In transcribing the following paragraphs from the Internet Archive online version, I have expanded the abbreviations for easier reading and added paragraphing and subtitle South The illustrations are in the original. The Gazetteer has 1856 on the title-page for this volume, but the statements in this essay date it to 1851. — George P. Landow]

Decorated initial B

RISTOL, a city, county, and seaport in England situated near the mouth of the Bristol Channel, at the Southern extremity of county Gloucester, and the North of Somerset, but independent of both; covering seven knolls or hills, and their intermediate valleys, on both sides of the Avon and Frome; latitude 51 26 8" North; longitude 2 35 5" West (R.); 120 miles West of London by the turnpike road, and 118J by the Great Western Railway, which here connects with the Bristol and Birmingham, and the Bristol and Exeter Railways. The entire city, with its suburban districts Clifton, Westbury, Montpelier, St. Philip and Jacob Out, and Bedminster all of which are included within the parliamentary and municipal borough, has an area of about 2000 ac., and a circumference of about 9 miles.

The old town, which now forms the heart of the city, stands upon a narrow hill, about 40 feet in height. Of the eminences on which Bristol is built, the highest are St. Michael’s Hill and Kingsdown, which are 200 feet above the lower parts of the town. In the old town, some of the streets are narrow, and the houses lofty and incommodious; but, in the more modern parts, the former are wide, and the buildings elegant and spacious. Many of the principal merchants and traders, however, reside at Clifton, Westbury, Abbots Leigh, and in the other suburbs. Bristol is tolerably well supplied with water for ordinary household purposes, and now with wholesome drinking water, from the river Chew and the Barrow Springs by the New Water Works Company. In the report of the Health of Towns Commission," the want of a sufficient supply of soft water most of that in Bristol being hard is represented as the cause, in a great measure, of that unusual amount of uncleanliness amongst the poor of the city, which, combined with deficient sewage, has ranked it as the third most unhealthy town in England.

Churches, Chapels, and Public Buildings

The established churches and chapels of Bristol are 36 in number, besides four Roman Catholic chapels, one Jews synagogue, and 42 dissenting chapels of the various denominations. Bristol possesses rather more than the usual proportion of handsome public buildings, among which may be mentioned many of its churches, some of which present beautiful specimens of early English architecture, particularly the cathedral, a fine structure, in the form of a cross, 175 feet in length; breadth of transept, 128 feet; height of tower, 140 feet: and breadth of the nave and aisles, 73 feet Of the parish churches, that of St. Mary Redcliffe, which is now (1850) being restored, is one of the most elegant ecclesiastical structures in England.

St. Mary Redclyffe, Bristol [sic]. Click on image to enlarge it.

It was founded in 1249, and is of various dates, and built in the form of a cross, having a nave raised above the aisles, and lit by a series of lofty windows on each side, in the manner of a cathedral. In the muniment room over the North porch of this church, Chatterton pretended to have found the poems which he attributed to Rowley.

The New Guildhall, Bristol. Click on image to enlarge it.

Among the other public buildings of note are the exchange, erected in 1760; the new guildhall, and branch of the Bank of England; the Victoria Rooms, the council-house, the commercial rooms, the theatre, the city library, the blind asylum, the Bishop’s College, Queen Elizabeth’s hospital or the city schools, the Colston’s school and alms-houses, the merchants hall, the philosophical institution, which possesses a valuable museum of natural history, and of objects of vertu.

Schools and Charities

The principal endowed educational establishments are the city grammar-school, where upwards of 200 boys receive a good classical and commercial educa tion; the college grammar-school; Queen Elizabeth’s hospital, for the education, subsistence, and apprenticing of 100 boys, to be increased to 200; Colston’s hospital, for maintaining, educating, and apprenticing 100 boys, which, with two other schools, and several alms-houses, was founded and endowed by the philanthropist Edward Colston, upwards of a century ago; a school in Temple parish for 40 girls; the merchants-hall school for teaching gratuitously the sciences of mathematics and navigation, in addition to a general education; the Red Maid’s school, for maintaining and instructing about 120 girls, and afterwards providing them with places of service; the Bishop’s College, opened in 1831, for teaching a university education, &c.

