Photographs from the Cabot Tower, Bristol 1

The Cabot Tower is a 32.4m (105 feet) folly situated on a hill in central Bristol, England, with panoramic views over the city. The folly is in Brandon Hill park, which can be reached from Great George Street (off Park Street), Jacobs Wells Road, and Queens Parade (map sources). Entry is free, and it’s open at weekends, and summer weekdays.

The tower was constructed in 1897 to mark the fourth centenary of the voyage John Cabot made in the Matthew to what is now Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. It was designed in the Tudor Gothic Revival style by the Bristolian architect William Venn Gough and is constructed from red sandstone and light Bath limestone. English Heritage have designated the tower Grade II listed.

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Bristol city centre is to the east of the tower. The nearest major building is the Council House, though only the rear can been seen from the tower (the best view is from College Green). This grade II* listed building has been the seat of Bristol City Council since the 1950s. It was designed by Vincent Harris in a neo-Georgian style, and constructed from brick with Portland stone details.

Sat opposite the council house on College Green is the grade I listed Bristol Cathedral (Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity). This is the city’s Anglican cathedral, and it began life in 1140 as St Augustine’s Abbey, becoming a cathedral in 1542 with the creation of the Diocese of Bristol. The cathedral has been extended many times, though the principal work was by Adam Lock in the 13th century, and George Edmund Street and John Loughborough Pearson in the 19th century. The Bishop’s palace, which stood nearby, was destroyed during the Bristol riots of 1831, after the rejection of the second Reform bill.

Beyond the cathedral is the Frome branch of the Floating Harbour (also known as St Augustine’s Reach, and including Bordeaux Quay). Though the water can not be seen from the tower, parts of the Victorian warehouses and 20th century office blocks that line the harbour can. Beyond the harbour is Queen Square, laid out in the 17th and 18th centuries. Not much of the square can be seen from the tower, just the rooftops and tree canopy. A better view looking down on the square is from the top of Trenchard Street car park, which aligns with the roads and paths, and perhaps from the former Bristol and West building when it reopens?

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Beyond Queen Square the harbour meanders around again, at Redcliffe Wharf. Just over the Harbour is the grade I listed gothic St Mary Redcliffe church, Bristol’s tallest building. The church, the largest parish church in England, was described by Queen Elizabeth I as “the fairest, goodliest, and most famous parish church in England.” The building is the product of many waves of construction, beginning in the 12th century. Most of the building, however, is 15th century, though the 292ft (90m) spire was constructed in the 19th century to replace an earlier structure damaged by lightning. The church is commonly mistaken for a cathedral, and is perhaps a greater spectacle than Bristol’s cathedral.

Both Queen Square and St Mary Redcliffe have suffered from post-war planning. The inner city ring-road once cut through the square, and still runs alongside the church. In the late 1990s the road was removed from Queen Square, returning it to a quiet park. St Mary Redcliffe does not only suffer from the continued presence of dual carriageways on two sides, but from the proximity of brutal office blocks and tower blocks. Beyond Redcliffe is the New Cut of the River Avon. This was dug in the early 19th century, after lock gates were placed on the original course to create the Floating Harbour, in order to prevent the new harbour silting up. On the hillside beyond the New Cut are the inner suburbs of Totterdown and Windmill Hill. Here, colourful terraces line some of the steepest residential streets in England.

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To the north east is Bristal’s central business district. This is where the mediaeval town stood, including the Norman castle, which was largely destroyed in the civil war, and finished off by the blitz. Due to redevelopment over the centuries, and extensive blitz damage, much of Bristol’s mediaeval centre has been lost. A notable survivor can be found on Nelson Street, where the city walls and gate have survived at the grade I listed St John’s on the Wall Church. Before the blitz, the commercial heart of the city included the mediaeval streets around the castle, which were turned into Castle Park after they were flattened in the war. Corn Street and Baldwin Street were more lucky, though even here the holes between the grand 18th and 19th century commercial buildings have been plugged with 1960s concrete and steel. The main high street shopping area of the city is now Broadmead. Though some pre-war buildings survive here, notably John Wesley’s first chapel, and the Friends’ meeting house, 20th century concrete and brick are the norm.

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Over the harbour from Castle Park is the Temple area of the city. This area is named for Temple Church (also known as Holy Cross Church), a 14th century church constructed on the site of a 12th century oval church of the Knights Templar. Built on marshy riverside land, the 114 feet (35 m) tower has leant noticably out from the knave since it was constructed in the 15th century. The church was bombed in 1942 leaving only a shell, now in the care of English Heritage.[1] Also in this part of town is the former Courage Brewery, currently awaiting redevelopment. The brewery includes a fine example of the Victorian style of industrial architecture known as Bristol Byzantine, characterised by its polychrome brick and Byzantine arches. Further up the harbour is the newly redeveloped Temple Quay, and Temple Meads Station. The station, part of the Great Western Railway, includes Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s terminus and Sir Matthew Digby Wyatt’s through station (only the latter still used by trains). Beyond the station St Phillips Marsh and the eastern suburbs stretch out, broken by Troopers Hill, a small sandstone outcrop in this limestone and clay region. In the distance the southwestern corner of the Cotswolds rises.

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To the north is St Michael’s Hill, on which sits Tyndals Park, containing most of the buildings of the University of Bristol. The nearest and most impressive of these is the grade II* Wills Memorial Building, a gothic tower of 1912. Sir George Oatley’s 215 feet (68 metres) reinforced concrete tower is faced with Bath and Clipsham stone and commemorates Henry Overton Wills III, benefactor and first chancellor of the university.[2] The Wills family were Bristol tobacco merchants, and much of the city was built on the profits from this and similar trades. Other notable listed buildings in this part of the city are the city museum, beside the Wills building, and another gift from the Wills family; Bristol Grammar School; the Royal Fort; and the physics building. The hospital chimney also intrudes into the skyline here, though it’s a much less welcome addition. In the distance the suburbs of Easton and Eastville can be seen, as well as the BT transmitter on Pur Down.

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To the west of the tower is Clifton, an afluent inner suburb built mainly with the profits of the tobacco and slave trades. Bristol’s most famous landmark, Brunel’s Clifton Suspension Bridge is here. The bridge spans the Avon Gorgeand makes a spectacular entrance to the city for those on the A4 road below. The gorge is Bristol’s natural fortified gateway, allowing limit and controlled entry to the docks from the branch of the Atlantic ocean named after the city — the Bristol Channel. Clifton is also home to the Roman Catholic cathedral, a 1970s concrete and steel “rocket church”. Closer to the tower, hidden around the back of office buildings on the triangle, is the Pro-Cathedral, which currently stands derelict (though not for long, developers are moving in). The area is also home to one of the city’s other grand parish churches, Christ Church, near the suspension bridge on Clifton Down. The Downs are one of the city’s largest parks, on the limestone plataeu above the Avon Gorge. Clifton has not suffered too badly from post-war planning, though the brutal students’ union building on Queen’s Road stands out.

Further to the south is Hotwells and the Floating Harbour. This is the only stretch of the harbour not currently obscured by office and appartment blocks, though that’s rapidly changing as redevelopment moves in here too. On the north bank is the gas works, currently propped up with scaffolding, while the south bank hosts the SS Great Britain, the first iron hulled ship, and another of Brunel’s Bristolian works. The ship was damaged by storms in the Falklands in the 19th century but was towed home for restoration in the 1980s.[3]

Further information

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  1. ^  About Bristol: Temple Church
  2. ^  The Wills Memorial Building
  3. ^  SS Great Britain History

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