Tag Archives: Bristol

The Centre and St. Augustine’s Reach

The Centre and St. Augustine's Reach

I don’t think too many Bristolians would disagree that the city’s focal point is ‘The Centre’. It’s where people have traditionally met up, maybe for a ‘Blind Date’ outside the Hippodrome or somewhere. It’s a good location for that sort of thing because if your intended partner for the evening didn’t quite live up to your expectations, then you could always dodge the traffic, disappear into the woodwork, and try your luck elsewhere – or so I’m told.

London has Piccadilly Circus; Glasgow has St. George’s Square and Bristol has The Centre! Not the most innovative name for a focal point I’m sure you would agree, but before you start thinking that it’s just an easy way to name Bristol’s city centre, the name is actually an abbreviation of the Tramway Centre that used to operate from St. Augustine’s Parade, and it’s not the centre of the city anyway.

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Bristol’s College Green – A Place for Picnics, Politicians and Protests

Bristol's College Green - A Place for Picnics, Politicians and Protests

College Green is where traditional and modern Bristol often collide. It can be an oasis of calm one minute, and anything but the next, and the reason for this paradox is that although it belongs to Bristol Cathedral, it is managed by Bristol City Council whose offices overlook the Green.

Originally, the area was the enclosed graveyard of St. Augustine’s Abbey, but after it became a casualty of Henry VIII’s Dissolution, the abbey became a collegiate church and the area occupied by the graveyard became the College Green. In 1542 the church became Bristol Cathedral, but the area has been known as College Green ever since.

On a lovely summer’s day, it’s an ideal place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city centre, and students often take full advantage of it to sprawl out during their never-ending lunch break while they plan their next protest march. To be fair though, we only have to look across the moat of the council offices to see where they get their inspiration from, but more about that in a moment because I want to put the area into context first.

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Bristol Cathedral

Bristol Cathedral

Those of you who follow my blogs are probably thinking “Oh no, not another cathedral”, and even though it doesn’t quite match the grandeur of some of England’s other great religious houses, it’s the one that made my home town a city, and there’s no way I’m not including it in my historical chronology of Bristol.

On the plus side, it means that this won’t be a long post, and it’s just possible that I might be able to reveal a fact or two that you weren’t aware of, including perhaps, the fact that you didn’t even realise Bristol had a cathedral at all.

When it was founded in 1140 it wasn’t even a cathedral, but a monastery dedicated to St. Augustine of Canterbury, the missionary who brought Christianity to England. One of his companions was a man called St. Jordan who, legend has it, was buried in a chapel on what is now College Green. There has never been any evidence to substantiate this claim, but experts believe that there was a church here during Saxon times thanks to the discovery of a stone carving beneath the Chapter House in 1831. It now hangs on a wall in the South Transept.

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Where Bristol Castle Once Stood Pt 4 – Whatever happened to it?

Where Bristol Castle Once Stood Pt 4 - Whatever Happened to it?

This is the final instalment of my blogs on Bristol Castle and it describes events leading up to its demise. It makes sense therefore, if you haven’t already done so, to read the previous three blogs first, the links to which you can find at the end of this post.

With the death of Edward III, a new era started to emerge, and the importance of Bristol Castle started to decline as the focus of attention shifted north with the onset of the Wars of the Roses.

Edward III outlived his son, the Black Prince, and so it was the prince’s son Richard, who became the next king of England at just ten years old. The guardian of the boy king was Edward III’s oldest surviving son, John of Gaunt, and it was his son, Henry Bolingbroke the Duke of Lancaster, who became king as Henry IV when Richard was forced to give up the throne in 1399.

After the death of Henry IV, his son extended the Lancaster side of the Plantagenet family’s hold on the crown as Henry V. His skill on the battlefield, notably at Agincourt, is well documented, and helped him to gain large chunks of French territory. After his death in 1422 his 9-month-old son became Henry VI, the youngest ever King of England. Unfortunately, he had none of his father’s attributes where fighting was concerned and duly lost all his father’s territorial gains.

