Bristol, city and unitary authority (1991 pop. 370,300), SW England, at the confluence of the Avon and Frome rivers. Bristol, a leading international port, has extensive facilities, including docks at Avonmouth, Portishead, and Royal Portbury. It is a transportation hub and is a financial services center. General and nuclear engineering and the design and manufacture of aircraft are the largest industries. The Concorde, the former Franco-British supersonic airliner, was built in Bristol. Others industries include flour milling, printing, and the manufacture of paper, footwear, and tobacco products.
Points of interest in Bristol include the 14th-century church of St. Mary Redcliffe, known for its fine architecture; a 14th-century cathedral (rebuilt 1868–88) with a Norman chapter house and gateway; the Merchant Venturers' Almshouses; University Tower; and some notable examples of Regency architecture. The Clifton suspension bridge, spanning the Avon and the scenic Avon Gorge, connects Bristol with Leighwoods. Bristol has a famous university.
Bristol has been a trading center since the 12th cent. First chartered as a city in 1155, it became a separate county by order of Edward III in 1373, the first provincial town to receive this honor, and it remains a ceremonial county under the Lieutenancies Act. During the reign of Edward III the manufacture of woolen cloth was developed. The cloth was exported chiefly to Ireland, Spain, and Portugal. From Bristol the explorers John Cabot and his son Sebastian (to whom there is a monument on Brandon Hill) sailed to Newfoundland and America. In the 18th cent. Bristol was active in the colonial triangular trade: English goods went to Africa; African slaves to the West Indies; and West Indian sugar, rum, and tobacco to Bristol. The Great Western (1838), one of the first transatlantic steamships, and the Great Britain (1845) the first ocean steamship with a screw propeller, were launched from Bristol.
The port declined during the late 18th and early 19th cent. because of competition from Liverpool, the end of slave trading, and the decline of the West Indian trade. It revived in the mid-19th cent. The city was heavily damaged during World War II. The poets Thomas Chatterton and Robert Southey were born there.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.