Bristol is famous for its significance as a historical British port. The city played a major role in the European discovery of and trade with North America, which included slaves and plantation goods.
Bristol was at the forefront of advancements in aviation technology and co-led the development of the Concord. Many history museums around the world display 18th century Bristol porcelain which led to the discovery of Bristol Blue Glass.
Today, hot air balloons drifting over the spectacular Clifton Suspension Bridge stand as a symbol of Bristol. Children (and adults) all over the world love Aardman’s animation characters of Wallace and Gromit, and graffiti is now a well-paid artform due to Bristol’s most famous resident Banksy.
Let’s dive a little deeper into what Bristol is famous for.
What Role Did Bristol Play in the European Discovery of North America?
At the time of world exploration, Bristol was England’s second largest port but the only English city doing expeditions into the Atlantic.
In 1497, the Italian explorer John Cabot sailed from Bristol on the Matthew looking for a trade route to Asia. Instead, John landed in Newfoundland. History credits him with the European discovery of North America, as Christopher Columbus never landed on the mainland.
Cabot Tower on Bristol’s Brandon Hill commemorates John Cabot; a fantastic place for views over the city. If you want to experience the ship John Cabot used on his famous journey, a true to life replica of the Matthew awaits you in Bristol’s Harbourside.
What Role Did Bristol Play in Slavery?
Most of Bristol’s historic wealth is related to maritime trade. Though not all of Bristol’s trade was related to slavery; slavery did finance a lot of Bristol’s growth in the 18th century. According to the BBC, the King of England granted Bristol the right to trade slaves in 1698. Well placed on the Atlantic, it didn’t take long for the city to become the leading port for the slave trade, until made illegal in England in 1807.
During the peak of the slave trade, Bristol manufactured ships specifically built for the purpose of transporting slaves and participated in “Triangular Trade”. Ships from the Americas and the Caribbean carried plantation crops such as corn, cotton, sugar and tobacco over to Europe. The ships then took rum made from the plantation crops to Africa to trade for people captured for slavery. The ships then transported the slaves to the Americas starting the “Triangle Trade” over.
If you visit Bristol, we highly recommend going to the M Shed museum. They have a sobering archive of accounts from this dark era of the city’s history.
For more on the M Shed museum and other things to do in Bristol, see our post What To Do in Bristol.
What Role Did Bristol Play in Aviation History?
Bristol has over 100 years of aviation history which started with the Bristol Aeroplane Company in 1910. Today, there are still five aviation companies located in Bristol. This includes famous names such as BAE Systems, Airbus and Rolls Royce. Over the century, Bristol’s manufacturers are responsible for multiple aeronautical designs. Its most famous aircraft being the world’s first supersonic passenger airliner, the Concord.
Speaking of supersonic technology, the Bristol built Bloodhound LSR (Land Speed Record) is a land vehicle built with a fighter jet engine and a hybrid rocket. Made to achieve a top speed of over 1,000 mph, the team will attempt to beat the current land record at 763.035 mph in 2022.
Unfortunately, at time of writing, Covid lock-downs have taken a toll on the team’s timelines and funding. They are looking for a new investor in hopes of continuing their mission. So, if you have an extra $8 million lying around, you could have a pretty cool project on your hands.
If you want to learn more about Bristol’s aeronautical history, Aerospace Bristol has many of the locally made planes on display. You can even step inside the world-famous Concord which took its final flight to Bristol in 2003.
Why is Bristol Famous for Porcelain?
In 1748, Benjamin Lund opened Bristol’s first porcelain factory, Lund’s Bristol. The company was famous for its well-made soft-paste porcelain. This type of porcelain was much weaker than its Chinese counterparts, but could withstand boiling water and therefore perfect for making tableware. In 1752, the Worcester Porcelain Company bought out Lund’s Bristol.
In 1770, William Cookworthy moved England’s first producer of hard-paste porcelain, known as Plymouth ware, from Plymouth to Bristol. Richard Champion, shareholder turned owner, transformed the company to specialize in elegant tea and coffee services for aristocrats. Richard later sold the company to Straffordshire in 1780.
Why is Bristol Famous for Blue Glass?
Closely tied to the perfecting of Bristol porcelain is the development of Bristol Blue Glass. The original technique dates to the 18th century but died out in the early 1920’s. James Adlington revived the historical techniques in 1988 when he founded the Bristol Blue Glass company.
Why is the Clifton Suspension Bridge Famous?
The Clifton Suspension Bridge is based on the design of the very famous engineer, Isambard Brunel. Brunel is known for being one of the greatest figurers of the Industrial Revolution, as his designs transformed public transport.
Despite its famous designer, the bridge is most known for its prominent location in the city. Perched high on the Avon Gorge, it is not only beautiful to look at, it delights visitors with spectacular views over the city.
Why is Bristol Famous for Hot Air Balloons?
Bristol’s history with ballooning stretches back to 1967 when the Bristol Gliding Club built the UKs first modern-day hot air balloon, the Bristol Belle.
Today, hot air balloons regularly float over Bristol’s city center and Clifton Suspension Bridge in a parade of color. In addition to the multitude of ballooning companies based in Bristol, the city is home to Cameron Balloons, the world’s largest hot air balloon manufacturer. In August, Europe’s largest annual hot air balloon festival, the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, celebrates the city’s love of the sky.
What Does Wallace and Gromit Have To Do with Bristol?
Wallace and Gromit, along with other clay animation favorites such as Morph, Shaun the Sheep, and Chicken Run are all creations of Aardman Animations. The founders of Aardman, Peter Lord and David Sproxton, moved to Bristol in 1976 and created Morph, their first animation production. From there, the company has grown to win 4 Oscars and produce many animated films.
One of our favorite events in Bristol is the Gromit Unleashed charity campaign. The first was in 2013, 80 beautifully decorated 5-foot statues of Gromit took over the city. Invited to find them all, locals and tourists enjoyed hunting around the city and marking off the designs they found. The auction of the statues raised well over £2 million. The money raised went to Bristol Children’s Hospital.
Since 2013, “Shaun in the City” and “Gromit Unleashed 2” sculpture trails displayed around Bristol in 2015 and 2018 respectively. Today, you can still see many of these lovable characters hidden at businesses throughout the city.
If you are a fan of Aardmans creations or just want to support Bristol Children’s Hospital, pop into the Gromit Unleashed store in The Mall at Cribbs Causeway. The store has a small but fun display of Gromits and other characters.
Is Banksy From Bristol?
Banksy is a well know graffiti artist whose identity remains a mystery to this day. There is a lot of speculation, including a theory that Banksy is not a single individual but rather a group of street artists. As no one is positive on Banksy’s identity, no one can be completely sure where he, she, or they are from. What is known, is that the early street art of the artist began in Bristol in the early 90’s.
The short answer: most Bristolians proudly claim Bansky as their own.
Did you learn something new about why the quirky historical city of Bristol is famous? What did you find most interesting?
Do you have a favorite fact about Bristol not included here? Drop us a line in the comments.