Bristol and the slave trade

This week we tackled a more difficult subject for our walk in the past walk – the Bristol slave trade.

It is an uncomfortable but undeniable fact that much of Bristol’s prosperity came from the slave trade. Slavery is thousands of years old. The Romans brought slaves to Britain and Celtic tribes  traded slaves. However with the discovery of America  in 1492 new opportunities for the trade were created.

Europeans found the hot humid conditions of the south difficult to work in but loved crops like cotton, tobacco and sugar that could be grown there.  One solution was to take people from Africa who were used to a hot climate and transport them to America

A triangular trade was started. Manufactured goods and guns were traded along the coast of Africa for slaves who were taken to America and the West Indies and sold for goods like sugar and tobacco which were brought back to Europe.

The numbers involved are staggering. It has been estimated that about 13 million people may have left African ports as slaves. Portugal has the dubious honour of being the most important slave trading nation with Britain second.

Because of its position on the West coast of England Bristol became one of the major slave trading ports. It is estimated that Bristol ships may have transported up to half a million slaves. Conditions on board the slave ships were horrifying and mortality was high.

St Mary Redcliffe church
St. Mary Redcliffe Church

We started our walk at St. Mary Redcliffe the magnificent parish church close to Bristol Harbour. The church owes much of its elaborate decoration to gifts from Bristol merchants and its graveyard contains the tombs of many Bristol slave traders. They obviously were able to reconcile their Christian faith with slave trading.

The Georgian House museum

There is a campaign to open a slavery museum in Bristol but until it happens you can see the legacy of slavery in many of the buildings of the city.

We visited the Georgian House, number 7 Great George Street. This was owned by a slave trader called Mr. Pinney. It has been turned into a museum and is furnished to show the lavish lifestyle the Pinneys would have led. it is free to enter. Click here to find out more.


Guide in a posh Georgian dress
A guide dressed as Mrs. Pinney. (Georgian house museum)

As was fashionable at the time the family kept a black servant.

A picture of Mr Pinney with his slave.
An information board about Pero Jones

Another reminder of the slave trade in Bristol is the fact that many of the fashionable houses in Queen Square were owned by Slave traders.

Slave trader’s house in fashionable Queens square

You can also see the customs house where profits on cargoes from America would have been collected.

The Abolition of Slavery.

Towards the end of the 18th century there were growing demands for the end of slavery. In Bristol John Wesley   who had worked in Savannah in America preached against it and was banned from many local churches. Thomas Cottle published pamphlets against slavery.  Perhaps the most important figure in Bristol was Thomas Clarkson a journalist who visited pubs like the Seven Stars and listened to the testimony of sailors. His findings provided Wilberforce with much of the ammunition to fight for the abolition of slavery in Parliament.

Slave trading by British ships was banned in 1807 and in 1834 slave ownership was banned in British overseas territories. This bill was only passed after slave owners were offered large sums in compensation. They were able to invest much of the money in Bristol industry and property.

One of the most famous Bristol slave traders was Edward Colston. He gave away much of his fortune establishing schools and almshouses in the city.

The legacy today

Bristol is very uncomfortable with its past. There is a move to rename the Colston Hall which is one of the main concert Halls in the centre of the city and to remove the statue of Edward Colston from the centre. My own view is that we should acknowledge our past but not celebrate it.  I welcome a move to give prominence to other figures in the story. I chose the image at the top of the post as it is Pero’s bridge named for the slave Pero Jones.


As the organiser of our walking group did not want to profit from the slave trade himself, our fees went to support Papyrus a charity which was set up to help prevent suicide by young people. It is a sobering fact that suicide is the single biggest killer of people under 35 in the U.K.

If you want to find out more about the Bristol slave trade I recommend

This post will be added to a link party for blogging grandmothers. As always I love to read your comments.



Walking for health after retirement

Any one reading my blog will know that I enjoy walking. Most weekends I go out with a walk in the past history group and we walk four or five miles often up and down hills.

A cow in the river
A Constable moment

My husband took this photograph near Bradford on Avon on our walk last week.  I love learning more about the history of our local area and visiting the countryside which is looking its best at this time of year. I know walking is good for both my mental and physical health and am keen to encourage others to share my interest.