In addition to these, there are a variety of unendowed schools, upon the Lancasterian, national, and other plans of edu cation, to the number of 58. On the books of these schools, by a return just (1850) made, there are 4179 boys, of whom 3275 are in daily attendance; 3080 girls, of whom 2296 are in daily attendance; and 2270 infants, of whom 1572 were in attendance. In the day and the endowed schools there are therefore 19,089 children entered, receiving education. This return does not include evening and Sunday-schools, of which there are several.

The hospitals, alms-houses, and other charitable institutions, are very numerous; and the donations and bequests to the poor, both in and out of the Corporation and Charity Trustees, exceed in number and amount those of any other place in England, except London. The Bristol infirmary, now (1850) the Royal Infirmary by grant of Her present Majesty, was founded in 1736, and is the largest provincial infirmary in the kingdom; the Bristol general hospital was founded in 1832, and is now (1851) about to be rebuilt in a more extensive form; the Bristol institution for diseases of the eye in 1810, and the eye-dispensary in 1812. There are also two dispensaries for the treatment of diseases generally. The workhouse usually about 550 inmates, and the out-poor gener ally amount to about 4000.


Bristol has numerous glassworks and potteries, and has long been famous for its glass and pottery ware. There are also brass, copper, zinc, lead, iron, and tin works; chain, cable, and anchor factories; sugar refineries; locomotive, and other steam engine works; distilleries, breweries, malt-houses, chemical works; soda, soap, leather, ropes, sails, shoes, saddlery, patent shot, spelter, floor cloth, pins, hats, tobacco and snuff, &c., are also extensively manufactured; and a large cotton factory, employing several hundred hands, has recently been erected. On the banks of the Avon are several dock yards, in which shipbuilding, to a very considerable extent, both in wood and iron, is carried on, Bristol having been for centuries celebrated for this art, and having built some of the finest frigates used in the late wars, and steamers used in the Royal Mail service.


The commerce of Bristol is principally with the West Indies, the Mauritius, Havana, Venezuela, the East Indies, China, Canada, and the United States, carried on in vessels varying from 500 to above 1000 tons. There is also an extensive fruit trade with the Mediterranean and the Azores, and considerable commercial intercourse with Russia, South America, France, and the African coast. Bristol formerly possessed a large trade with Spain in wools, but this has latterly fallen into decay. With America, outwards, the trade is princi pally in emigration, iron, or coals for ballast; this trade is rapidly increasing, as are also the imports from the U. States and Canada, consisting of cottob, timber, flour, provisions, tobacco, and turpentine. The tobacco trade of Bristol is considerable, and the manufacture of snuff extensive. The quantity of leaf tobacco entered in 1843, amounted to 1,326,605 pounds; of manufactured tobacco and cigars, 790 pounds. From the period of the establishment of the floating harbour up to 1848, owing to heavy dues being charged by the dock company, the trade of Bristol did not increase correspondingly with other ports, but in tliat year the enormous dues were reduced, and the trade has been improving ever since. On January 1, 1846, the number of sailing vessels registered at the port of Bristol was 272, tonnage 38,143; steam vessels, 26, tonnage 3905.

Bristol also possesses a very considerable Irish and coasting trade, which is also increasing, employing, in 1847, 546,753 tons of shipping, and in 1850, 643,217 tons. The inland commerce of Bristol is much promoted by the Great Western, the Birmingham and Bristol, and other railways, and by tlie extensive internal water communication afforded by the Severn, the Wye, the Usk, the Avon, the Parret, the Tone, and the numerous canals connected with them.

Municipal Government

Bristol received from Henry II. a partial charter; which was confirmed and extended by John and Henry III. Edward III. constituted it a city and county in itself; and Henry VIII., after the general dissolution of the religious houses, made it the seat of a bishopric. Its privileges were still more extended by the charters of Elizabeth and Charles I.; and it received a new charter from Charles II., which was confirmed by Queen Anne. By the new Municipal Act, the city is divided into 10 wards, and is governed by a mayor, 16 aldermen, and 48 councillors, with a recorder. It holds its own sessions. Bristol has returned two members to Parliament since the 23d of Edward I. in 1283; number of electors (1850), 11,032.

