Saturday, September 10th 2011
Today we return to London. As usual, I have mixed feelings about this, on one hand feeling sorry the holiday is over and on the other looking forward to being back in London again and being reunited with the feline member of the family, Freya. We had breakfast in the room, finished our last-minute packing and went downstairs to check out of the hotel. We left our bags with them for later collection and set out for a last look around Bristol.
We explored a few corners of town not yet visited, and took a look at the Odeon cinema to which Tigger has a not-so-sentimental connection, having once worked for Odeon – or “Odious”, as it was called informally by its employees for reasons I won’t trouble you with.
We took a turn inside The Galleries, the big shopping centre in Broadmead. There is a sort of horrid fascination to these places, though I don’t quite know what. Perhaps one instinctively feels one will discover a bargain or some unique shopping experience. One never does, of course, just the usual outlets that are to be found everywhere else.
However, this plaque aroused some interest, noting that this is the site of the notorious Newgate Prison and recalling scandals in the person of the poet and playwright Richard Savage who died in this jail where he was sent for debt. The turbulent life of Savage is too complicated to retell here but an account of it will be found in the Wikipedia article, Richard Savage.
We stopped off for coffee at this branch of Caffè Nero, which we patronized a couple of times while in Bristol, finding the staff pleasant and the place not too crowded.
We visited St Peter’s Church, gutted by bombing in 1940 and now just a shell. Built in the 15th century but with parts dating back to the 12th, St Peter’s escaped demolition by Parliamentary forces in the 17th century, only to fall victim to airborne destruction in the 20th.
It is one thing to see a church or abbey that has fallen into ruin as a result of disuse and neglect and quite another to see such damage inflicted knowingly and with malice aforethought, an eloquent testimony to the human inability to solve disputes without recourse to violence.
St Peter’s will not be rebuilt. It will remain as a ruin, albeit stabilized, a memorial to those who suffered and died in war and the damage inflicted on the beautiful city of Bristol that, though remembering its losses, has triumphantly overcome them to become the vibrant community that it is today.
Here too we find another echo of that turbulent and mysterious poet, Richard Savage. Having died in prison, completely destitute , he would have been laid in a pauper’s grave but was buried here at the expense of the gaoler.
St Peter’s stands in what is now Castle Park and next to it is a garden with a slightly strange water feature. We walked through the park and then took a bus to Blackboy Hill. It is said that the name comes from a coaching inn, the Black Boy, that once stood upon the hill and was demolished to make way for road widening in 1874, though other theories have been proposed.
We went to Blackboy Hill hoping to have lunch in a branch of Café Rouge that we had visited before and had been pleased with. This occasion was not so happy, however, as they were seriously understaffed with only two waiters on duty. The food was lack-lustre, being obviously pre-cooked and micro-waved – not the best way to serve something you call Cheese Soufflé.
Blackboy Hill is the upper part of Whiteladies Road, itself named after a grand house that once stood hereabouts. At the lower end we find the grandiose Victoria Rooms. Building began on May 24th 1838, Queen Victoria’s 19th birthday. The architect was Charles Dyer. It was to be a concert hall, ballroom and public meeting-place. Similar venues are to be found in other towns, dating from the same period.
The building is Classical in design and decorated with mythological figures and scenes. It is flanked by this pair of very imperial lions, though I think these must have been added later, probably at the same time as the fountain.
The elaborate – one might almost say flamboyant – fountain was added in 1912 and was designed by Edwin Rickards and Henry Poole, well known in the Edwardian era.
The elaborately robed King Edward VII looks down upon the scene with a somewhat aloof expression, slightly bemused, it seems to me. Perhaps he is not sure that he altogether approves of those naked figures cavorting in the water.
My favourite element is this turtle emerging wetly from the water onto the simulated rock. It is a lifelike detail among the allegory and curlicues.
Slow service at Café Rouge had made us nervous about the time, so we hurried back to the hotel to claim our bags and then sped to the station. The train was in the platform but we were not allowed to board while they "readied" it (collected up the rubbish and old newspapers). When the doors opened, there was a predictable rush for seats but we secured two "priority seats" with plenty of leg room.
Thus ended our sojourn in Bristol and our explorations of the surrounding area. It had been fun and it had been instructive. The weather had been kind on the whole and had not restricted our movements. We remain as fond of Bristol as ever and I am sure we shall return again in the future.