The start of the walking for health initiative

Before I retired I worked as a nurse in a local nursing home for the elderly. I witnessed at first hand the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle in a bid to prevent illness and disability as we age. I also saw the problems faced by those people who did not.  This led to me becoming interested in how to encourage older people to stay healthy.

A few years ago I was lucky enough to obtain a place on a health promotion course run jointly by the University of the West of England here in Bristol and our local NHS trust. As part of the assessment we had to complete a research project. I chose to study how to prevent violence in the care setting but the other participants also discussed their research with me.

One of the other students was involved in a new initiative by the government to promote walking for health. Research had shown that older people were adopting an increasingly sedentary lifestyle and this was leading to a rise in obesity and diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart problems. Inactivity is also associated with an increased incidence of depression and anxiety.

The government’s plan was to organise free walks of about three miles and encourage every one to come along. My colleague’s study was based in a poor part of inner city Bristol where there was a high degree of isolation and loneliness among the elderly. They discovered that many people were afraid to leave their homes. It was decided that in order to encourage people to participate all walks would end with a free tea or coffee and biscuits.

When people turned up for their first walk they were asked to fill in a questionnaire asking about health problems and also feelings of loneliness and other mental health problems. This questionnaire was repeated after about six months. The organisers were surprised to find out how popular the walks were and the number of participants who became regular walkers.

When they analysed the second batch of questionnaires  every one was surprised to find that although people reported feeling fitter and having more stamina most people thought that the chance to visit new places and make new friends was far more important.

Other studies have shown that walking regularly helps prevent osteoporosis, some types of cancer and possibly the onset of dementia. Government guidelines suggest that older adults should have about 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week.

Walking for health today

The walking for health initiative has continued to grow. There are now schemes all over England. Volunteers still lead three mile walks.  Locally they have also added shorter walks, and buggy walks for young mothers. Unfortunately you no longer get a free drink and biscuits but they often end with a visit to a coffee shop.

Here is a link to the walking for health website if you want to find out more. Walking for health  you should be able to find details of your local walks.

A few tips if you are new to walking for health.

  • Wear sensible shoes! Trainers or sandals are fine for urban walks but proper walking boots are best for walking in the county side.
  • Thin layers are best if the weather is likely to be changeable.
  • It is always good to walk with others but if you are on your own take a phone and tell someone your route and when you expect to get back
  • You need to become breathless from time to time
  • know your capabilities.

Remember although walking will help you to get fit you can’t out walk a poor diet. If you want to lose weight you will need to adopt a healthy eating plan as well as increase the amount of exercise you take.

One of our favourite walks

This is folly farm which is owned by Avon Wildlife trust.

A favourite walk through the woods
A walk through Folly farm

This post will be added to a link party for blogging grandparents. I would love to know any tips you have for keeping fit.

Brunel and Bristol

People looking at the suspension bridge

Clifton suspension bridge which spans the river Avon has become the symbol of Bristol.   This post is about the bridge’s designer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Last Sunday our walk in the past walking group walked from Temple Meads railway station to Clifton Suspension bridge to see some of his legacy to the city.  Our route round the old docks and up into Clifton is very popular with visitors to Bristol. The river Avon is too tidal and shallow for large boats to come into the heart of Bristol  and the docks have been transformed into an area for pleasure craft with modern flats and restaurants.  You can stroll round the old floating harbour or catch a yellow ferry boat.  Some of the old warehouses have been transformed into art galleries or museums. I recommend M shed which is free to enter and has many interesting exhibits about the history of Bristol industry or the watershed which shows an eclectic  selection of films. Keeping with the theme of this post on a fine day Bristolians love to visit Brunel’s buttery next to the M shed and enjoy a sausage sandwich while overlooking the docks.

Brunel championed by Jeremy Clarkson was voted second after Winston Churchill in a BBC poll to find the greatest Briton  a few years ago. This is slightly ironic as he was half French and educated in France. Brunel was born in Portsmouth in 1806 but moved to London as a boy.   He was sent to Bristol to recuperate after having been badly injured while helping his father who was a civil engineer on a project to build a tunnel under the Thames in London. The Brunels misjudged the strength of the rock under the river bed and the tunnel flooded. Several workers were killed but fortunately  Isambard Brunel managed to find something to hang on to.

