A – Z … Bristol: Skeletons in the closet.

I thought Bristol as the next town on my list would be easy, not so. In fact it has been really hard. I have only visited Bristol once as a ‘sightseer’, you know where you spend time actually wandering round and finding things. I did take some good pictures too but as I began to research Bristol I discovered that there are so many things to tell. Bristol has connections dated back as far as Saxon times and was originally known as ‘Bricgstow’. Not difficult to see how the name changed to become Bristol when you know the wonderful local accent. Bristol was believed to have been founded sometime between 577 and 978 AD, I say believed to be founded because  it is not mentioned until a while after documented evidence proves that Bath, Cirencester and Gloucester were involved in a battle that Bristol had no mention in. However Bristol was there in 1063 when Harold Godwinsson had ships commissioned in Bristol to fight a successful battle against the Welsh, you might know him better as King Harold II who perished at the Battle of Hastings only three years later.

The evidence of a bridge across the Avon is captured on a decorative motif on a modern building, the old bridge was taken down in 1761 so that a new bigger one could be built on the same foundations.

      The photo on the left is of Christmas Steps and a plaque on the wall there states that the steps were finished in 1669, before they were built it would have been a steep muddy path. I have read about ghosts haunting some of the shops there and I feel sure that the fish and chip shop that has been there for over 300 years now could well be one of the building that might well have a spook or two.

There are so many other brilliant buildings to see each with a long history and story to go with it but there is another kind of history that Bristol is famous for and a history that was the reason for so much of the lavish architecture. Georgian England saw a many buildings being built as a result of the successful trading of the time. Sugar and tobacco imports were a big part of Bristol’s success but  by the 18th century, that success also rode on the back 0f slaves from Africa and the Americas. It was from slave trading that wealthy merchants built many of the grand buildings that can be seen around the city today. I have included a couple of links on the history of Bristol for those interested but I want to look at one historic building in particular and for a very special reason.

The Georgian House is situated in Great George Street and, now belonging to the City Council, has been renovated and furnished in the style that it would have been in John Pinney’s time. There is a lot of information on the Pinneys and indeed the slave trade so I am not going to include any here apart from to say that I am delighted to say that John Pinney was a reasonable master compared to some. The story of his slave, Pero, can be read in the book of the same name. ‘Pero… The Life of a Slave in 18th Century Bristol’ by Christine Eicklemann and David Small ( ISBN -1 904537 03 0  ) is well worth a read and at the back of the book shows a picture of another piece of architecture, Pero’s Bridge. The bridge was named after the slave Pero in 1999, many years after his death as a free man at the age of 45. Today pero’s Bridge represents the music the slaves brought with them , symbolised by the great horns used as a balance so that the bridge can be raised for ships to pass, and most of all to remind us that ‘not a brick in the City but what is cemented with the blood of a slave.’ (http://www.uclan.ac.uk/ahss/journalism_media_communication/literature_culture/abolition/peros_bridge.php)

I mentioned earlier that I was pleased that John Pinney was a reasonable master for one particular reason. That reason also explains my title ‘Skeletons in the Closet’. John Pinney is a direct ancestor of mine. My great grandmother was Agatha Louisa Pinney. I was appalled when I first found out that I was related to someone who was involved in the barbaric slave trading, it took me a long time to accept that John Pinney was just one of the traders in England and it was a fairly widespread practice but I still feel that part of my ancestry is nothing to be proud of.

On the note of skeletons, there is another story my mother delights in talking about and it does involve a skeleton. At Bettiscombe Manor there is skull, reported to be that of a slave that died in this country. His master, Azariah Pinney, promised he would honour the wishes of his dying servant and return his body to his native country. When he didn’t problems arose with the skeleton…. The link below will tell the true story… well, and the result of modern research. See what you think.

Bristol is a fascinating City, with plenty to see and do and the one day I spent there just didn’t do it justice but the I hope the little I found out, along with the family history of course, will encourage you to look at the links and learn more about this amazing place and its origin.







7 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Some nice stories about Bristol. I have only been there once myself but always think of it as a place that I should go again. I like this A to Z idea and I am preparing one for my favourite place Greece, but I will be using the Greek alphabet and this is presenting me with some unexpected difficulties! I look forward to C!

    • 2

      wordangell said,

      Thank you for commenting on my blog, isn’t it a great idea! I love doing the research too, sounds like your Greece will equally interesting, the Greek alphabet? wow, I wouldn’t know where to start. I must take a look. M

  2. 3

    I’ve always wanted to visit Bristol, even more so now. I love the idea of a haunted chippy 🙂

    • 4

      wordangell said,

      Thank you for reading my blog Julie… The picture of the medieval building that comes up with the other step picture is the chippy..it is at the bottom of the steps.Loving this research, a brilliant idea.. thank you.. Marie

  3. 5

    Reblogged this on My Global A-Z and commented:
    I never realized Bristol was so historic!
    PoP across to WordAngell’s blog, but before you go please don’t forget to paste your latest A-Z link in the comments below!

  4. 6

    restlessjo said,

    Have friends who’ve lived in Bristol for many years but I’ve only visited once. It looks a cracking place.

  5. 7

    wordangell said,

    I have only visited once Jo but my son lives there when he isn’t here. The fact I have ancestral connections made it really interesting to research. I must admit there were some really lovely buildings there. Taught me to find out where I am visiting before I go there next time.. M

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