Municipal Dreams

If a single estate can be taken to encapsulate the social, political and planning history of council housing in this country it is probably Knowle West in Bristol.  You’ll find in it all the hopes and dreams, all the good intentions and unintended consequences, that have marked the complex story of council housing over the last hundred years or so.  And you’ll find families and communities that have lived this story in all its complexity.

Broad Walk, Knowle © Phil Jaggery and made available under a Creative Commons licence Broad Walk, Knowle © Phil Jaggery and made available under a Creative Commons licence

To begin with, let’s cast our eyes a little wider.  In the interwar period, the Bedminster and Knowle Estate was the largest of Bristol’s interwar council schemes.  Building began in 1920. By 1939 the estate as a whole comprised over 6000 council homes and a population of some 28,000.

As we saw in last week’s post, this was the product of three…

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Bristol Culture

Bristol will be getting its first community bike cafe later this year when Roll for the Soul opens in what is currently Cafe Central on Nelson Street. The cafe will double up as a bike workshop; serve Mediterranean and Middle Eastern-inspired food from breakfast through to dinner; sell cycling clothing, gear, art and another assorted paraphernalia; and host cycling events such as film screenings, skill-sharing sessions and talks.

Roll for the Soul logoRoll for the Soul will be opened in partnership with The Bristol Bike Project with a vision to be “a community-focused bike cafe for Bristol… to become the focal point for cycling in the city, celebrating and supporting our unique cycling culture”.

The driving force behind the project is Rob Wall, who has a PhD in transport psychology and was a project manager at Sustrans before leaving last year to commit to Roll for the Soul and also paint bike pictures as

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Graffiti of Bristol

Graffiti of Bristol

Bristol’s people past and present are a fascinating crowd.  This is a city that’s has raised up men, women whose ideas and action have had a significant impact on human history. Mary Blackwell,  the first female general practitioner, lived as a neighbour in Wilson Street to George Muller the evangelist who provided homes for the city’s orphans.  George Whitfield who was a, if not the, prominent leader of the eighteenth century Great Awakening who had audiences with princes and presidents, to graffiti artist Banksy. And there are unsung heroes, like the Landlord of the Seven Stars who shared information with abolitionist Thomas Clarkson about Bristol’s slave trade.

Elizabeth Blackwell

Elizabeth Blackwell

Bristol Culture

At the beginning of 2012, the Council House was the Council House and George Ferguson an architect best-known for wearing red trousers. At the end of 2012, Ferguson is Bristol’s mayor, with his office in City Hall overlooking a re-turfed College Green after the removal of the Occupy Bristol protesters.

Bristol City Hall

So that was the news in Bristol in 2012. But what about the interesting stuff?

It was a year of birthdays for some of Bristol’s best-loved venues. The Hippodrome celebrated its centenary and the Watershed 30 years. Meanwhile, the Old Vic reopened after a £12m refurbishment.

An intriguing new temporary venue was the Big Top @ Creative Common, which hosted everything from film nights to circus shows, and also hosted Damon Albarn and Africa Express, the best gig of 2012.

There were also several goodbyes, including to the Cooler on Park Street, Venue magazine, Bristol Ice Rink, Culinaria

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Bristol has been a centre of commerce and trade since Norman times.  Up till the mid 1700s it was the second busiest port in the country.  The M-Shed conduct regular historical walks.

St Mary Redcliffe With a Checkered Past

When Queen Elizabeth visited in 1574 she said that she considered St Mary Redcliffe, seen in the distance, one the finest parish churches in the nation. Bristol earned a substantial amount of its wealth through the slave trade. We built the ships transporting slaves from Africa to the West Indies, on those ships exported goods to Africa and imported sugar and other products from the plantations of the West Indies.  The houses on the right are built on the site of where those ships were built.  Wilberforce was the member of parliament and Christian who campaigned throughout his life for an end to the Atlantic Slave Trade.  Much of the research into the trade was conducted by his supporters in Bristol.  Twice his Bill was defeated in parliament before it was finally passed in 1805.  Each time it was defeated the bells of St Mary were rung in celebration.

Below the hospital were commercial storage sites serving the docks.

Government’s entering into public private partnerships is not new.  Below the Bristol hospital you can see the storage sheds used by the docks.

Named after the Velindra that sailed the twice daily Cardiff run.

The pub is named after a steam packet ship that twice each day on the high tide would sail to Cardiff from an adjacent jetty on the Avon Cut.  The cut was dug by hand by Irish Navigators (Navies) who had for a generation been providing the labour force building the canal network.  They had switched to the railways and in 1805 completed the Avon Cut.

How long do you imagine it took to change the rail link from Bristol to London from Brunel’s wide gauge to standard gauge around the same era?  One weekend!

A school Built in the 19th century that served Bedminster until recent years.

Until the discovery of coal in 1805 Bedminster was a market gardening community of two to three thousand folks.  As industry blossomed around the River Malago the population exploded to upwards of 80,000 people.  The result was the filth and depravation iconic to the Industrial revolution including two devastating cholera outbreaks.  There were eventually thirteen coal mines, tanneries, paper bag manufacturers and the huge Wills Cigarette factory employing thousands over several generations.  The town sanitation, schooling and parks, were eventually developed to serve the community.

Bedminster’s Prison


Tony Britt was a bundle of fun. A Bristolian with a great sense of the City’s history and a man with a heart for the marginalised, dispossessed, youth and families.  He shared with me wonderful tales of his grandfather who fought in the first and second world wars and the times he spent with him on the road in his heavy haulage lorry.  Tony was born in 1964 and reaches back to Cromwell’s time for the evidence that supports his ideas to improve and serve the people of Bristol.  We had a great time in his local, the Old Stillage near Lawrence Hill Station, where he is definitely the man of the moment.

Luca offered some helpful insights into British culture from a Sicilian who has lived here for 5 years.  He’s a pharmacist and has noticed the UK’s increased use of prescription medicines to combat depression. He reckons it’s to do with the weather and inclination to depend on the material world.  He’s also been struck by the British inclination to binge drinking which he believes may stem from the exceptional demands of our working environment.

Luca has no doubt there is more to life than the merely physical.  He’s was raised a Roman Catholic and sees that all of mankind falls short of ‘the standard’.  He reckons the Christian Gospel makes sense and says that in Sicily there is a saying used for the Priests, ‘do as I say, not as I do’.  Luca was a delight to chat with: open, honest and comfortable thinking through the knotty issue of belief.

Luca’s friends: