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Published: October 26th 2020
Bristol City Centre
The Well Hung Lover - Banksy
The first time I ever visited Bristol, it was for a job interview. I kept thinking, this is such a long way from home. I never got the job, but in all honesty my heart wasn't in it anyway. I didn't want to live there. The South West was a different world - a better world in many ways - but not my world. I consigned the trip to history and it was a long time before I ventured back. I look around now and think - mistake. What a fabulous city. Bristol has everything.
It was a short and trouble free journey down the M5 from Brinscombe. The weather was fine and the traffic light. We approached from the junction near the giant Cribbs Causeway shopping centre. The suburbs open out on the expanse of Clifton Down high above the city and the Avon Gorge below. The good citizens were making the most of the pleasant late afternoon autumn sunshine and enjoying a stroll on the extensive grasslands. We descended into Clifton, the affluent suburb, where the wealth of this trading city is on open display in the form of property. The forefathers of Bristol have been getting a
lot of abuse recently in the aftermath of the BLM movement and the name of Edward Colston has been specifically targeted for his links to slavery. We know Colston's name because of his philanthropic attitude towards his home city, but when you look at the other houses erected by rich merchants and business people you can assume he was not on his own in his involvement in the slave and tobacco industries. We hunted around for a suitable spot to leave the car for the rest of weekend, outside of restricted residential zones and descended the steep hill to Hotwells and the Travelodge. After an aborted trip to London at the early stages of COVID, we had been sitting on an accommodation voucher that expired at the end of year. In view of the ever increasing reports of further lockdown, it was best used now.
Hotwells links the city centre to Clifton along the harbour side. There has been some serious development in recent years. The waterfront is now a complex of upmarket flats, intermingled with prestige offices and the hospitality industry. We decided to head back up the hill towards the Triangle, in search of more food options
Spike Island, Bristol
The Girl With The Pierced Eardrum - Banksy
in Clifton. This area of Clifton is the base for the older parts of the University and is student central. Albeit, this is the student group who appear to have some affluent parents backing their entertainment aspirations. A kebab after a session in a back street pub is not the order of the day here. The effects of COVID were making themselves felt in the dining sector. The need for social distancing and restrictive table covers, meant queues for walk-ins. We settled into a place, which described the menu as Sri-lankan street food. It was good, if a little overpriced. It certainly wasn't my student experience of a curry - essentially a chicken biryani, that came in mild, medium, hot and Charlie Special variations. Well, I say chicken - that was how it was described, it could have been anything. The early closing time of 10 pm was in force, so the evening soon disappeared and it was time to get our heads down. I suspect that the students carried on at their accommodation.
The morning brought some bright, but chilly weather - ideal for our extensive stroll around the city. A few years ago, we explored the lesser
Wills Memorial Building Tower - Bristol University
sights of Shoreditch in London and some of the street art that adorns local buildings. Bristol may not be the home of street art in the UK, but it is home to possibly the most famous exponent - the mysterious Banksy. Whilst some of his work has been damaged or defaced and others relocated inside museums for safekeeping, some pieces remain in the inner city areas. We walked through a near deserted Harbourside and Millennium Square. A few eateries were open for breakfast and the joggers were on the march in their pursuit of a new post-lockdown body to show off. John Cabot was gazing out into the harbour - or at least his statue was. John Cabot was his anglicised name, as he was an Italian by birth. He arrived in Bristol via Venice, Valencia, Seville and Lisbon. After gaining a Royal commission from Henry VII, his 1497 voyage is widely thought to have been the earliest coastal exploration of coastal North America (at least since the Vikings in the 11th century). On return to England, he received a reward of £10 from Henry for his efforts, which doesn't seem very generous but was estimated to be about 2
John Cabot Statue
years salary. A tower stands on Brandon Hill in the city to mark the 400th anniversary of his achievement. A similar one was constructed simultaneously in St Johns, Newfoundland. We crossed the foot bridge to Wapping Wharf on the other side of the harbour. Today, Wapping Wharf describes itself as a vibrant new community on the hrabour side. It started life as the new docks around 1700, once the old ones were displaced after the construction of Queens Square. It was home to ship building and it was here that Brunel's first steam ship, SS Great Western, was constructed and launched in 1837. The area fronting the water is dominated by the M Shed - the former Industrial Museum - and a series of huge cranes. The M Shed still functions as a museum, but the restrictions of COVID meant that we needed to wait until our allotted pre-booked slot to enter. I had booked on the internet the week before we travelled. We carried on further down the quay. Bristolians were coming to life and patiently waiting in the queue for breakfast at one waterside cafe. The area we were now in is known as Spike Island and it
