1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bristol (England)

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BRISTOL, a city, county of a city, municipal, county and parliamentary borough, and seaport of England, chiefly in Gloucestershire but partly in Somersetshire, 1181/2 m. W. of London. Pop. (1901) 328,945. The Avon, here forming the boundary between Gloucestershire and Somerset, though entering the estuary of the Severn (Bristol Channel) only 8 m. below the city, is here confined between considerable hills, with a narrow valley-floor on which the nucleus of the city rests. Between Bristol and the Channel the valley becomes a gorge, crossed at a single stride by the famous Clifton Suspension Bridge. Above Bristol the hills again close in at Keynsham, so that the city lies in a basin-like hollow some 4 m. in diameter, and extends up the heights to the north. The Great Western railway, striking into the Avon valley near Bath, serves Bristol from London, connects it with South Wales by the Severn tunnel, and with the southern and south-western counties of England. Local lines of this company encircle the city on the north and the south, serving the outports of Avonmouth and Portishead on the Bristol Channel. A trunk line of the Midland railway connects Bristol with the north of England by way of Gloucester, Worcester, Birmingham and Derby. Both companies use the central station, Temple Meads.

The nucleus of Bristol lies to the north of the river. The business centre is in the district traversed by Broad Street, High Street, Wine Street and Corn Street, which radiate from a centre close to the Floating Harbour. To the south of this centre, connected with it by Bristol Bridge, an island is formed between the Floating Harbour and the New Course of the Avon, and here are Temple Meads station, above Victoria Street, two of the finest churches (the Temple and St Mary Redcliffe) the general hospital and other public buildings. Immediately above the bridge the little river Frome joins the Avon. Owing to the nature of the site the streets are irregular; in the inner part of the city they are generally narrow, and sometimes, with their ancient gabled houses, extremely picturesque. The principal suburbs surround the city to the west, north and east.

Churches, &c.—In the centre of Bristol a remarkable collection of architectural antiquities is found, principally ecclesiastical. This the city owes mainly to a few great baronial families, such as the earls of Gloucester and the Berkeleys, in its early history, and to a few great merchants, the Canyngs, Shipwards and Framptons, in its later career. The see of Bristol, founded by Henry VIII. in 1542, was united to that of Gloucester in 1836; but again separated in 1896. The diocese includes parts of Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, and a small but populous Cathedral. portion of Somerset. The cathedral, standing above the so-called Canons’ Marsh which borders the Floating Harbour, is pleasantly situated on the south side of College Green. It has two western towers and a central tower, nave, short transepts, choir with aisles, an eastern Lady chapel and other chapels; and on the south, a chapter-house and cloister court. The nave is modern (by Street, 1877), imitating the choir of the 14th century, with its curious skeleton-vaulting in the aisles. Besides the canopied tombs of the Berkeleys with their effigies in chain mail, and similarly fine tombs of the crosiered abbots, there are memorials to Bishop Butler, to Sterne’s Eliza (Elizabeth Draper), and to Lady Hesketh (the friend of Cowper), who are all interred here. There is also here William Mason’s fine epitaph to his wife (d. 1767), beginning “Take, holy earth, all that my soul holds dear.” Of Fitz-Harding’s abbey of St Augustine, founded in 1142 (of which the present cathedral was the church), the stately entrance gateway, with its sculptured mouldings, remains hardly injured. The abbot’s gateway, the vestibule to the chapter-house, and the chapter-house itself, which is carved with Byzantine exuberance of decoration, and acknowledged to be one of the finest Norman chambers in Europe, are also perfect. On the north side of College Green is the small but ornate Mayor’s chapel (originally St Mark’s), devoted to the services of the mayor and corporation. It is mainly Decorated and Perpendicular. Of the churches within the centre of the city, the following are found within a radius of half-a-mile from Bristol Bridge. St Stephen’s church, built between 1450 and 1490, is a dignified structure, chiefly interesting for its fan-traceried porch and stately tower. It was built entirely by the munificence of John Shipward, a wealthy merchant. The tower and spire of St John’s (15th century) stand on one of the gateways of the city. This church is a parallelogram, without east or west windows or aisles, and is built upon a fine groined crypt. St James’s church, the burial place of its founder, Robert, earl of Gloucester, dates from 1130, and fine Norman work remains in the nave. The tower is of the 14th century. St Philip’s has an Early English tower, but its external walls and windows are for the most part debased Perpendicular. Robert FitzHamon’s Norman tower of St Peter, the oldest church tower in Bristol, still presents its massive square to the eye. This church stands in Castle Street, which commemorates the castle of Robert, earl of Gloucester, the walls of which were 25 ft. thick at the base. Nothing remains of this foundation, but there still exist some walls and vaults of the later stronghold, including a fine Early English cell. Adjacent to the church is St Peter’s hospital, a picturesque gabled building of Jacobean and earlier date, with a fine court room. St Mary le Port and St Augustine the Less are churches of the Perpendicular era, and not the richest specimens of their kind. St Nicholas church is modern, on a crypt of the date 1503, and earlier. On the island south of the Floating Harbour are two of the most interesting churches in the city. Temple church, with its leaning tower, 5 ft. off the perpendicular, retains nothing of the Templars’ period, but is a fine building of the Decorated and Perpendicular periods. The church of St Mary Redcliffe, for grandeur of proportion and elaboration of design and finish, is the first ecclesiastical building in Bristol, and takes high rank among the parish churches of England. It was built for the most part in the latter part of the 14th century by William Canyng or Canynges (q.v.), but the sculptured north porch is externally Decorated, and internally Early English. The fine tower is also Decorated, on an Early English base. The spire, Decorated in style, is modern. Among numerous monuments is that of Admiral Penn (d. 1718), the father of the founder of Pennsylvania. The church exhibits the rare feature of transeptal aisles. Of St Thomas's, in the vicinity, only the tower (15th century) remains of the old structures. All Hallows church has a modern Italian campanile, but is in the main of the 15th century, with the retention of four Norman piers in the nave; and is interesting from its connexion with the ancient gild of calendars, whose office it was “to convert Jews, instruct youths,” and keep the archives of the town. Theirs was the first free library in the city, possibly in England. The records of the church contain a singularly picturesque representation of the ancient customs of the fraternity.

