Georgian Bristol – Clifton


Although it’s now very much part of Bristol, the leafy suburb of Clifton used to be outside the city limits, only being formally incorporated into the city in the 1830s. The area developed rapidly in the late Georgian period when wealthy Bristolians wanted to move out to a pleasanter environment.

Because of when the development of the area occurred it is dominated by Georgian / Regency and Victorian style houses and other buildings.

These very typical Georgian houses are on Sion Hill, in a prime location overlooking the Clifton Suspension Bridge. I suspect that the balconies are later additions.


These three houses, further down Sion Hill,  have interesting black and white canopies over the first floor balconies.


These houses have bow and bay windows, unusual compared to most of the Georgian houses I’ve seen around the country.


Although there are plenty of individual style houses, Clifton has more examples of the planned Georgian terraces and crescents than the city centre. This is Royal York Crescent, a late Georgian development. The stuccoed houses are rather plain other than for the balconies which are their dominant feature.


The crescent is built up on a vaulted terrace so the houses are in an elevated position overlooking the River Avon.


This is the central section of a grand building that stands at the top end of Caledonia Place, a long narrow square with typical Georgian and Regency houses built around a pleasant garden.


It was originally built as the Clifton Hotel and Assembly Rooms, so quite an important building in it’s day which explains the very ornate design with the triangular pediment, tall ionic columns, pedimented ground floor windows and rusticated base. The wings of the building, which aren’t in the picture, also have a number of ornamental flourishes.

Here’s a longer view of the  building from inside the garden in the centre of the square.


The buildings on the east and west sides of the square were built in two phases. The older phase, at the top end, on both sides consists of a terrace of houses built as a “mock palace”. The houses at both ends and the centre of the terrace are pedimented and project slightly forward.


There have been a number of modifications over time to some of the houses, included first floor iron balconies (these really must have become fashionable in Bristol at some point, they’re everywhere) and extensions on the roof, which, to me, ruin the roof line and the overall look of the terrace. They wouldn’t be allowed by today’s planning laws.

The top house on the east side has had some substantial modifications adding a balcony supported by Corinthian columns which were made in the 1920’s when it was first converted into a bank.


A view from the central garden across to the west terrace.

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The houses at the southern end of the square are also built as terraces, but to a simpler overall design and with no attempt to pretend they’re a grand palace. They al have first floor balconies which seemed to be identical and so where probably part of the original design.


Another view from inside the central garden. A good display of Spring bluebells evident too.

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There’s a lot more to Clifton than we were able to see during our short visit to Bristol. As well as the Georgian and Victorian Houses there’s a modern Catholic Cathedral, opened in the 1970’s,  that I’d have liked to have seen. Another time perhaps.

Cabot Tower, Bristol


The Cabot Tower stands on top of the hill in Brandon Park in the centre of Bristol. It was named after the Italian explorer Giovanni Caboto, better known as John Cabot, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the voyage in 1497 of the Matthew from Bristol across the Atlantic where he discovered Newfoundland. According to Pevsner’s Architectural Guide to Bristol, it “defies stylistic labels” but it has a number of distinct neo-Gothic features, which were fashionable during the late Victorian period.

It’s a fair climb up a narrow spiral staircase inside the tower to reach the top (make sure nobody is coming down when you’re going up and vice-versa or one of you will have to back track as there’s no passing points!) but it’s worth it for the 360 degree view of Bristol.


Looking down towards the floating harbour and city centre


A close up of the Cathedral and the city hall


Looking further along the floating harbour towards S S Great Britain


zooming in on Brunel’s mighty iron vessel


Looking out towards Hotwells with it’s brightly coloured houses and marina with a newer development on the waterside


Looking over towards the University, the view dominated by the neo-Gpthic bulk of the Wills memorial building


Turning towards the Georgian suburb of Clifton, the Clifton Suspension can just be made out in the distance


Zooming in on the bridge.


“My first child, my darling”

This is how Isambard Kingdom Brunel described the Clifton Suspension Bridge that has spanned the Avon Gorge on the outskirts of the city of Bristol for close on 150 years. However he never saw it completed. Although construction started in 1829, delays caused by political upheavals and financial problems meant that it was only completed in 1864, five years after his death in 1859.

