Discover the story of the 'ornament of Bristol' and the people who built, maintain and treasure it. Explore the history of the ‘first love’ of engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel through an award winning exhibition packed with family activities and staffed by knowledgeable volunteers. Free public tours are held at 3pm Saturday, Sunday and bank holiday from Easter to October. Ticketed tours of the ‘secret’ vaults inside the Leigh Woods abutment must be booked in advance.
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About the area
The Anglo-Saxon settlement at Bristol grew up around the bridge and harbour on the River Avon. With access to the sea, it increased in importance. Isambard Kingdom Brunel, whose London—Bristol railway line terminated in his gothic-style station of Temple Meads, had long been involved with Bristol. He had remodelled the docks in 1830, and six years later designed the Clifton Suspension Bridge over the 250-foot (76m) deep Avon Gorge.
During the bombing raids of World War II many churches and historic houses were lost. Fortunately, the finest parish church in England, St Mary Redcliffe, with its 292-foot (89m) spire, survived, although traffic now swirls all around it. Bristol Cathedral was founded as an Augustinian abbey in the 1140s and became a cathedral in1542. The Norman chapter house is particularly fine. There is almost too much to see in Bristol: other gems include Wills Tower, John Wood’s Corn Exchange, the Coopers’ Hall by William Halfpenny, the Grotto at Goldney House in Clifton, the long south façade of Ashton Court, and the Christmas Steps (off the beginning of Park Road).
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