After visiting Bath and Gloucester and in recent years, Bristol was high on my list of places to visit this year. Unlike Gloucester, Bristol doesn’t come over as a preserved relic of the heritage industry where historic buildings vie with down at heel charity shops, but parts of it nonetheless resemble London (or Birmingham if you’re not feeling generous) rather more than Bath. Cranes and construction abound everywhere, although very few of the modern buildings repay much attention. I arrive at Bristol Temple Meads station, which has to count as one of the most ambitious station designs outside St Pancras, with its gothic revival facade and sweeping shed roof. The first thing I come to is St Mary Redcliffe, which has to count as one of the most extraordinary buildings I’ve seen, with the almost Moorish gothic detail and Boschesque corbels on the ocatgonal porch standing out. The vaulting easily equals any cathedral, although the amount of gilding is in excess of any of them. I also rather like the chaotic pendulum design; a pendulum that see-saw depending on random water motion. Other odd details include a whalebone donated by John Cabot and a not especially lifelike sculpture of Queen Elizabeth. I walk over the Avon to the ruined church of St Peter’s, where the walls and tower still stand after the interior and ceiling has been bombed out; the park it stands in is also home to the ruined walls of Bristol’s castle. From here, I walk into the centre, past the baroque Christ Church with St Ewen with its twee clock automatons, Wood’s Corn Exchange with its three handed railway time clock and elephant, lion, penguin and platypi motifs, the Camdenesque St Nicholas market with its iron roof before heading onto Everard’s art nouveau printing works building and the church of Church of St John the Baptist, built into the city walls as a gateway. The church of St Stephen proves to be closed, although the elaborate tower and gothic entrance were probably worth the walk in their own right.
I then take a diversion by walking up Park Street to look at Bristol University’s Wills Memorial Building; this is perhaps the point where Bristol most resembles Bath, with rows of Bath Stone houses lining the hill like crenellations. Walking back to the Cathedral Green, I have a look at the statues of Queen Victoria and Rajah Rammohun Roy (firmly standing away from one another) and of John Cabot before the Council House (along with plaques to various twinned cities built into the pavement). The modern council house is actually well worthy of note in its own right, as is Holden’s nearby design for Bristol Library, with its bizarre green tile and marble entrance hall creating the somewhat odd impression of it being underwater. Nearby, is the old Abbey gateway with its romanesque arches and the cathedral itself; a somewhat squate structure that compares rather unfavourably to St Mary Redcliffe. At first glance on the interior, the same unfavourable comparison could be made, until you look at the intricate aisle vaults, the Norman chapter house, stellated tomb monuments or the ornate Lady Chapel. I walk back into the centre to look around Wesley’s New Room Chapel, a predictably sparse building offset rather by a a rather pleasant octagonal lantern design. Finally,I walk back to the station, past the bombed out ruins of the Temple Church.