The cathedral city of Bristol is known for its port and manufacturing industries. Concord’s first flight was from Bristol in 1969, probably the highlight of Bristol’s long association with the aircraft industry. Bristol’s importance throughout history was evident from its entry in the Domesday survey in which it is listed after London, York and Winchester in prominence.
The site of the cathedral stands at St.Augustine’s Oak, where the saint was said to have discoursed with early British Christians in 603. Much of the city was redeveloped after the war due to heavy bomb damage though some architecture from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries remains as do terraces from the early part of the nineteenth century. Bristol still imports goods today though much of the original docklands have been developed for recreation and leisure.
Evidence survives from the late Saxon period of a settlement in the Bristol area. Prior to the Norman conquest Bristol was the centre for trading of Engish slaves. After the Norman Conquest the small town of Bristol was placed under the charge of Geoffrey of Mowbray, a Norman nobleman and bishop of Constances who ordered the building of a fortification to the east side of the town which at that time occupied a meagre thirty acres. Robert FitzHamon gained control after the death of Mowbray and in turn control passed to Robert, Earl of Gloucester who substantially rebuilt the castle in keeping with the status of Bristol as a rich trading post. After a revolt against King Steven by the Empress Matilda, the castle became her home supported by the backing of Robert FitzHarding who founded the abbey of Augustinian Canons on the site that was later to become Bristol's cathedral church. A castle stood in the area where the River Avon joins the Frome, to be rebuilt by Robert Earl of Gloucester in 1126. King Steven was held prisoner at the castle in 1141.
The town rapidly expanded after 1154 when King Henry II gave the estates of Roger of Berkely to FitzHarding. By the fourteenth century the royal manor of Bristol had grown into the primary port of western England. In 1497 John and Sebastian Cabot set sail from Bristol on a voyage of discovery to America in a boat called the ‘Matthew’ (a tower named after Cabot stands in Bristol today). In the following year Sebastion Cabot explored the coastal region of America from Newfoundland to Florida. By the turn of the sixteenth century the town was literally 'bursting at the seams' with a population of over ten thousand. The break-up of the monasteries that bounded the town of Bristol meant that it could now expand its constricted limits. From the twelfth century wine was imported to Bristol from the Bordeaux area of France.
A variety of guilds became the social focus with many crafts and professions represented so giving name to areas of Bristol that still remain today. The Merchant Venturers’ Society was founded as a response to the wine and cloth trades. Wine importations expanded with trade from Spain in the fifteenth century. Bristol was captured by Prince Rupert during the Civil War the west becoming a prominent Royalist stronghold. In 1645 however it was taken by the Parliamentarians under the command of Fairfax. The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries saw trade with America expand the wealth and importance of Bristol as a major port. The slave trade reared its ugly head once more with Bristol becoming the trade centre for African slaves.
Clifton Suspension Bridge
In 1829 Isambard Kingdom Brunel undertook his first engineering project designing a bridge to span the river Avon at Clifton. In 1831 parts of the city were burned during the reform riots and in the same year construction Brunel’s Clifton Suspension Bridge commenced but financial restrictions meant that work wasn't completed until 1864, sadly after the death of the engineer. Brunel also proposed the idea of trans-Atlantic travel to America as an 'extention' of the rail link between London and Bristol. He designed a wooden paddle-steamer and proposed the name 'Great Western'. Later an iron ship was constructed which first sailed to New York in 1845. The 'Great Britain' was at that time to be the largest ship ever to be built.