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Bristol Curiosities Trail

Bristol Walk

County/Area - Bristol

Author - Bristol Tourism & Conference Bureau

Length - 1.5 miles / 2.4 km    

Ascent - nominal or unknown

Time - 0 hours 50 minutes    Grade - easy

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Ordnance Survey Explorer 155Sheet Map1:25kBUY
Anquet OS Explorer 155Digital Map1:25kBUY

Walk Route Description

Photo from the walk - Bristol Curiosities Trail
Click image to visit gallery of 2 images.

1. Begin at St Nicholas Church on St Nicholas Street, (not open to the public), site of a strange annual ceremony. John Whitson, a wealthy Bristolian, died in 1629 leaving some of his wealth for the foundation of a girls school. The Red Maids School, so called because of the colour of the pupils' dresses, still exists. Once a year, pupils remember their former founder by holding a candlelit service in front of an effigy of John Whitson in the church's medieval crypt. The pupils then proceed to Bristol Cathedral clad in their red uniforms. On leaving the church, turn left down St Nicholas Street.

2. On the right is the Queen Victoria Fountain erected in 1859 to commemorate Queen Victoria's fortieth birthday. Pause before turning right into the alley just past the fountain. Look up to spot the mysterious Veiled Lady sculpture and the brightly coloured Elephant pub next door. The Veiled Lady is supposedly the builder's signature, but who she was nobody knows. A history of the pub is on the wall. Continue down the alley until reaching Corn Street, and then turn right.

3. Four brass Nails stand outside what used to be the Bristol Exchange. Merchants would strike one of the Nails when a deal was completed, hence the expression, "to pay on the Nail". On the left is the Lloyds building. Built in 1857, it is based on the Library of St Marks, Venice. Turn right into the next alley.

4. All Saints Church is supposed to be haunted by a black monk who hid church treasures from officers of Henry VIII at the time of the Dissolution. These treasures have never been found, and their ghostly guardian remains on vigil. Please note that the church is closed at weekends. Return to Corn Street, turn right and then left into Broad Street.

5. On the corner of Broad Street look up to spot the Quarter Jacks of Christ Church which still ring out the quarter hour. Carved in 1728, the Jacks were made for an earlier church, which stood on this site. Walk down Broad Street.

6. The old Bristol Guildhall on the left is the site of one of Judge Jeffreys' Bloody Assizes, held after the Monmouth rebellion of 1685. Six people were hanged and Judge Jeffreys called the Bristol rebels "mere sons of dunghills".

7. Further down on the right, and totally unique to Bristol, is the Edward Everard building, built in 1900-1 to house the printing works of Edward Everard. The figures on the Art Nouveau facade are of Gutenburg, who invented a printing process in the 15th century and William Morris, the artist, who in the 19th century helped to revive fine printing. The winged figure symbolises the Spirit of Light, while the figure holding the lamp and mirror symbolises light and truth.

8. Straight ahead, and part of the old city wall, is St John's Gate. On either side are the figures of Brennus and Belinus, legendary founders of Bristol. The Romans were said to have called Bristol Caer Bren, or the City of Brennus. Note the portcullis grooves. Queen Elizabeth I entered the city through this gate in 1574. On leaving St John's Gate turn right.

9. St John's Conduit is 50 metres away. In the Middle Ages, a conduit was established to supply water from Brandon Hill to a Carmelite friary, and the parishioners of St John were allowed to use the overflow from the system. This water supply was a godsend to the people of Bristol in the Second World War when bombs had destroyed much of the city's piping. Turn back towards St John's Gate and walk down Christmas Street opposite. Cross both main roads at the pedestrian crossings and turn left at the statue of the cloaked horseman. Follow the sign to Christmas Steps. Walk up the steps.

10. This thoroughfare was completed in 1669 and replaced a very steep and muddy path to the gallows at the top of St Michael's Hill; note the plaque at the top left which gives a history of the steps. At the very top of the steps turn left.

11. A few metres away is the Chapel of the Three Kings of Cologne. Built in 1504 for the merchant John Foster, this dedication to the Three Kings is believed to be unique in Britain. John Foster traded with Cologne and the dedication may have been copied from Cologne Cathedral. Adjacent to the chapel is the Foster's Almshouses also founded by John Foster. The Almshouses housed thirteen men and thirteen women and were rebuilt in the present French style in the 19th century. Continue on down the hill and turn left into Zed Alley, cross over the street and continue down steps to return to the centre. After 1240, all of this area was harbour, and the name of the Church on the right, St Mary on the Quay, was accurate. Re-cross the main roads at the pedestrian lights on the left.

12. Note the strange green pillar-box to the left after crossing the road. Inside are steps leading down to the River Frome which runs for over 1.5 kilometres underneath the streets of Bristol. The river escapes at flood just in front of Neptune's statue on the Centre. Pass the White Lion Hotel and turn left into St Stephen's Street. Take the alley on the right to pass the church grounds.

13. St Stephen's Church is the burial place of Edmund Blanket, a 14th century inhabitant of Bristol and the supposed inventor of the blanket. Turn left down St Stephen's Avenue and continue to Baldwin Street. Turn left and cross at the lights to turn down Queen Charlotte Street on the right. Follow the route and pause at King Street.

14. The Llandoger Trow on the left is the model for the Admiral Benbow in Treasure Island and is said to be haunted. Walk up historic King Street.

15. The Theatre Royal is not only Britain's oldest working theatre, it is reputed to have two ghosts; either the famous actress Sarah Siddens or Sarah Macready, the widow of a manager of the theatre who appears as a lady in black, and a ghost called Richard, killed by an accident at the theatre and who moves objects around the theatre's paint shop. Turn Left into King William Avenue and cross Queen Square passing the equestrian statue of King William III to proceed to the far corner of the square.

16. Queen Square was the first large square to be laid out in Bristol. A plaque at Number 33-35 marks where Captain Woodes Rogers' house once stood. Woodes Rogers, a Bristol privateer on an expedition to the South Seas in the early 18th century, discovered castaway Alexander Selkirk. Selkirk was brought to Bristol where he became a national celebrity and inspired Daniel Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe. In the 18th century, many bawdy houses could be found in this area. One poor 'lady of the night' was chased through the streets, assaulted, bundled into a sack and thrown in the water. Her body was discovered the next day, on the riverbank. The Hole in the Wall public house is reputedly the Spyglass from Treasure Island. Cross over Redcliffe Bridge and bear right at the roundabout.

17. Note the sign marking the Quaker burial ground. At this point you are walking over the Redcliffe Caves. Closed to the public, the caves used to be storerooms, and fine sand excavated from the caves was used for glass making and ship's ballast. The full extent of the caves remains unknown, and there are many old smuggler tales of hidden caves and booty. Cross the dual carriageway at the pedestrian crossing.

18. Queen Elizabeth I called St Mary Redcliffe Church "the fairest, goodliest and most famous parish church". She was far less kind to the women of Bristol, saying to the Mayor "Good Lord master Mayor, how plain the women of Bristol be!" She pitied their plain looks so much that they were granted the right to hang their washing on Brandon Hill in perpetuity. St Mary Redcliffe has many interesting curiosities. In 1941 a bomb hit a tram line with such force that a piece of rail flew through the air and became embedded in the turf of the churchyard where it remains today. The churchyard contains a gravestone to 'The Church Cat', a very musical animal who loved to sit on the organist's knee and listen to his playing. The interior of the church has its own curiosities, including a whale bone reputedly brought back to Bristol by the explorer John Cabot. Cross Redcliffe Way turn right passing the former home of the boy poet Thomas Chatterton. Turn left into Victoria Street and cross the road to reach Temple Church on the right.

19. Temple Church tower leans at a precarious angle and has done so since the 14th century. The army, clearing World War II bomb damage wanted to pull the tower down thinking that a bomb had caused the lean. Only the entreaties of citizens saved this famous landmark. Walk down Temple Street, turn right at the brewery and walk across the bridge.

20. The strange grey tower that can be seen on the right is a Shot Tower. In 1782, William Watts perfected the manufacture of lead shot by pouring molten lead from a great height into water. Take the stairs on the left and follow the waterside walkway to Castle Park.

21. Castle Park occupies the site of Bristol Castle, demolished on the orders of Oliver Cromwell. The park today contains many interesting works of art and a charming herb garden. Follow the waterway path back towards St Nicholas Church. Just before crossing the road a small obelisk can be seen on the right in front of the Norwich Union Building. This marks the staircase to some of the medieval cellars which riddle the city centre. On the Baldwin Street side of St Nicholas Church is a unique clock. The clock has a second hand and is the only public clock in England with this device.

Further information about walks can be obtained from Bristol Tourist Information Centre on 0117 926 0767 who are located at Wildscreen Walk, The Harbourside, Bristol (by the Explore-at-Bristol building)

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