Today it’s still a functioning bridge used by thousands of vehicles every day and a major tourist attraction, and was a “must see” during our recent trip to Bristol.

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412 metres long, the deck, which is 75 metres above the river is supported by six massive wrought iron chains which run over two 26 metre tall towers and are anchored in the rock. When it was completed it was the longest suspension bridge in the world.


There are good viewpoints from both sides. The picture above was taken fro the western side, standing on the hill that overlooks it.

This one was taken just prior to sunset from the eastern side


There’s an information board at a viewpoint below the bridge on the eastern side,


The bridge appeals to me in different ways. The design is simple, but effective. It does the job. Aesthetically I like the curve of the chains that support the deck, the simplicity of the structure, the colour of the stone from which the towers and abutments are constructed, the parabolic arches in the towers and the setting above the dramatic gorge.


If it had been constructed 100% true to Brunel’s design there would have been some significant differences. The towers would probably be clad with smoother stone and there would have been embellished with hieroglyphic decoration and sphinxes standing on top of them. In fact there are a number of alterations to his engineering aspects of his design too by  William Barlow and Sir John Hawkshaw and there’s a school of thought that the bridge should be attributed to them rather than Brunel.

Whatever! The simple design and the setting combine to create a fantastic sight. I’ve been to see it several times and never tire of looking at it.

48 hours in Bristol

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I’m back home and feeling quite tired after a very hectic, but very enjoyable, 48 hours in Bristol.


We packed loads into our short time there, and managed to see and do most of what we’d wanted to do.


The weather was better than expected. Tuesday afternoon when we arrived was very hot and sunny. The rain that had been forecast for Wednesday and Thursday only really started an hour before we set off home, although  we had a little rain for a couple of hours Wednesday afternoon.


We stopped in Brooks Guest House, which was more like a small hotel, really, in the centre of the old city.


Their rooms are small, but very tastefully decorated and equipped

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and the public rooms were very nice too. The breakfasts were really good and freshly cooked to order and the staff were all extremely helpful and friendly.


Although it’s several miles inland, it used to be a major port and is proud of it’s maritime heritage, even though for many years that was principally involved with the slave trade. Access to the port was via the tidal River Avon and this was tamed in 1809 Bristol when the “Floating Harbour” was completed. Impractical for modern shipping, the port closed closed in 1975, but today it’s been regenerated with many of the city’s leisure, “heritage” and cultural attractions centred on it.


There’s some good architecture around the city with lots of Georgian houses


neo-Classical buildings


and medieval churches.


Of course, most of it funded by the Slave Trade (but that’s true of many of Liverpool’s buildings too). In general the buildings aren’t as grand as those in Liverpool or Manchester, but still good. It’s very different to other Georgian cities though – much less planned in the city centre (but more so in Clifton).

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Bristol is a very compact city centre we were able to walk to most places – except for Clifton, but there was a very frequent bus that went up there.

The art on display at the City Museum and Art Gallery was quite limited due to restoration work and the galleries which normally show European Art 1300-1750, Victorian Art and British Art 1600-1840 were all closed, only reopening this summer. But there was a good international exhibition of contemporary art “No Borders” featuring works by artists from Asia, Africa and the Middle East which included a work by Al Wei Wei (a ton of tea – literally).

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Contemporary Art was also represented by the Arnolfini Gallery on the waterfront. But then there was the street art. Most of Banky’s stuff is out of the city centre, and we didn’t get out to see it (another time, perhaps) other than one work off Park Street

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and another in the City Art Gallery.

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But there was an unbelievable collection of street art that lined a street of otherwise scruffy buildings on Nelson Street – "See no evil". I’ll be devoting a post to that.

And then there was Brunel. I’d visited S S Great Britain before and seen the Clifton Suspension Bridge a few times when I was over in Bristol on business, but  the great ship is worth a repeated visit a pleasant walk along the Floating Harbour.

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And the bridge is so beautiful and in such a fantastic setting I’d never tire of seeing it. It appeals to me both artistically and from an engineering perspective.

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