Last weekend Mrs TD and I spent in Bristol, where I’d been an undergraduate many years ago. Our hotel was in the city centre, next to the cathedral, so on our first morning, Saturday, we went inside. To my shame I don’t think in my three years there as a young man I ever entered it.
It was founded as an Augustinian Abbey in the twelfth century, and traces of this original building can be seen today. There’s a fine Chapter House with intricately carved walls.
The east end, according to the guide leaflet a kind lady gave me, is one of the world’s finest examples of a medieval ‘hall church’: the vaulted ceilings in the nave, choir and aisles are all the same height, creating a lofty, light space with a series of elegant arches.
Henry VIII began to dissolve the monastic houses in 1532 for reasons too well known to go into here, and the abbey church became a cathedral in 1542, but the incomplete nave wasn’t finished until the 1860s.
As a medievalist I was particularly interested in the carvings in the side chapels, dating from the 13C, and the tombs of the abbots, 15-16C.
I liked the touches of decoration around the peacefully reposing figures of the abbots: peasant-like heads, solicitous cherubs straining like Lilliputians to levitate the giant figure; a snoozing dog…
There’s a lovely tranquil garden outside, where pigeons pick among ancient tombs and flower beds.
We left to walk up Park Street, now unrecognisable from how it was in my days there: no George’s bookshop or student-thronged tearoom whose name I forget.
I did go in a charity shop and bought three books: more on that another time.
Then into Clifton and a pilgrimage to my former flat. I’d thought last time I was there a few years ago the whole terrace had been gentrified, but this time I looked more closely, and my building is as shabbily elegant as it was when I lived there. Even my top floor window looked to have the same sash window that needed propping open with a piece of wood.
We had no bathroom or hot water; I’d go to the SU building round the corner to shower and swim.
I felt a hankering to live there again, but a look in estate agents’ windows and at websites confirmed that it’s way out of my price range.
But it’s good to revisit these places that are so full of memories.