Distinguished for its independent spirit, culture, heritage and thriving art scene.
Distinguished for its independent spirit, culture, heritage and thriving art scene, Bristol has a rich and eventful history stretching back over many centuries. Unknown to many, historically, there are a myriad of connections between Bristol and the US that underpin the special relationship that the US and Great Britain are so famous for today
THE BIRTHPLACE OF AMERICA
In 1497, John Cabot and his crew set sail from Bristol aboard the Matthew, hoping to find a new route to the Orient. Instead, they found themselves on the coast of Newfoundland, becoming the original founders of North America (not Christopher Columbus as many people believe). Richard Amerike, former Sheriff of Bristol, was responsible for funding Cabot’s voyage and it is thought that Cabot named his discovery after him as a thank you. Intriguingly, Amerike’s coat of arms features stars and stripes similar to the United States flag; a design which pre-dates George Washington's connection with the continent by 300 years. Historically, Bristol also played an important role in England's maritime trade in tobacco, wine, cotton and other goods with the American colonies presenting a myriad of opportunities for Bristol merchants, including the notorious slave trade to the West Indies, which made the city a wealthy trading port. Over a thousand years ago, Bristol's harbour developed around the lowest bridging point of the River Avon but as ships became larger and trade increased, the quay space became overcrowded and Bristol Docks Company finally adopted a proposal to create a non-tidal 'Floating Harbour', constructed between 1804 and 1809, which trapped the water behind lock gates allowing ships to remain floating at all times. The continued growth in the size of ships and the narrowness of the river meant vessels were later re-routed to Avonmouth Docks at the Bristol Channel. Bristol has since been transformed into a dynamic hub for the creative industries and the docklands, once brimming with trade, have become an attraction in themselves. Based in Bristol’s floating harbour for much of the year, the Matthew, a reconstruction of the boat used by John Cabot, is popular for harbour tours as well as longer sailing trips. The city's infrastructure boasts a number of historic attractions, preserved over time and carefully curated to inform and educate both residents and tourists.
Berkeley Castle, just north of the city, has been home to the Berkeley family, a longliving and prolific family for over 900 years. In an American ancestry series, Courteney Cox visited the castle after 700-year old documents allowed her to trace her roots back to 1327, when her 18-times greatgrandfather Thomas, third baron of Berkley was the owner of the castle. It was during this time that the castle was used to imprison (and allegedly kill) the deposed King Edward II. The world’s first Methodist chapel, also known as John Wesley's Chapel or The New Room, is another popular tourist attraction in Bristol, drawing thousands of visitors annually to the city. The New Room, is located right in the heart of Bristol's main shopping district and is a sacred gem. John Wesley came to Bristol in 1739 at the invitation of George Whitefield, who asked him to take over his work of preaching to the open-air crowds, many of whom were poor Bristolians. Wesley preached his first open air sermon on April 2nd and by May 9th the religious societies had grown so much that Wesley bought land and laid the foundation stone of what he called "our New Room in the Horsefair". A plaque near the pulpit tells how Wesley, in 1784, ordained Thomas Coke, who went to America and ordained Francis Asbury. They became Bishops of the Methodist Episcopal Church in America. The New Room is open daily for guests and visitors can also
see the Charles Wesley House nearby. The room is still used for services, while upstairs, the suite of rooms used by the Wesleys has now been converted into an excellent, interactive museum on the history of Methodism and life in Georgian Bristol. The remainder of the building (the new part) is given over to a café, library and resource centre which is used by Methodist and other groups that visit regularly, including many from the United States. Brunel's SS Great
Britain was an advanced passenger steamship designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel for transatlantic service between Bristol and New York. The ship was a world first when she was launched in Bristol in 1843, being the first iron steamer to cross the Atlantic and the largest vessel at the time. She revolutionised travel to America and brought together new technologies in a way that transformed world travel. Brunel, the most daring of the great Victorian engineers, conceived the ground-breaking combination of a screw propeller, an iron hull, and a massive 1000-horsepower steam engine. There is an additional, included, museum on-site dedicated to his genius, called Being Brunel. The SS Great Britain was immediately successful and on her maiden voyage to America, easily broke previous speed records. Although effectively a prototype, she continued sailing until 1886 and travelled thirty-two times around the world and nearly one million miles at sea. The navigational masterpiece is one of England’s best museums and the 30-year restoration that followed its return to Bristol in 1970 has resulted in a multisensory experience of an exceptionally high standard.
Pictured left-right: Artist at Bristol's Upfest, Europe's largest Street Art & Graffiti festival
Pictured left-right: SS Great Britain museum ship and former passenger steamship; National Historic Vessels on quay side in Wapping Wharf; M Shed, one of Bristol's Museums where colourful exhibits detail the history of the city and its people in a 1950s' dockside transit shed; Concorde at Areospace Bristol; Bristol Cathedral and John Wesley's Chapel, also known as The New Room.