The Clifton suspension bridge

The story of the bridge  began in 1790 when William Vick left money in his will for a bridge across the Avon. People realised that this was not enough to construct a bridge and it was decided to leave it in a bank until compound interest meant it reached £10,000. While Isambard was in Bristol there was a competition to design  a bridge and he submitted several entries. Although he failed at first one of his designs was chosen. The bridge proved too costly and was not finished until after his death when they were able to obtain some second hand chains. We love it.

Temple Meads station

Taxis queue up outside Temple Meads station
The façade of Temple Meads station looks more like a castle

Not as many people know that Brunel also designed Temple Meads station. When he was 29 he was appointed chief engineer for the Great Western Railway which was to run between Bristol and London. Brunel was a true early Victorian and enjoyed playing with different styles of architecture. The station was very ostentatious and designed to look like a castle. If you arrive in Bristol by train take a good look at the façade.

Brunel had big dreams. he planed to build a railway line from Paddington Station in London to Bristol. Passengers could arrive at Temple Meads station and then stay at a hotel he had built before embarking on a voyage to America or Australia.  The hotel can still be seen but is now an office block and known as Brunel house.

The Great Britain

The Great Britain

Two enormous steam ships were built in Bristol docks the Great Britain and the Great Western. The SS Great Britain launched in 1843 by Prince Albert was the first Iron hulled steam ship to cross the Atlantic which she did in 14 days. She had sails as well as an engine in case of difficulty. After taking thousands of emigrants to America and Australia she was retired to the Falkland Isles where she was left to rust. In 1970 Sir Jack Hayward  paid for the rusty hulk to be returned to Bristol. She has been lovingly restored. The boat now forms part of a very interesting museum which I recommend visiting. You get a very good idea what life would have been like for early emigrants to America or Australia. Tickets also include a new exhibit Being Brunel. Visitors can often see a replica of the Mathew, the boat which took John Cabot to Newfoundland moored along side. Unlike the Great Britain which is in dry dock the Mathew still provides sailing trips for visitors. If you want to find out more about the Great Britain exhibition click here

Brunel was also involved with improvements to the port designing a dredger and a system for filtering silt from the river bed. The Great Britain was the biggest ship to ever be built in Bristol and the harbour gates had to be widened specially. When she was brought back on a barge many sceptics doubted that she would make it.

On Sunday we walked across the suspension bridge which is free to cross for pedestrians and we were able to look round the small visitor centre which is also free.

If you visit Bristol and want to avoid the steep hill up to Clifton you can catch a number 8 bus or use the red hop on hop off bus.

A question for locals do you know where “Bob” Brunel’s other Bridge is?

Thesign reads  Brunel's other bridge

This post will be added to a link party for blogging grandparents. I would love to hear your comments. Don’t be shy.

Coombe Down and the story of Bath Stone

Last week Steve the leader of our walk in the past  walking group asked us to meet at the Museum of Bath Stone. in Coombe Down to the east of Bath.  I have to admit my heart sank.  After all quarries are not the most exciting subject. When I was growing up much of Bath was covered in soot from coal fires and steam trains and I always thought that Bath stone made the buildings look dreary. However when Bath was in its heyday in the late 18th century the honey coloured stone must have gleamed in the sunshine. Nowadays planning officials still insist that all building in the centre of town is made from the local stone.

The Coombe Down museum of Bath Stone 

I arrived early and  was able to take the time to look round the small free museum.  Visitors were watching a short film about the Coombe Down stabilization project.   Bath Stone is an oolitic limestone that formed the bed of a shallow sea in the Jurassic period. Surface stone can be used for dry stone walls but building material is found at a depth of a few feet. It has probably been used for local buildings since Roman times as it can be easily worked.

Ralph Allen who built the nearby Prior Park was one of the early quarry owners in Coombe Down. He developed the idea of quarrying stone and then using the flat bed of the quarry to build cottages for his workers. This was fine and some of his early cottages were built by John Wood who also designed the Royal Crescent.  He built rails to send carts laden with stone down the hill now known as Ralph Allen Drive where they could be unloaded onto barges and the stone taken into the centre of Bath.

