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Bristol

History

A small Saxon village at the confluence of the Rivers Frome and Avon became the thriving medieval Brigstow (later Bristol) as the city began to develop its trade in cloth and wine with mainland Europe. Religious houses were established on high ground (now Temple) above the marshes and it was from here that celebrated ‘local hero’ John Cabot (actually a Genoese sailor called Giovanni Caboto) sailed to discover Newfoundland in 1497. Over the following centuries, Bristol became one of Britain’s major transatlantic ports, and grew wealthy on the lucrative trade of cocoa, sugar, tobacco – as well as slaves – from Africa to the New World.

By the 18th century the city was suffering from competition, from Liverpool in particular, and with large ships having difficulty reaching the city-centre docks, trade moved to new ports at Avonmouth and Portishead instead. To compensate for the disappearing maritime trade, the city repositioned itself as an industrial centre; Bristol became an important hub for shipbuilding, as well as the terminus for the pioneering Great Western Railway line from London to the southwest. Unfortunately, the city became a target for German bombing during WWII; much of the city centre had been levelled by the time peace was declared in 1945. The postwar rush for reconstruction left Bristol with plenty of concrete carbuncles, but over the last decade or so the city has undergone extensive redevelopment, especially around the dockside.