Among conventual remains, besides those already mentioned, there exist of the Dominican priory the Early English refectory and dormitory, the latter comprising a row of fifteen original windows and an oak roof of the same date; and of St Bartholomew’s hospital there is a double arch, with intervening arcades, also Early English. These, with the small chapel of the Three Kings of Cologne, Holy Trinity Hospital, both Perpendicular, and the remains of the house of the Augustinian canons attached to the cathedral, comprise the whole of the monastic relics.

There are many good specimens of ancient domestic architecture—notably some arches of a grand Norman hall and some Tudor windows of Colston’s house, Small Street; and Canyng’s house, with good Perpendicular oak roof. Of buildings to which historic interest attaches, there are the Merchant Venturers' almshouses (1699), adjoining their hall. This gild was established in the 16th century. A small house near St Mary Redcliffe was the school where the poet Chatterton received his education. His memorial is in the churchyard of St Mary, and in the church a chest contains the records among which he claimed to have discovered some of the manuscripts which were in reality his own. A house in Wine Street was the birthplace of the poet-laureate Robert Southey (1744).

Public Buildings, &c.—The public buildings are somewhat overshadowed in interest by the ecclesiastical. The council house, at the “Cross” of the four main thoroughfares, dates from 1827, was enlarged in 1894, and contains the city archives and many portraits, including a Van Dyck and a Kneller. The Guildhall is close by—a modern Gothic building. The exchange (used as a corn-market) is a noteworthy building by the famous architect of Bath, John Wood (1743). Edward Colston, a revered citizen and benefactor of the city (d. 1721), is commemorated by name in several buildings and institutions, notably in Colston Hall, which is used for concerts and meetings. A bank close by St Stephen’s church claims to have originated in the first savings-bank established in England (1812). Similarly, the city free library (1613) is considered to be the original of its kind. The Bristol museum and reference library were transferred to the corporation in 1893. Vincent Stuckey Lean (d. 1899) bequeathed to the corporation of Bristol the sum of £50,000 for the further development of the free libraries of the city, and with especial regard to the formation and sustenance of a general reference library of a standard and scientific character. The central library was opened in 1906. An art gallery, presented by Sir William Henry Wills, was opened in 1905.

