned her — but to God.

Lansdowne Square, Windsor and York Crescents, and the Victoria Rooms (a pretty Grecian temple), are here. On the Down above, there is a Roman camp. He are many plants, and quartz or Bristol stones are found. Mr. Pepys records his approval of another native production, “Bristol milk,” or old sherry. At Temple Mead are various metal works, sugar refineries, &c. One of Wesley’s first chapels was built in 1739 in the Horse Fair; and there is a Wesleyan College at Kingswood (4 miles off) where Whitfield and he often preached the Gospel to the poor outcast colliers, till the “tears made white gutters down then black cheeks.”

Admiral Penn, Sir Thomas Lawrence (born at the White Lion), and Chatterton, are among the long list of natives of Bristol.

Twelve or more bridges cross the Avon and the line of Docks — the cutting forming a sort of loop line to the river. Of about 120 places of worship, 42 are churches.

Within a short distance are Leigh Court and its picture gallery, the seat of P. Miles, Esq., Stapleton the seat of the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol near the new diocesan college; Hannah More was born here in 1744, but her chief residence was at Barley Wood, under the Mendip Hill. At Westbury, “in some of the finest ground of that truly beautiful part of England,” Southey was living about 1796 or 1797, writing Madoc and Thalaba, and cultivating his acquaintance with Davy, the chemist, “a miraculous young man.” This was one of the “happiest portions” of his useful and contented literary life. The rail should be followed to Clevedon and Weston-super-Mare, to enjoy the fine coast scenery of tho Bristol Channe.

Clifton, a beautiful suburb of Bristol, from which it is about a mile distant, is chiefly built on the southern acclivity of a steep hill or cliff, which has given rise to its appellation. The highly romantic and picturesque country, in the midst of which it is situated, provides on every side the most varied and extensive prospects. On the opposite shore of the Avon, the richly cultivated lands of Somersetshire present themselves, rising gradually from the verge of the river to the summit of Dundry Hill. In some places the rocks, venerably majestic, rise perpendicularly, or overhanging precipices, craggy and bare, and in others they are crowned with verdure of the most luxuriant description. The walks and rides are varied and interesting, the air is dry and bracing, and the vicinity of two such animated places as Bristol and Bath, give the resident at any time the opportunity of rapidly exchanging his solitude for society. The “Hot Wells,” where “pale-eyed suppliants chink, and soon flies pain,” are beautifully situated beneath the rocks looking on the river, along the banks of which a fine carriage-road leads from the well round the rocks to Clifton Down, but a readier and more picturesque mode of access is furnished by an easy serpentine path winding up among the cliffs behind the Hot Wells. Pieces of the rock, when broken, have much the appearance of a dark red marble, and when struck by a substance of corresponding hardness, emit a strong sulphurous smell. In the fissures of these rocks are found those fine crystals, usually called Bristol diamonds, which are so hard as to cut glass and sustain the action of fire. The spring has been known for many centuries, but it was not till 1690 that it was enclosed by the corporation of Bristol. There is now a neat pump-room with hot and cold baths. The temperature of the spring, which yields forty gallons a minute, is 76° Fahrenheit. As at Bath and Buxton, the predominating constituents are the salts of lime. When drawn into a glass the water emits a few bubbles of carbonic acid gas, and for various conditions of deranged health it is found to be a potent restorative. The range of buildings called York Crescent, affords an agreeable southern aspect, but the elevated situation leaves the houses much exposed to high winds. The Mall, the Parade, and Cornwallis Crescent furnish excellent accommodation to visitors, and, according to their respective differences of position, yield a sheltered winter or an open airy summer residence. The most prevalent winds are those from the west and south-east. Rain frequently falls, but from the absorbent nature of the soil, the ground quickly dries. The Giant’s Cave is contained within the upper beds of the limestone in St. Vincent’s Rocks. The cavern opens on the precipitous escarpment of the rock, at the height of about 250 feet above the river, and sixty feet below or to the west of the Observatory. A rude and broken ledge extends from the north-eastern summit of the rock downwards to within twenty feet of the opening, across which space none but an expert cragsman would venture to pass. The environs of Clifton are replete with scenery of the most enchanting description.

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