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The History of Bristol

Bristol has a long and interesting history dating back to Anglo-Saxon times, when a settlement grew up between the Rivers Avon and Frome, known as Brigstowe (a place of settlement by the bridge). The settlement grew as trading with Ireland and the ports of South Wales developed. After the Norman Conquest of 1066 a castle was built on what is now known as Castle Park.
The Victoria Rooms is one of Bristol's most impressive buildings. This fine early Victorian classical building was used for readings by Charles Dickens and Oscar Wilde.  

Bristol has a rich maritime heritage. By the 14th century the city was trading with several countries including Spain, Portugal and Iceland. Ships also left Bristol to found new colonies in the New World. John Cabot set sail in 1497 from Bristol, in his ship the Matthew, hoping to find a passage to the Eastern Indonesia.

In the mid 18th century Bristol became England's second biggest city. During this time Britain was flooded with goods imported via Bristol including sugar cane, tobacco, rum and cocoa, all of which were products of the slave trade.

In the late 18th century Clifton village grew as merchants relocated and built houses further away from the city docks. By the 19th century the success of Bristol's port was beginning to decline. However, the arrival of a new chief engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, helped to attract further investment into the area. Brunel did more than anyone to shape the face of modern Bristol today, his legacy includes the Clifton Suspension Bridge, the SS Great Britain, and Temple Meads Old Railway Station.

The city continued to expand and much of the original architecture remains today including the area around King Street, Queen Square, Christmas Steps and St Michael's Hill, as well as Clifton village. Many of the beautiful houses in these areas were built from the proceeds of Spanish shipping plundered off the coast of the Americas, mostly funded by Bristol merchants.

The aerospace industry has been based in Bristol since George White founded the Bristol Aeroplane Company at Filton in 1910. In the mid 1960s Concorde was built and tested at Filton, which is also the home of Rolls Royce. Today, Bristol is a large commercial centre and one of the most popular cities for business relocation.

Bristol's harbourside renaissance began with the opening of the Arnolfini in the 1970s, an internationally renowned contemporary arts centre. In the 1980s the regeneration of the harbourside continued with the 1982 opening of the Watershed, Britain's first media centre.

After nearly 800 years of history, milestones in the city's developments have often been related to its docks and harbour. As we continue into a new millenium the city once again looks to one of its greatest assets the harbourside. Today Bristol stands as the largest city in the South West.



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