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This article is about the English city of Bristol. For other uses please see Bristol (disambiguation).
Bristol is a city in south-western England, administered by a Unitary Authority since the abolition (1996) of the County of Avon. Until 1974 the city was a County Borough in the geographical County of Gloucestershire, although the parts to the south of the river Avon were historically in the County of Somerset.

Central Bristol from a light aircraft. The three black circles mark hot air balloons, flying during the annual Bristol Balloon Fiesta.
Larger version

With a population of some 376,000, or around half a million including suburban areas (principally to the east and north of the administrative city), Bristol is England's seventh most populous city. Once it had been, for half a century, the second largest English city after London, until the rapid rise of Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham in the 1780s.

The town of Brycgstow (Old English, "the place at the bridge") was in existence by the beginning of the 11th Century, and under Norman rule acquired one of the strongest castles in southern England. During the 12th Century the place became an important port, handling much of England's trade with Ireland. In 1247 a new bridge was built and the town was extended to incorporate neighbouring suburbs, becoming in 1373 a county in its own right. During this period Bristol also became a centre of shipbuilding and manufacturing.

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 demographic setback, however, with population remaining in the region of at most 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 Civil War the city suffered (1643-45) through Royalist military occupation and plague.

In 1497 Bristol was the starting point for John Cabot's voyage of exploration to North America.

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.

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" 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 leading engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who designed the Great Western Railway between Bristol and London, two pioneering Bristol-built steamships, and the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

Bristol's city centre suffered severe damage from bombing during World War II. The original central area, near the bridge and castle, is still a park featuring two bombed out churches and some tiny fragments of the castle. (A third bombed church has a new lease of life as St Nicholas' Church Museum.) Slightly to the North, the Broadmead[?] shopping centre was built over bomb-damaged areas.

The removal of the docks to Avonmouth, seven miles downstream from the city centre, relieved congestion in the central zone and allowed substantial 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 seen merely as derelict industry rather than a potential asset. The manufacture of hot air balloons is another aeronautical business established in the city.

Stop frame animation films and commercials painstakingly produced by Aardman Animations and high quality television series focusing on the natural world have also brought fame and artistic credit to the city. Bristol is also the birthplace of the actor Cary Grant.

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Concorde and Bristol

In the 20th Century, Bristol's manufacturing activities expanded to include aircraft production at Filton (six miles north of the city centre) by the Bristol Aeroplane Company, including the key British role in the Anglo-French Concorde supersonic airliner project.

Concorde components were manufactured in British and French factories and shipped to the two final assembly plants by road, sea and air. The French assembly lines were in Toulouse in southern France with the British lines in Filton[?]. Luckily the very large three-bayed hangar built for the Bristol Brabazon[?] was available.

The French manufactured the centre fuselage and centre wing and the British the nose, rear fuselage, fin and wingtips. The largest proportion of the British share of the work was the powerplant, the Rolls-Royce/Snecma 593. The engine's manufacture was split between British Aircraft Corporation, Rolls-Royce (Filton) and SNECMA[?] at Villaroche near Paris.

The British Concorde prototype G-BSST[?] made its 22 minute maiden flight from Filton to RAF Fairford on 9th April 1969, the French prototype F-WTSS[?] had flown from Toulouse five weeks earlier. Most of the employees of BAC and Rolls Royce, plus a huge crowd, watched from around the airfield. Fairford was chosen as the test airfield for Concorde because the runway at Filton was rejected for test flying, its length was inadequate and there were problems with the slope, and the first 1000 feet of the runway at its eastern (A38) end could not be used. However, from the end of 1977, all test flying on the second production aircraft G-BBDG[?] was done from Filton, following the closure of the BAC Fairford test base. After its retirement in 1981 G-BBDG was stationed at Filton and is now used for spare parts and for developing modifications to the rest of the fleet.

Concordes of British Airways still make occasional visits to Filton for air displays and charters.


St Mary Redcliffe church and the Floating Harbour, Bristol.
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The city has two significant football clubs: Bristol City F.C. who play in the English Second Division and Bristol Rovers F.C. who play in the Third Division. Each summer the grounds of Ashton Court to the west of the city play host to the Bristol Balloon Fiesta, a major event for followers of the sport of hot-air ballooning in Great Britain. The "Fiesta" draws a substantial crowd even for the early morning lift that typically begins at about 6.30am and a fairground atmosphere is sustained throughout the day. A second mass ascent is normally scheduled for the early evening, again taking advantage of lower wind speeds.

The city's principal theatre company, the Bristol Old Vic[?], was founded in 1946 as an offshoot of the Old Vic[?] company in London. It has premises on King Street consisting of the 1766 Theatre Royal, a modern studio theatre called the New Vic, and foyer and bar areas in the adjacent Coopers' Hall (built 1743). The Theatre Royal is a grade I listed building and the oldest continuously-operating theatre in England. The Bristol Old Vic also runs a prominent Theatre School. The Bristol Hippodrome is a larger theatre which hosts national touring productions.

The Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery[?] houses a collection of natural history, archaeology, local glassware, Chinese ceramics and art of a variety of periods. The Bristol Industrial Museum, on the dockside, shows local industrial heritage and operates a steam railway, boat trips, and working dockside cranes. The City Museum also runs three preserved historic houses: the Tudor Red Lodge, the Georgian House, and Blaise Castle House. The Watershed media centre[?] and Arnolfini gallery[?], both in disused dockside warehouses, exhibit contemporary art, photography and cinema.

Transport Links

There are two principal railway stations in Bristol: Bristol Parkway and Bristol Temple Meads. A freight line to Portishead has recently reopened. The city is connected by road on an east-west axis from London to Wales by the M4 motorway, and on a north-southwest axis from Birmingham to Exeter by the M5 motorway[?]. The city is also served by its own airport, at Lulsgate, which has recently seen substantial improvements to its runway, terminal and other facilities.

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