Bristol has been among the country’s largest and most economically and culturally important cities in the UK for eight centuries. The Bristol area has been settled since the Palaeolithic era, with Iron Age hill forts near the city at Leigh Woods, Clifton Down and on Kingsweston Hill, plus evidence of Iron Age farmsteads throughout Bristol. There is also evidence of Roman occupation such as the present-day Inns Court and Abonae; a Roman era settlement which is now Sea Mills. Abonae connected the town to Bath via a Roman road and likely served as a port linking Roman England to Wales.
‘Brycgstow’ was the town’s original name, meaning “place by the bridge” in Old English; the change in the form of the name ‘Bristol’ is due to the local pronunciation of ‘ow’ as ‘ol’. The town was established some time before the 11th century on a low hill between the Rivers Frome and Avon, adjacent to the original Bristol Bridge. It then rose to prominence in the Norman era, gaining a charter and county status in 1373.
During the Middle Ages Bristol had maritime connections to Wales, Ireland, Iceland, Western France, Spain and Portugal which brought a steady increase of trade in wool, fish, wine and grain. In 1542 Bristol became a city, and trade across the Atlantic developed. From the late 1600s to the early 1800s Bristol was heavily involved in the transatlantic slave trade, where millions of slaves were shipped from the docks to America. The city’s involvement with the slave trade peaked between 1730 and 1745, when it became the leading slaving port, a shameful and brutal part of Bristol’s history. Pero’s Bridge at St. Augustine’s reach was named after Pero Jones, an African servant of a plantation owner, which still stands to remind us of this time.
The Industrial Revolution brought further prosperity to Bristol, which saw the construction of a floating harbour, advances in shipbuilding and further industrialisation with the growth of the glass, paper, soap and chemical industries. In the early 20th century, Bristol was in the forefront of aircraft manufacture and the city had become an important financial centre and high technology hub by the beginning of the 21st century.
Like most old towns, Bristol was surrounded by a defensive wall. It encompassed a relatively small area, already bounded by the two rivers. A series of lanes followed the inner line of the wall, inter-connecting the outer ends of the main streets. The area within the walls was originally laid out on four main streets – High Street, Corn Street, Broad Street and Wine Street – which still exist today. Nine fortified gateways pierced the town wall at intervals. They were St Nicholas’s Gate, St Lawford’s Gate, St Giles’s Gate, St John’s Gate, Frome Gate, Aylward’s Gate, Blind Gate, Newgate and Pithay Gate.
The geography of the land and the huge tidal range of the Avon had always caused problems for ships docking in Bristol. As the water in the river ebbed back towards the sea, the ships anchored in the harbour would rest on the river bed and be subject to immense pressure from the weight on board, often causing considerable damage to the timbers. As a result, Bristol-built ships were constructed using the finest materials and most skilled techniques, and quickly became famous for their sturdy craftsmanship.
Isamabard Kingdom Brunel was one of the greatest engineers of the 1800s. He built bridges, tunnels, ships and railways that were longer, faster and bigger than anything seen before. Brunel’s feats of engineering soon stretched to the city’s waterways, he played a major role in the cutting-edge design and construction of the floating harbour, which is still in use today. This new lock system trapped water in the city’s central harbour and allowed ships and boats to stay afloat without being affected by the changing tides. Brunel’s Great Western steamship (SS Great Britain) was built in the city harbour and launched in 1837. It was on this launch that she became the first of Brunel’s passenger ships to travel between England and New York.
The United Kingdom is a founding nation of the Airbus consortium and one of the company’s four home markets. Building on a proud 100-year British aviation heritage, every wing on Airbus commercial aircraft is designed and manufactured in the UK.
Airbus is the largest commercial aerospace company in the UK and its biggest civil aerospace exporter; the biggest supplier of helicopters in the country; the UK’s largest space company and leading commercial provider of military satellite communications; the biggest supplier of large aircraft to the Royal Air Force; and a world leader in cyber security.