is here we would find our first Banksy. Banksy is described as a street artist, political activist and film director. The identity of him or her is shrouded in mystery and nobody knows for sure, who lies behind the works. There are some that still adorn walls across the UK and others have sold for serious money. Banksy is alleged to be a native of Bristol, but now resides in London. The first port of call was The Girl With The Pierced Eardrum, a parody of the Girl With A Pearl Earring. The burglar alarm on the side of building is used as the earring. The work has been brought up to date and is seen wearing a face mask. It is also socially distanced from other art. We sped back to the M Shed, skirting the home of the SS Great Britain at the Great Western Dockyard. SS Great Britain was designed by Brunel and for a period in the 1850s was the longest ship in the world. She was the first large iron ship with a screw propeller and was the flagship of the Great Western Steamship Company's transatlantic passenger service from Bristol to New York. The boom
time was short lived and she was sold on, after running aground off the coast of Northern Ireland. Once repaired, SS Great Britain spent the next 30 years taking emigrants to Australia. Her retirement reward was to become a floating warehouse in the Falkland Islands of all places. She was saved from the scrapyard and returned to Bristol by multi-millionaire Jack Heyward. Our slot for the M Shed arrived and we nipped in to see the resident Banksy works - The Grim Reaper and a print called Tesco Value Petrol Bomb. The Grim Repair was formerly on the other side of the water near the Thekla floating entertainment vessel.
It was time to take a break from the street art and we climbed on to the terrace of Mudock, more in hope than expectation. Have you made a reservation? No. The pattern of COVID dining or having a coffee break was becoming repetitive. We were fortunate in securing a table and kicked back in the warming sunshine. Queen Square was next on the agenda. A spectacular Georgian Square today has had a mixed past. Named after Queen Anne, who visited Bristol in 1702, it was once the affluent home
of the top merchants. They later vacated for the better air up the hill and away from the docks in Clifton and the slow road to decline started. Half the buildings in the Square was badly damaged by a riot in 1831 and as recently as 1991, significant numbers were vacant. Today it is a pleasant and attractive place to sit and admire the great buildings. A statue of William III on horseback keeps a watchful eye on proceedings. We walked up Broad Quay - the scene of more recent disturbances, when during the BLM protests the statue of Edward Colston was toppled and rolled towards and into the harbour. The empty plinth remains. A few tourists were curiously studying the stone block and consulting their guide book. They no doubt wondered where the inhabitant had disappeared to and cursed the inaccuracy of their printed material. The name of Colston had also been removed from the "Colston" Tower and the "Colston" Hall will no longer be the named that going forward. I would later notice that the name plates for Colston Street, which runs up towards the hospital, had survived unscathed - at least for the time being. It would
Anchor Road, Bristol
You Don't Need Planning Permission To Build Castles In The Sky - Banksy
seem that there is more debate required and water to go under the bridge on the Colston saga, before Bristol reaches a consensus on the subject. There are some huge street art works covering the high rise blocks leading away from Broad Quay. We nipped through St John's Gate into the oldest area of the city. Broad Street is not particularly wide, but wider than Small Street. The best building nearby is that of the Art Nouveau designed former printworks of Edward Everard. The highly decorative facade was the work of William Naseby, chief designer of the Royal Doulton factory in 1900. The area gives way to the Broadmead shopping development. Our next Banksy was found in the Stokes Croft area, slightly further away from the city centre. The Mild Mild West sits above another work on the wall of a barber shop. Stokes Croft - often apparently referred to as the Peoples Republic of Stokes Croft - is known as the cultural heart of Bristol and is full of a mix of independent shops, cafes and just about every wall is adorned with some form of creative artwork.
After a lunch stop near the splendidly named Christmas Steps,
we were back in the city centre for more Banksy. The City Hall lies on the edge of College Green and fronts on to the impressive Cathedral on the far side. A healthy number of people were having socially distanced picnics or meetings on the Green itself. The City Hall was formerly known as the Council House and dates from 1938 or at least the foundation stone dates from then. World War 2 got in the way though and the building was never formally opened until 1956. The building elegantly curves round the Green in an impressive loop. The names of all 7 twin cities are etched into plaques on the pavement at the entrance. I have never seen a city twinned with anywhere in Mozambique before, so that was a first. Tbilisi in Georgia is also noted, which has long been a prospective destination for a trip. The local Council mandarins were sleeping when Banksy added his Well Hung Lover to the city street scape. A mere 50 metres away on Park Row and literally within sight of the City Hall, Banksy added his perhaps most talked about local work on a nearby wall that intersects with Frogmore Street.
