Bristol visit

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.

Bristol cathedral

The rose window in the west end of the nave

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.

The altar

The altar

 

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.

Abbot's tomb

Abbot’s tomb

Abbot's tomb with decorative head

 

 

 

 

 

Abbot's tomb

Abbot's tomb with dog

Abbot’s dog lies curled at his feet. Not a sign that he’s been on a crusade.

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.

 

 

 

Detail of a head

Detail of a head of a woman in the archway above a tomb

Student flat

I lived here for two years on the top floor.

 

Asides: Bristol Templars

Mrs TD and I went to Bristol on Saturday to help family celebrate our granddaughter’s ninth birthday. She likes unicorns and Littlest Petshop.

Bristol Temple churchWe discovered across the road from our city centre hotel a lovely green space called Temple Gardens – I wondered why it had that name. At the far end was a ruined church – bare ruined choirs. Walls and ends more or less intact, in what looks like Perpendicular style, but roof gone.

According to the plaque outside, this church was built in the 15C on the site of a round church built by the Knights Templar in the 12C, taken over by the Knights Hospitaller in the early 14C. So that accounts for the name of the gardens – and existing church ruin.

Ruins of circular churchWhen I peered through the locked iron gate that barred entry to the building, I could see the stone foundations of the pillars that would originally have supported the original circular nave, right in the centre of the later medieval one.

The Luftwaffe had destroyed the church during the Bristol blitz of 1940 (which also took out much of the city centre, now replaced by 1960s brutalism and subsequent temples to consumerism). When the rubble of the church was being cleared these ancient circular foundations were revealed – a happy outcome for what seemed a disaster. Wikipedia has a different story, saying it was excavated in 1960.

Temple gardens

View from outside the church towards the hotel. Shame about the litter bin

The later church has at its west end a leaning tower, apparently built out of true perpendicular from the outset – probably because of subsidence in the clay on which it was built.

The gardens are serene and lovely, right in the bustling city centre.

I’d been an undergraduate in Bristol many years ago, and never knew this place existed. I said as much to Mrs TD; two ladies nearby turned to me, and one of them said she’d lived in Bristol 20 years and didn’t know it was here!

Temple gardensMaybe more on this trip next time.

Temple church

19C archway and the west tower, seen from the main road outside the gardens. Garbled mix of more modern architecture jostles garishly beside it, incongruously mundane