Explore Bristol with our Unique Guide
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The city of Bristol contains numerous buildings of architectural and historic importance. Here we highlight some of the most noteworthy buildings in and around the centre of the city.
The original Great Western Railway (GWR) station at Temple Gate has an impressive three-storey entrance in Bath stone in a hybrid revival style reminiscent of a Tudor mansion. It was completed in 1841, and is thought to be the first true railway terminus, with trains and people all inhabiting the same integrated space beneath a single roof.
Passengers reached the platforms by climbing an internal staircase to the first floor, the track coming in 15 feet above ground level on brick vaults. The train shed with its beautiful hammer-beam roof spanning the 72 feet of what was once the passenger shed was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who was appointed as Engineer of the GWR, aged only 27. The beams are largely decorative as most of the roof's weight is supported by the iron columns along the aisles. Guided tours of the site, known as the Old Station, will give you views of the passenger shed, the cavernous vaults and the mock-Gothic grandeur of the GWR Boardroom.
On the opposite side of the station approach road are some Jacobean-style offices originally built for the Bristol & Exeter Railway and designed by S C Fripp. Work on the present Bristol Temple Meads station, at the top of the approach road, conceived as a joint station to serve the Bristol & Exeter and Midland Railway companies, was completed in 1878. Its architect was Sir Matthew Digby Wyatt, Brunel's colleague, who had co-designed Paddington station. The arched iron roof was designed by Francis Fox, whose father, Sir Charles Fox, had constructed the roof at Paddington and was involved in construction of the Crystal Palace. The station has a neo-Gothic exterior in pink stone with Bath stone dressings and a red-brick interior. The chocolate and brown extension to the east of the site dates from the 1930s.
Away from the station, towards Bristol’s city centre is Victoria Street. GWS was based in offices at this end of Victoria Street for a number of years. Home to offices as well as several cafes and restaurants, Victoria Street also features The Shakespeare Inn, a distinctive timber framed pub built in the 17th century.
Victoria street leads to the Bristol Bridge, completed around 1872, across which lies the Old City. The area was badly bombed during WW2 but some surviving sections remain, including the row of buildings between Counterslip and Bath Street. Counterslip has been home to various industries important to Bristol, being formerly the site of a sugar refining factory, Courage’s brewery, and the Tramways Generating Station. On the curved corner of Bath Street is the former Talbot Hotel, which has an attractive arched entrance, multi-coloured brickwork and a conical roof topped by a weather vane.
To the south of Victoria Street is the beautiful St Mary Redcliffe Church, parts of which date to the 12th century. Queen Elizabeth I was said to be particularly fond of the building and described it as the fairest church in England. As a result of restorative cleaning, the formerly polluted outside proudly reveals a wealth of carved detail.
The original tower was struck by lightning in 1446 and wasn’t replaced for over 400 hundred years. Despite being situated in one of the areas heavily bombed during WW2, the church survived intact, though a tram rail, hurled into the churchyard remains embedded in the ground, indicates how close the church came to the destruction.
Although nothing remains of the medieval settlement that the church was once part of, recent excavations in the area have revealed remains of buildings from as early as the 13th Century.
As well as houses, archaeologists found a dye-works, a 15th Century bakehouse and a 17th Century lime-kiln.
On the other side of the city centre, at the junction of Queen's Road and Whiteladies Road stand the impressive Victoria Rooms, completed in 1842, built in a neo-Grecian style incorporating a giant eight-columned Corinthian portico and a dramatic pediment decorated with Minerva in a chariot driven by Apollo. Formerly a public hall and political meeting-place, fashionable balls were held here as well as performances by such famous Victorians as Charles Dickens and Sarah Bernhardt. The building is now owned by the University of Bristol, and is the base of the department of music who put on a variety of lunchtime concerts.