Among educational establishments, the technical college of the Company of Merchant Venturers (1885) supplies scientific, technical and commercial education. The extensive buildings of this institution were destroyed by fire in 1906. University College (1876) forms the nucleus of the university of Bristol (chartered 1909). Clifton College, opened in 1862 and incorporated in 1877, includes a physical science school, with laboratories, a museum and observatory. Colston’s girls' day school (1891) includes domestic economy and calisthenics. Among the many charitable institutions are the general hospital, opened in 1858, and since repeatedly enlarged; royal hospital for sick children and women, Royal Victoria home, and the Queen Victoria jubilee convalescent home.

Of the open spaces in and near Bristol the most extensive are those bordering the river in the neighbourhood of the gorge, Durdham and Clifton Downs, on the Gloucestershire side (see Clifton). Others are Victoria Park, south of the river, near the Bedminster station, Eastville Park by the Frome, on the north-east of the city beyond Stapleton Road station, St Andrew’s Park near Montpelier station to the north, and Brandon Hill, west of the cathedral, an abrupt eminence commanding a fine view over the city, and crowned with a modern tower commemorating the “fourth centenary of the discovery of America by John Cabot, and sons Lewis, Sebastian and Sanctus.” Other memorials in the city are the High Cross on College Green (1850), and statues of Queen Victoria (1888), Samuel Morley (1888), Edmund Burke (1894), and Edward Colston (1895), in whose memory are held annual Colston banquets.

Harbour and Trade.—Bristol harbour was formed in 1809 by the conversion of the Avon and a branch of the Frome into “the Float,” by the cutting of a new channel for the Avon and the formation of two basins. Altogether the water area, at fixed level, is about 85 acres. Four dry docks open into the floating harbour. In 1884 the Avonmouth and Portishead docks at the river entrance were bought up by the city; and the port extends from Hanham Mills on the Avon to the mouth of the river, and for some distance down the estuary of the Severn. The city docks have a depth of 22 ft., while those at Avonmouth are accessible to the largest vessels. In 1902 the construction of the extensive Royal Edward dock at Avonmouth was put in hand by the corporation, and the dock was opened by King Edward VII. in 1908. It is entered by a lock 875 ft. long and 100 ft. wide, with a depth of water on the sill of 46 ft. at ordinary spring, and 36 ft. at ordinary neap tides. The dock itself has a mean length of 1120 ft. and a breadth of 1000 ft., and there is a branch and passage connecting with the old dock. The water area is about 30 acres, and the dock is so constructed as to be easily capable of extension. Portishead dock, on the Somerset shore, has an area of 12 acres. The port has a large trade with America, the West Indies and elsewhere, the principal imports being grain, fruit, oils, ore, timber, hides, cattle and general merchandise; while the exports include machinery, manufactured oils, cotton goods, tin and salt. The Elder Dempster, Dominion and other large steamship companies trade at the port.

The principal industries are shipbuilding, ropewalks, chocolate factories, sugar refineries, tobacco mills and pipe-making, glass works, potteries, soaperies, shoe factories, leather works and tanneries, chemical works, saw mills, breweries, copper, lead and shot works, iron works, machine works, stained-paper works, anchors, chain cables, sail-cloth, buttons. A coalfield extending 16 m. south-east to Radstock avails much for Bristol manufactures.

The parliamentary borough is divided into four divisions, each returning one member. The government of the city is in the hands of a lord mayor, 22 aldermen and 66 councillors. The area in 1901 was 11,705 acres; but in 1904 it was increased to 17,004 acres.

History.—Bristol (Brigstow, Bristou, Bristow, Bristole) is one of the best examples of a town that has owed its greatness entirely to trade. It was never a shire town or the site of a great religious house, and it owed little to its position as the head of a feudal lordship, or as a military post. Though it is near both British and Roman camps, there is no evidence of a British or Roman settlement. It was the western limit of the Saxon invasion of Britain, and about the year 1000 a Saxon settlement began to grow up at the junction of the rivers Frome and Avon, the natural advantages of the situation favouring the growth of the township. Bristol owed much to Danish rule, and during the reign of Canute, when the wool trade with Ireland began, it became the market for English slaves. In the reign of Edward the Confessor the town was included in the earldom of Sweyn Godwinsson, and at the date of the Domesday survey it was already a royal borough governed by a reeve appointed by the king as overlord, the king’s geld being assessed at 110 marks. There was a mint at the time of the Conquest, which proves that Bristol must have been already a place of some size, though the fact that the town was a member of the royal manor of Baston shows that its importance was still of recent growth. One-third of the geld was paid to Geoffrey de Coutances, bishop of Exeter, who threw up the earthworks of the castle. He joined in a rebellion against William II., and after his death the king granted the town and castle, as part of the honour of Gloucester, to Robert FitzHamon, whose daughter Mabel, marrying Earl Robert of Gloucester in 1119, brought him Bristol as her dowry. Earl Robert still further strengthened the castle, probably with masonry, and involved Bristol in the rebellion against Stephen. From the castle he harried the whole neighbourhood, threatened Bath, and sold his prisoners as slaves to Ireland. A contemporary chronicler describes Bristol castle as “seated on a mighty mound, and garrisoned with knights and foot soldiers or rather robbers and raiders,” and he calls Bristol the stepmother of England.

The history of the charters granted to Bristol begins about this time. A charter granted by Henry II. in 1172 exempted the burgesses of Bristol from certain tolls throughout the kingdom, and confirmed existing liberties. Another charter of the same year granted the city of Dublin to the men of Bristol as a colony with the same liberties as their own town.

As a result probably of the close connexion between Bristol and Ireland the growth of the wool trade was maintained. Many Bristol men settled in Dublin, which for a long time was a Bristol beyond the seas, its charters being almost duplicates of those granted to Bristol. About this time Bristol began to export wool to the Baltic, and had developed a wine trade with the south of France, while soap-making and tanning were flourishing industries. Bristol was still organized manorially rather than municipally. Its chief courts were the weekly hundred court and the court leet held three times a year, and presided over by the reeve appointed by the earl of Gloucester. By the marriage of Earl John with the heiress of Earl William of Gloucester, Bristol became part of the royal demesne, the rent payable to the king being fixed, and the town shook off the feudal yoke. The charter granted by John in 1190 was an epoch in the history of the borough. It provided that no burgess should be impleaded without the walls, that no non-burgess should sell wine, cloth, wool, leather or corn in Bristol, that all should hold by burgage tenure, that corn need not be ground at the lord’s mill, and that the burgesses should have all their reasonable gilds. At some uncertain date soon after this a commune was established in Bristol on the French model, Robert FitzNichol, the first mayor of Bristol, taking the oath in 1200. The mayor was chosen, not, like the reeve whom he had displaced, by the overlord, but by the merchants of Bristol who were members of the merchant gild. The first documentary evidence of the existence of the merchant gild appears in 1242. In addition, there were many craft gilds (later at least twenty-six were known to exist), the most important being the gilds of the weavers, tuckers and fullers, and the Gild of the Kalendars of Bristol, which devoted itself to religious, educational and social work. The mayor of Bristol was helped by two assistants, who were called provosts until 1267, and from 1267 to 1311 were known as stewards, and after that date as bailiffs. Before this time many religious houses had been founded. Earl Robert of Gloucester established the Benedictine priory of St James; there were Dominican and Franciscan priories, a monastery of Carmelites, and an abbey of St Augustine founded by Robert FitzHardinge.

In the reign of John, Bristol began the struggle to absorb the neighbouring manor of Bedminster, the eastern half of which was held by the Templars by gift of Earl Robert of Gloucester, and the western half, known as Redcliffe, was sold by the same earl to Robert FitzHardinge, afterwards Lord Berkeley. The Templars acquiesced without much difficulty, but the wealthy owners of the manor of Redcliffe, who had their own manorial courts, market, fair and quay, resisted the union for nearly one hundred years. In 1247 a new course was cut for the river Frome which vastly improved the harbour, and in the same year a stone bridge was built over the Avon, bringing Temple and Redcliffe into closer touch with the city. The charter granted by Henry III. in 1256 was important. It gave the burgesses the right to choose coroners, and as they already farmed the geld payable to the king, Bristol must have been practically independent of the king. The growing exclusiveness of the merchant gild led to the great insurrection of 1312. The oligarchical party was supported by the Berkeleys, but the opposition continued their rebellion until 1313, when the town was besieged and taken by the royal forces. During the reign of Edward III. cloth manufacture developed in Bristol. Thomas Blanket set up looms in 1337, employing many foreign workmen, and in 1353 Bristol was made one of the Staple towns, the office of mayor of the staple being held by the mayor of the town.

