Today’s mission was to discover a sample of the urban archaeology of Bristol.

Bristol Cathedral

Location: ST 583 726

The tour began outside the cathedral, originally founded as an Augustinian Abbey by Robert Fitzhardinge in 1140.

Bristol Cathedral

Bristol Cathedral (copyright Author)

Saxon stone from Bristol Cathedral

Saxon stone from Bristol Cathedral (copyright Author)

This was found under the Norman chapterhouse in 1831 and is said to represent the harrowing of hell. It may have been a gravemarker. It is dated to the first half of the 11th Century (from information on Pastscape).

When King Henry VIII dissolved the Abbey, it became a Cathedral, and with it, Bristol became a city and a diocese in its own right (it had previously come under the diocese of Worcester).

Across the way from the Western end of the Cathedral, is the Abbey Gatehouse with its Norman Arch and 15th Century upper storey.

Abbey Gatehouse (copyright Author)

Further reading about Bristol Cathedral

Bristol’s Maritime History

The City of Bristol is at the meeting point of two important rivers: the Bristol Avon and the Frome. The name Bristol is supposedly from the Saxon ‘Brygc Stow’ – the place by the bridge. The way that the two rivers provided an encirclement of land gave great defensive potential to the site. Rivers also meant trade and Bristol soon became a busy port. In face, Bristol became so successful that an enlargement of the port was necessary, and in 1248 work was finished on a diversion of the River Frome through the marshland owned by the Abbey, to form St Augustine’s Reach where the Frome now met the Avon.


Bristol Castle in the time of John Earl of Mortain

Bristol Castle in the time of John Earl of Mortain (scanned from JF Nicholls and John Taylor, Bristol Past and Present (Bristol: Arrowsmith, 1882) Public Domain)

The above image, from Wikimedia Commons, shows the original path of the Frome and how the original city was bounded by its path. The current St Stephen’s Street is where the Frome flowed South to the Avon.


Selection from Map of Bristol in 1480

Selection from Map of Bristol in 1480 (scanned from JF Nicholls and John Taylor, Bristol Past and Present (Bristol: Arrowsmith, 1882) Public Domain)

Much later, in the 19th Century, further work was needed on the port facilities as the tidal river caused ships to ground. Up to this point, not much investment had happened to improve the port facilities and trade was gradually drifting to other, better-equipped ports such as Liverpool. Bristol’s solution to the tidal river was a floating harbour.

Mediaeval Bristol

The mediaeval city was bounded by walls, with gates and four churches within gates. Only one of these churches survives today: St John the Baptist (ST58644 73206).

St John the Baptist Church

St John the Baptist Church (copyright Author)

Temple Church

Location: ST 59343 72735

The present, ruined, church known as Temple Church is on the site of a church built by the Knights Templar on land granted by Robert of Gloucester. There is no trace of the original ground plan but it was of the circular form peculiar to churches of the Knights Templar. The image below shows the Temple Church at the Inns of Court in London, which is what the original church may have looked like. The designs are based on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

The Temple in London

Temple Church in London (Copyright Author)

The current Temple Church was bombed during World War 2 and is now just a shell, but what remains dates back to the 14th Century with some renovations in the 18th and 19th Centuries. The leaning tower has leaned since it was first begun in 1441, and the third (actually vertical) section of the tower was completed in around 1460.

Temple Church, Bristol

Temple Church, Bristol (copyright Author)

Further Reading

Written on October 3rd, 2010 , Certificate Year One, Field Trip Tags: ,

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Notes from a field