Bristol, a city, county of a city, municipal, county and parliamentary borough, and seaport of England, chiefly in Gloucestershire but partly in Somersetshire, 118&FRAC12; m. W. of London. Pop. (1901) 328,945. The Avon, here forming the boundary between Gloucestershire and Somerset, though entering the estuary of the Severn (Bristol Channel) only 8 m. below the city, is here confined between considerable hills, with a narrow valley-floor on which the nucleus of the city rests. Between Bristol and the Channel the valley becomes a gorge, crossed at a single stride by the famous Clifton Suspension Bridge. Above Bristol the hills again close in at Keynsham, so that the city lies in a basin-like hollow some 4 m. in diameter, and extends up the heights to the north. The Great Western railway, striking into the Avon valley near Bath, serves Bristol from London, connects it with South Wales by the Severn tunnel, and with the southern and south-western counties of England. Local lines of this company encircle the city on the north and the south, serving the outports of Avonmouth and Portishead on the Bristol Channel. A trunk line of the Midland railway connects Bristol with the north of England by way of Gloucester, Worcester, Birmingham and Derby. Both companies use the central station, Temple Meads.
The nucleus of Bristol lies to the north of the river. The business centre is in the district traversed by Broad Street, High Street, Wine Street and Corn Street, which radiate from a centre close to the Floating Harbour. To the south of this centre, connected with it by Bristol Bridge, an island is formed between the Floating Harbour and the New Course of the Avon, and here are Temple Meads station, above Victoria Street, two of the finest churches (the Temple and St Mary Redcliffe) the general hospital and other public buildings. Immediately above the bridge the little river Frome joins the Avon. Owing to the nature of the site the streets are irregular; in the inner part of the city they are generally narrow, and sometimes, with their ancient gabled houses, extremely picturesque. The principal suburbs surround the city to the west, north and east.
In the centre of Bristol a remarkable collection of architectural antiquities is found, principally ecclesiastical. This the city owes mainly to a few great baronial families, such as the earls of Gloucester and the Berkeleys, in its early history, and to a few great merchants, the Canyngs, Shipwards and Framptons, in its later career. The see of Bristol, founded by Henry VIII. in 1542, was united to that of Gloucester in 1836; but again separated in 1896. The diocese includes parts of Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, and a small but populous Cathedral. portion of Somerset. The cathedral, standing above the so-called Canons' Marsh which borders the Floating Harbour, is pleasantly situated on the south side of College Green. It has two western towers and a central tower, nave, short transepts, choir with aisles, an eastern Lady chapel and other chapels; and on the south, a chapter-house and cloister court. The nave is modern (by Street, 1877), imitating the choir of the 14th century, with its curious skeleton-vaulting in the aisles.
Besides the canopied tombs of the Berkeleys with their effigies in chain mail, and similarly fine tombs of the crosiered abbots, there are memorials to Bishop Butler, to Sterne's Eliza (Elizabeth Draper), and to Lady Hesketh (the friend of Cowper), who are all interred here. There is also here William Mason's fine epitaph to his wife (d. 1767), beginning "Take, holy earth, all that my soul holds dear." Of Fitz-Harding's abbey of St Augustine, founded in 1142 (of which the present cathedral was the church), the stately entrance gateway, with its sculptured mouldings, remains hardly injured. The abbot's gateway, the vestibule to the chapter-house, and the chapter-house itself, which is carved with Byzantine exuberance of decoration, and acknowledged to be one of the finest Norman chambers in Europe, are also perfect. On the north side of College Green is the small but ornate Mayor's chapel (originally St Mark's), devoted to the services of the mayor and corporation. It is mainly Decorated and Perpendicular. Of the churches within the centre of the city, the following are found within a radius of half-a-mile from Bristol Bridge. St Stephen's church, built between 1450 and 1490, is a dignified structure, chiefly interesting for its fan-traceried porch and stately tower.
It was built entirely by the munificence of John Shipward, a wealthy merchant. The tower and spire of St John's (15th century) stand on one of the gateways of the city. This church is a parallelogram, without east or west windows or aisles, and is built upon a fine groined crypt. St James's church, the burial place of its founder, Robert, earl of Gloucester, dates from 1130, and fine Norman work remains in the nave. The tower is of the 14th century. St Philip's has an Early English tower, but its external walls and windows are for the most part debased Perpendicular. Robert FitzHamon's Norman tower of St Peter, the oldest church tower in Bristol, still presents its massive square to the eye. This church stands in Castle Street, which commemorates the castle of Robert, earl of Gloucester, the walls of which were 25 ft. thick at the base. Nothing remains of this foundation, but there still exist some walls and vaults of the later stronghold, including a fine Early English cell. Adjacent to the church is St Peter's hospital, a picturesque gabled building of Jacobean and earlier date, with a fine court room. St Mary le Port and St Augustine the Less are churches of the Perpendicular era, and not the richest specimens of their kind.
St Nicholas church is modern, on a crypt of the date 1503, and earlier. On the island south of the Floating Harbour are two of the most interesting churches in the city. Temple church, with its leaning tower, 5 ft. off the perpendicular, retains nothing of the Templars' period, but is a fine building of the Decorated and Perpendicular periods. The church of St Mary Redcliffe, for grandeur of proportion and elaboration of design and finish, is the first ecclesiastical building in Bristol, and takes high rank among the parish churches of England. It was built for the most part in the latter part of the 14th century by William Canyng or Canynges (q.v.), but the sculptured north porch is externally Decorated, and internally Early English. The fine tower is also Decorated, on an Early English base. The spire, Decorated in style, is modern. Among numerous monuments is that of Admiral Penn (d. 1718), the father of the founder of Pennsylvania. The church exhibits the rare feature of transeptal aisles. Of St Thomas's, in the vicinity, only the tower (15th century) remains of the old structures.
All Hallows church has a modern Italian campanile, but is in the main of the 15th century, with the retention of four Norman piers in the nave; and is interesting from its connexion with the ancient gild of calendars, whose office it was "to convert Jews, instruct youths," and keep the archives of the town. Theirs was the first free library in the city, possibly in England. The records of the church contain a singularly picturesque representation of the ancient customs of the fraternity.
Among conventual remains, besides those already mentioned, there exist of the Dominican priory the Early English refectory and dormitory, the latter comprising a row of fifteen original windows and an oak roof of the same date; and of St Bartholomew's hospital there is a double arch, with intervening arcades, also Early English. These, with the small chapel of the Three Kings of Cologne, Holy Trinity Hospital, both Perpendicular, and the remains of the house of the Augustinian canons attached to the cathedral, comprise the whole of the monastic relics.
There are many good specimens of ancient domestic architecture - notably some arches of a grand Norman hall and some Tudor windows of Colston's house, Small Street; and Canyng's house, with good Perpendicular oak roof. Of buildings to which historic interest attaches, there are the Merchant Venturers' almshouses (1699), adjoining their hall. This gild was established in the 16th century. A small house near St Mary Redcliffe was the school where the poet Chatterton received his education. His memorial is in the churchyard of St Mary, and in the church a chest contains the records among which he claimed to have discovered some of the manuscripts which were in reality his own. A house in Wine Street was the birthplace of the poet-laureate Robert Southey (1744).