M Shed, Bristol
The Grim Reaper - Banksy
The Well Hung Lover hangs unseen from the window ledge. We climbed back up Park Row, the elegant commercial street, towards the University and the Clifton triangle where we had been the previous evening. The centrepiece of this area and visible from many parts of the city is the Wills Memorial Building. It was commissioned by the Wills tobacco dynasty in memory of Henry Overton Wills III, who was a former Chancellor and benefactor of the institution. The construction was delayed by World War 1 and it was finally finished in 1925. At over 65 metres, the tower is the 3rd tallest structure in Bristol. The alleged connections between the Wills family and the tobacco links to the slave trade has brought the building under scrutiny in recent years. It hasn't to date suffered the same fate as the Colston statue. I can't somehow see the Tower being rolled down the hill towards the harbour quite so easily. The Bristol Museum & Art Gallery is situated within the adjacent building and we used our pre-booked timed ticket to get inside to see the Paint Pot Angel. The statue with a pink paint tin tipped upside down on a statue was
part of a takeover of the Museum by Banksy to add some colour into the usual exhibits. In a top secret operation that moved Banksy from illegal graffiti into the mainstream of legitimate art, he even installed a burned out ice cream van in the entrance and moved works around the building. The public couldn't get enough and queued round the block for hours to take a look.
We had a wander round the rest of the neighbourhood and some of the other fine buildings. The Royal West of England Academy - Bristol's oldest art gallery - was just closing for the day. The gallery had early patrons in Prince Albert and Brunel and the building dates from 1857. The Victoria Rooms across the road is effectively the music department of Bristol University today. I read it was the Bristol Students Union until the mid 1960s. It's interior hosts a 600 seat auditorium. This afternoon, it was home to a group of skateboarders. They were disturbing the peace of the statue of Edward VII out front. We retreated down the hill and took a seat outside the Bag O Nails pub, whilst I sampled a few of their finest
The Mild, Mild West - Banksy
real ale refreshments. The harbour area was flat calm as we strolled back towards our hotel. A group of paddle boarders floated gracefully in the shadow of the SS Great Britain.
The weather had taken a turn for the worse the following morning. Rain was in the air and the clouds hung over the Clifton Suspension Bridge. The Bridge is one of the oldest iron suspension bridges in the world and possibly the top tourist attraction in Bristol. It spans the Avon Gorge from Clifton to Leigh in North Somerset. The project had long been an aspiration for local engineers and the succesful bridge started out as a competition in 1829. Thomas Telford, the organiser, rejected all design ideas put forward and instead championed his own. A second competition was held. This time, Isambard Kingdom Brunel - the same man behind the shipping developments highlighted earlier in the blog - came up with the design. The project ground to a halt with the Bristol riots in 1831 and at the time of his death in 1859, the bridge remained unfinished. The 214 metre structure stands 74 metres above the gorge below and although built for horses and
carts, still supports the heavy Bristol traffic today. The bridge was finally completed in 1864 by William Barlow and John Harkshaw. I have read the two 26 metre towers were supposed not to be identical, but I could not see from our vantage point. We continued our walk round the grand Georgian property of Clifton, which in the main surpasses anything that Bath has to offer. We paused for a coffee, whilst I did my best to distract the Other Half from the shop selling "more cake than you can shake a macaroon at". As the rain began to fall heavily, we cut short our walk and headed north. On the outskirts of Bristol, l filled up the car with fuel. I gazed across at the fancy looking, bright yellow German sportscar refuelling nearby. It was Chris Harris, presenter of BBC Top Gear. He was probably messaging his mates too and telling everybody about who he had seen filling up a small British hatchback. Appendix 1 Banksy "The Hula Hoop Girl" Venue:
Rothesay Avenue, Lenton, Nottingham. NG7 Date:
Tuesday 13th October 2020 Attendance:
A couple of days after our trip
Hula Hoop Girl - Banksy
to Bristol, there was a buzz in the local press about a new piece of street art that had arrived on a wall in the Lenton area of Nottingham. A bicycle with one wheel was locked to a sign post and a girl hula hoops with the other wheel on the adjacent wall. Alas, it wasn't a Rayleigh bike - the factory used to be nearby. There were rumours it was a Banksy, but no confirmation in the normal way. An artist from Birmingham made a claim, but then an instagram post from the main man / woman announced it was a real deal. The City Council rushed to protect the new "attraction" and covered it with a perspex sheet, which was instantly blacked out by a local comedian. Cleaned and restored, a security guard was added to the list of protection. Queues built up down Ilkeston Road, as the people came from far and wide to take photos and view the addition.
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