Opposite is the Royal West of England Academy another impressive Victorian building, with an Italianate colonnaded facade. As well being the setting for a permanent collection and educational courses, the Academy puts on a range of exhibitions throughout the year. Along Queen's Road, back in the direction of the waterfront, there are a number of shops dating from the Victorian period, a few of which retain their original frontage.
On the corner of University Road and Queen's Road stands the former City Museum and Library. The original structure was destroyed during the blitz and the facade, inspired by the Doge's Palace in Venice, fronts a post-war building which is now occupied by Browns restaurant. Next to this is Bristol's Museum and Art Gallery, an Edwardian Baroque building designed by Sir Frank Wills in Portland stone.
The museum is home to an outstanding and diverse range of objects, from sea dinosaurs to magnificent art, holding collections of regional, national and international importance. Further along Queen’s road, Wills is honored by the Wills Memorial Tower of Bristol University, constructed from Bath and Clipsham stone and crowned by an ornate octagonal Lantern. Officially opened by King George V in 1925, it is considered one of the last great Gothic buildings to be constructed in England.
On University Road can be found the former museum's lecture theatre, the Eastern Orthodox Church which was built in the “Early English” style, and, at the end of Elmdale Road, there is a row of Gothic villas dating from 1883. At the top of University Road is Bristol Grammar School recognizable from its distinctive walls made with local red rubble. Originally founded in 1532, the school moved to this location in the 1870s, and features a Great Hall designed by Foster & Wood. Another impressive red brick school building from the same period stands further out towards the Clifton Downs. Clifton High School on Clifton Park Road is an early example of Queen Anne architecture in Bristol. Designed by Stuart Colman, it is an example of fanciful and flamboyant style of the later-Victorian period.
On the other side of the University’s properties is St Michael’s hill, a steep incline lined with houses from the 17th and 18th centuries. At the top is a pub dating back to the 1800s, the Highbury Vaults, apparently where prisoners were taken for their last meal.
Further up into Clifton there is an abundance of beautiful Georgian and Victorian villas, terraces and semi-detached houses to admire, particularly around The Promenade. At the far end of what is known as Clifton village, is Brunel’s Clifton Suspension Bridge, a landmark that has become a celebrated symbol of Bristol. Although not completed until after his death, the bridge remains a remarkable testimony to his capabilities and lasting influence on Bristol.
To the other side of Queen's Road, beyond Berkeley Square, can be found Brandon Hill which lies 260 feet above the harbour and is considered to be Bristol’s oldest park. Perched at its top is Cabot Tower, a significant landmark of Bristol. Completed in 1898 the tower commemorates the 400 year anniversary of explorer and merchant John Cabot’s voyage from Bristol to Newfoundland. The tower was designed by William Venn Gough, inspired by a 15th century tower in the Loire and built principally out of red sandstone and decorated with Bath stone. It is possible to climb up inside on a narrow staircase which delivers splendid views across the city and beyond.
At the bottom of Brandon Hill on the corner of St George's Road is Brunel House, positioned at the back of the Council House. Designed by Brunel in consultation with Richard Shackleton Pope, the building was completed in 1839 and was originally the Royal Western Hotel, planned to provide accommodation to passengers embarking on the transatlantic liner, the SS Great Britain. Although it has been much altered over the years, Brunel House retains its impressive four-storey Greek revival facade. St George's Road leads to Park Street, now home to numerous shops, restaurants, and bars.
Sitting at the bottom of the hill is College Green, a piece of green land situated between Council buildings, the former Royal Hotel - now the Bristol Marriott Royal Hotel, and Bristol cathedral. Being so flat and open means College Green has been frequently used for entertainments and events.
The Cathedral was founded in 1140 as an Augustine Abbey and features many interesting Norman and Medieval features, as well as tranquil green and gold garden at its rear. In front of the hotel, which was built in limestone in the Italianate style, is a statue of Queen Victoria by Joseph Boehm, dating from 1888 to commemorate the 1887 Golden Jubilee.
Please visit the Brunel 200 project to find out more about historic Bristol.