It wasn’t just in foreign fields that he was a failure, he wasn’t any better at controlling his feudal barons back home either – and it certainly didn’t help that he also suffered from bouts of madness. Under the circumstances, it’s not surprising therefore that another member of the family, Richard Duke of York, eventually thought it might be as a good a time as any to stake his claim for the throne, and on 22nd May 1455 he defeated the king at the Battle of St Albans – and the Wars of the Roses had begun.

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Where Bristol Castle Once Stood Pt 3 – The Three Edwards

King Edward II

Where Bristol Castle Once Stood Pt 3 - The Three Edwards

In the previous article (which you can find here) I recounted how Prince Edward had found himself besieged in Bristol Castle by the local population. You would think therefore that when he became king after his father died in 1272, it would be pay-back time, but fortunately for the citizens of Bristol, Edward I had enough on his plate fighting the Scots and Welsh – and perhaps remembering his own experience there, he found use for the castle as a prison for a few of his enemies. Even so, his attention was mainly drawn elsewhere and he gave the castle to his wife, Eleanor of Castille, who in turn rented it out to the mayor of Bristol.

Edward I was actually a good king for Bristol because trade flourished and the city prospered, but on July 7th 1307, Edward died on his way to yet another showdown with the Scots, and his son became Edward II. Whilst Edward I (known as Longshanks thanks to his height) was a powerful man in more ways than one, his son was anything but. He may have been good looking, brave and intelligent, but he was also lazy, frivolous and arrogant with a tendency to look after his favourites before anyone or anything else.

In 1308 he married Isabella of France, but if you believe some medieval chroniclers, the real love of his life was his favourite, Piers Gaveston. Modern-day historians are divided over the question regarding his sexuality, but whatever the truth, Gaveston’s influence on the king tested the patience of the barons to such an extent that when they got hold of him, they came to the conclusion that it would be best if his head was separated from the rest of his body. Obviously, this displeased His Majesty very much, but it had the opposite effect on Queen Isabella who forgave him, or at least for long enough to produce an heir to the throne.

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Where Bristol Castle Once Stood Pt 2 – The First Plantagenets

Where Bristol Castle Once Stood - Castle Park

Where Bristol Castle Once Stood Pt 2 - The First Plantagenets

In this second part of a series of posts about Castle Park, I’m going to try and unravel what happened at Bristol Castle when the first Plantagenets took over from the Normans after the Anarchy.

If you haven’t read the first part yet, or just want to refresh your memory you can read about it here; and if you cast your mind back, the man responsible for providing Bristol with one of the country’s biggest castles at the time was the 1st Earl of Gloucester, and after his death in 1147, his son William Fitz Robert became the 2nd Earl. You may also remember that King Stephen, who was victorious over Matilda in the civil war known as The Anarchy, died in 1154 without an heir and signed an agreement to hand the crown over to his adversary’s son, Henry.

Henry II was the first Plantagenet king, the name deriving from his father, Geoffrey of Anjou who wore a sprig of broom in his hat. Botanists will tell you that the Latin name for this shrub is Planta Genista which in French was known as Genêt, but where the English name Broom came from, I have no idea.

King Henry II spent much of his young life during the Anarchy under the protection and guidance of the 1st Earl of Gloucester at Bristol and even though his 34-year reign started well enough, it didn’t quite end that way, and he’s probably best remembered for the murder of Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. He died on 6th July 1189 and was buried in France.

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Where Bristol Castle Once Stood Pt 1 – The Normans and The Anarchy

Castle Park

Where Bristol Castle Once Stood Pt 1 - The Normans and The Anarchy

You wouldn’t know it, because there’s hardly anything left to see, but Bristol once had an impressive Norman castle. A lot of water has passed under the drawbridge since then, and where the castle once stood, there is now an open recreational green space occupying the land between the River Avon, the Old City and the shopping quarter.

In my post From Brycgstowe to Bristol I briefly explained the city’s origins, and in this first part of a series of posts about the area now called Castle Park, I want to talk about what happened when the Normans arrived after the Conquest of 1066.

Brycgstowe had been built by the Anglo-Saxons on the high ground between the Rivers Avon and Frome, which not only provided them with access to trading routes, but also afforded good protection on three sides. To supplement this natural protection a wooden palisade was also built around the town.

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