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.


6 thoughts on “Bristol visit

  1. Thanks for sharing your trip down memory lane, Simon! I have places I’ve not been back to for decades that I’d love to revisit – but I’m a little afraid they’d have changed so much I’d be disappointed!

    • Wow, that was a quick response, Karen! It is disappointing to see how some things had changed, but it’s inevitable. And much remained the same. I was amazed that my old flat was still much as I remembered it. Wonder if the guy on the first floor who kept alsatian dogs is still there. He’d be about 100 now, so probably not. Or the dogs.

  2. Lovely recumbent statues; oh I love the dog !
    I could kick myself when I think of all the things I could have seen/done when I was 20 and didn’t, out of some sort of snobbishness, you know, “heaven forbid I should look like a tourist !”
    I’ve been wondering whether Malcolm Bradbury’s The History Man wasn’t set in Bristol ?

    • Izzy, I read History Man a long time ago; I don’t recall it being Bristol-set. Wikipedia says his academic career was in Manchester, Birmingham and East Anglia (and the US). As for not looking touristy: my first visit to London’s main sights took a visit from young nieces from Scotland to spur me to take a short train ride to show them. The complacency of propinquity…

  3. How lovely! I’ve been back past the flat I lived in with my now-husband in central London a few times but only on the outside of the block, craning upwards to see the windows. I’ve been past the houses I lived in in Birmingham in my previous time here quite a few times, and one of my regular runs is a veritable History Tour Of Liz’s Past Life, which is quite fun.

    • Liz: it’s an interesting experience, isn’t it, to revisit these old haunts. For me it was so long ago it’s almost like a different person lived that life, but of course I also re-experience much of what I felt and lived then. Which is bitter-sweet.

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