History of Bristol
History in Bristol
By the 14th century Bristol was England's third-largest town (after London and York), with perhaps 15-20,000 inhabitants on the eve of the Black Death of 1348-49. The plague inflicted a prolonged pause in the growth of Bristol's population, with numbers remaining at 10-12,000 through most of the 15th and 16th centuries. Bristol was made a city in 1542, with the former Abbey of St Augustine becoming Bristol Cathedral. During the 1640s Civil War the city suffered through Royalist military occupation and plague.
Renewed growth came with the 17th-century rise of England's American colonies and the rapid 18th-century expansion of England's part in the Atlantic trade in Africans taken for slavery in the Americas. Bristol, along with Liverpool, became a significant centre for the slave trade although few slaves were brought to Britain.
During the height of the slave trade, from 1700 to 1807, more than 2000 slaving ships were fitted out at Bristol, carrying a (conservatively) estimated half a million people from Africa to the Americas and slavery. Fishermen who left Bristol were long part of the migratory fishery to the Grand Banks of Newfoundland and began settling that island permanently in larger numbers around this time.
Bristol's strong nautical ties meant that maritime safety was an important issue in the city, In the 19th century Samuel Plimsoll, "the sailor's friend", campaigned fearlessly to make the seas safer. He was shocked by the scandal of overloaded cargoes and successfully fought for a compulsory loadline on ships.
Competition from Liverpool from c.1760, the disruption of maritime commerce through war with France (1793) and the abolition of the slave trade (1807) contributed to the city's failure to keep pace with the newer manufacturing centres of the North and Midlands.
The long passage up the heavily tidal Avon Gorge, which had made the port highly secure during the middle ages, had become a liability which the construction of a new "Floating Harbour" (designed by William Jessop) in 1804–9 failed to overcome. Nevertheless, Bristol's population (66,000 in 1801) quintupled during the 19th century, supported by new industries and growing commerce.
It was particularly associated with the Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who designed the Great Western Railway between Bristol and London, two pioneering Bristol-built steamships, and the Clifton Suspension Bridge. John Wesley founded the very first Methodist Chapel, in Bristol in 1739.
Bristol's City Centre suffered severe damage from bombing during World War II. The original central shopping area, near the bridge and castle, is now a park containing two bombed out churches and some tiny fragments of the castle. A third bombed church nearby, St Nicholas, has been restored and currently houses private city council offices despite containing a triptych by William Hogarth, painted for the high altar of St Mary Redcliffe in 1756.
Like much British post-war planning, the rebuilding of Bristol city centre was characterised by large, cheap tower blocks, brutalist architecture and expansion of roads. Since the 1980s this trend has changed with the closure of some main roads, the restoration of the Georgian period Queen's and Portland Squares, the current demolition and rebuilding of the Broadmead shopping centre and, in 2006, one of the city centre's tallest post-war blocks was torn down.
The removal of the docks to Avonmouth, seven miles (11 km) downstream from the city centre has also allowed substantial corporate redevelopment of the old central dock area (the "Floating Harbour") in recent decades, although at one time the continued existence of the docks was in jeopardy as it was viewed as a derelict industrial site rather than a potential asset.