In October 1831, this city was the scene of a series of frightful riots, which lasted for several days; when the custom-house, the excise office, the bishop’s palace, the public jails, and more than 40 private houses, were burned down, and many lives were lost. The pretext for the riots was the attempt of Sir Charles Wetherell, who had rendered himself very unpopular by his opposition to the Reform Bill, to make a public entry into the city as recorder, previous to holding the assizes. Bristol confers the title of Earl and Marquis on the noble family of Hurvoy.

It has three principal market places, and a daily market, which is well supplied. Two annual fairs, for two days each, are held March 1, and September 1. They used to be frequented by dealers from all parts of the country, but of late have greatly declined.

The suburban town of Clifton, the locality of the celebrated Bristol waters, is situated about 1 miles North the city, on the summit of lofty cliffs, whence its name. It contains a num ber of elegant squares, terraces, crescents, and many hand some houses, of freestone and limestone, from quarries in the vicinity. The streets are well paved, and lighted with gas. There are four churches, and a chapel of ease, besides chapels belonging to the Independents, Wesleyan Methodists, and Baptists, and an unfinished Roman Catholic place of worship, intended for a cathedral. The national school is the only endowed school in Clifton, but there is an educational institution, called Bishop’s College, at which a university education is given, several academies for the higher classes, both male and female, and a number of private subscription schools for the children of the poorer inhabitants. Being merely a watering place, Clifton has neither trade nor manufactures. Its medicinal waters, and the beauty of its scenery, form its chief attractions, and are the sole sources of its prosperity. In the scheme of Pope Pius IX., in 1850, for establishing a Papal hierarchy in England, a Roman Catholic bishop was appointed to Clifton. The population of the town is estimated at 20,000.

The History of Bristol

Bristol was a fortified city in the fifth century, but was not otherwise of any consideration, but in the beginning of the 12th century, when it was called Brie or Briestow, it had be come a place of some importance. In the reign of Edward III., it contributed to the service of that monarch against France as many ships and nearly as many men as London, while Liver pool, a few years before, had furnished one small barque only. With exception of some occasional vicissitudes, it continued from this period to advance steadily, till it became one of the most flourishing and wealthy towns in the empire, being, in the 17th century, next to London, the greatest seaport in England. At this period it carried on a thriving trade with North America and the West Indies, not the least active or profitable part of which was shipping kidnapped persons for the colonies a traffic in which the first magistrates of the city were extensively engaged, and from which some of them derived large fortunes. The Bristol of these days, however, was a very different place from the Bristol of the present time, as may be learnt by reference to Macaulay’s History of England (vol. i. p. 535, et seq.), where, amongst other curious particulars, it will be found that the streets were then so narrow, that if a coach or cart ventured into them, there was no small danger of its being wedged between the houses; that goods were conveyed about the town on trucks drawn by dogs, and that the richest inhabitants exhibited their wealth, not by riding in gilded carriages, but by walking the streets with trains of servants in rich liveries, and by keeping tables loaded with good cheer.

Among the more eminent natives of Bristol, were William of Worcester, the topographer; William Grocyn, an eminent Greek professor at Oxford; the celebrated discoverer of Newfoundland, Sebastian Cabot, son of a resident Venetian; the ill-fated Chatterton; Bayley, the sculptor; Bowdich, the African traveller; and the late poet-laureate, Dr. Southey. Bristol returns two members to the House of Commons. Registered electors in 1850, 12,157. Population in 1831, 59,074, exclusive of the suburbs, which returned 44,812; total (1841), 140,158. (Local Correspondent.}

City Scenes from the 1870s


Blackie, Walker Graham. The Imperial Gazetteer: A General Dictionary of Geography, Physical, Political, Statistical and Descriptive. 4 vol South London: Blackie & Son, 1856. Internet Archive online version of a copy in the University of California Library. Web. 7 November 2018.

Last modified 9 November 2018