The charter of 1373 extended the boundaries of the town to include Redcliffe (thus settling the long-standing dispute) and the waters of the Avon and Severn up to the Steep and Flat Holmes; and made Bristol a county in itself, independent of the county courts, with an elected sheriff, and a council of forty to be chosen by the mayor and sheriff. The town was divided into five wards, each represented by an alderman, the aldermen alone being eligible for the mayoralty. This charter (confirmed in 1377 and 1488) was followed by the period of Bristol's greatest prosperity, the era of William Canyng, of the foundation of the Society of Merchant Venturers, and of the voyages of John and Sebastian Cabot. William Canyng (1399–1474) was five times mayor and twice represented Bristol in parliament; he carried on a huge cloth trade with the Baltic and rebuilt St Mary Redcliffe. At the same time cloth was exported by Bristol merchants to France, Spain and the Levant. The records of the Society of Merchant Venturers began in 1467, and the society increased in influence so rapidly that in 1500 it directed all the foreign trade of the city and had a lease of the port dues. It was incorporated in 1552, and received other charters in 1638 and 1662. Henry VII. granted Bristol a charter in 1499 (confirmed in 1510) which removed the theoretically popular basis of the corporation by the provision that the aldermen were to be elected by the mayor and council. At the dissolution of the monasteries the diocese of Bristol was founded, which included the counties of Bristol and Dorset. The voyages of discovery in which Bristol had played a conspicuous part led to a further trade development. In the 16th century Bristol traded with Spain, the Canaries and the Spanish colonies in America, shared in the attempt to colonize Newfoundland, and began the trade in African slaves which flourished during the 17th century. Bristol took a great share in the Civil War and was three times besieged. Charles II. granted a formal charter of incorporation in 1664, the governing body being the mayor, 12 aldermen, 30 common councilmen, 2 sheriffs, 2 coroners, a town clerk, clerk of the peace and 39 minor officials, the governing body itself filling up all vacancies in its number. In the 18th century the cloth trade declined owing to the competition of Ireland and to the general migration of manufactures to the northern coalfields, but the prosperity of the city was maintained by the introduction of manufactures of iron, brass, tin and copper, and by the flourishing West Indian trade, sugar being taken in exchange for African slaves.

The hot wells became fashionable in the reign of Anne (who granted a charter in 1710), and a little later Bristol was the centre of the Methodist revival of Whitefield and Wesley. The city was small, densely populated and dirty, with dark, narrow streets, and the mob gained an unenviable notoriety for violence in the riots of 1708, 1753, 1767 and 1831. At the beginning of the 19th century it was obvious that the prosperity of Bristol was diminishing, comparatively if not actually, owing to (1) the rise of Liverpool, which had more natural facilities as a port than Bristol could offer, (2) the abolition of the slave trade, which ruined the West Indian sugar trade, and (3) the extortionate rates levied by the Bristol Dock Company, incorporated in 1803. These rates made competition with Liverpool and London impossible, while other tolls were levied by the Merchant Venturers and the corporation. The decline was checked by the efforts of the Bristol chamber of commerce (founded in 1823) and by the Municipal Reform Act of 1835. The new corporation, consisting of 48 councillors and 16 aldermen who elected the mayor, being themselves chosen by the burgesses of each ward, bought the docks in 1848 and reduced the fees. In 1877–1880 the docks at the mouth of the river at Avonmouth and Portishead were made, and these were bought by the corporation in 1884. A revival of trade, rapid increase of population and enlargement of the boundaries of the city followed. The chief magistrate became a lord mayor in 1899.

See J. Corry, History of Bristol (Bristol, 1816); J. Wallaway, Antiquities (1834); J. Evans, Chronological History of Bristol (1824); Bristol vol. of Brit. Archaeol. Inst.; J. F. Nicholl and J. Taylor, Bristol Past and Present (Bristol and London, 1882); W. Hunt, Bristol, in “Historic Towns” series (London, 1887); J. Latimer, Annals of Bristol (various periods); G. E. Weare, Collectanea relating to the Bristol Friars (Bristol, 1893); Samuel Seyer, History of Bristol and Bristol Charters (1812); The Little Red Book of Bristol (1900); The Maior’s Kalendar (Camden Soc., 1872); Victoria County History, Gloucester.