However later quarry owners decided to extract stone from underground tunnels and build the houses on top. In the 1980’s people living in the expensive houses with views over the Bath sky line found cracks starting to appear in their homes and they were unable to sell them. A survey was carried out and found that many of the pillars that were supporting the roof of the quarries were unsafe. Surveyors estimated that about 500 houses were at risk.

Eventually it was decided to fill the quarries with concrete at a cost of over £150 million . A colony of rare horseshoe bats were found to be living in one of the quarries and an extra six million pounds was provided to save their cave and now they are even provided with heating.  The concrete foam used would have covered a football pitch to a depth of ninety metres.

Walking through the woods
Our walking group. I am fifth from the left.

We  walked round Coombe Down and admired the houses that had been saved. Our group also  rambled through the fields and bluebell woods enjoying the bird song and spring flowers.

We were able to find the cottage where Harry Patch was born in in 1898. His father and grandfather were stone masons in Coombe Down and when he died in 2009 at the age of 111 he was the last fighting Tommy from world war one. We walked down to the nearby village of Monkton Coombe to find his grave in the churchyard.

The grave of Harry Patch with poppy wreath
The grave of Harry Patch in Monkton Combe churchyard.

William Smith and the first geological map.

One of the early quarry owners was a man named William Smith. He was a blacksmith’s son from Churchill in  Oxfordshire who had spent time surveying the route of the local canal and also helping the local coal mine owners find good places to sink mine shafts. He noticed that the rock was in different strata and that fossils appeared in different layers. His work took him all over England and he used the information he had obtained to produce the first geological map of England which is remarkably similar to a modern map.

A plaque marking the cottage where William Smith lived.
Memorial on William Smith’s cottage.

Unfortunately his quarry was not a success and he spent some time in prison for debt His life has been commemorated by Simon Winchester in his book  “the map that changed the world” and by a museum which he designed himself the rotunda in Scarborough.

This post will be added to a link party for blogging grandmother’s. This week I was lucky enough to be the subject of a meet the grandmother blogger so if you want to find out more about me click here.

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Glastonbury more than just a music festival

A lilac and yellow shop. Fairyland aromatics which sells essential oils.

In a few weeks time, thousands of music lovers will again be descending on the small Somerset town of Glastonbury for the music festival. Local rumour has it that Paul McCartney might take to the pyramid stage this year. For a few days a huge tented city will appear and ageing hippies and others will be able to escape their everyday lives.

However today I am going to introduce you to the town of Glastonbury rather than Michael Eavis’s farm. Tickets to the festival sold out long ago and you can no longer gain entry to Worthy farm by climbing the fence.

People climbing to the top of the Tor
The church tower at the top of Glastonbury Tor. photo W.J. Fraser

Glastonbury is situated on the Somerset levels a few miles from Wells. A round grass covered outcrop of sandstone known as Glastonbury tor rises to over 500 feet nearby and is visible for miles around. people have lived in the area since Neolithic times and  one of the oldest roads ever discovered is close by. It is known as the sweet track after Ray Sweet who discovered it in the 1970’s.    Tree trunks which were laid to provide a track over nearby marshes have been dated by dendrochronology to   3,800 BC. The peat soil preserved the wood.

Glastonbury abbey is the earliest Christian monastic site in Britain and by Domesday it was the wealthiest abbey in England. One of its abbots St. Dunstan devised the coronation service that is still used today including that for Queen Elizabeth 11. It featured in Mathew Paris’s map of the world of 1250 and continues to attract visitors from around the globe.

Glastonbury, Myths and Legends

A sign showing where the tombs of Arthur and Guivivere were found
The monks of Glastonbury claimed to have discovered the tombs of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere.

According to local folklore the nearby camp at Cadbury was the Camelot of Arthurian legend. When Cadbury camp was excavated archaeologists found evidence  that it had indeed once housed an important person. Glastonbury itself has been associated with Avalon where Arthur is said to have fought his last battle.

Monks at Glastonbury abbey claimed to have found the coffins of Arthur and Guinevere in the 12th century. However this was shortly after a fire at the abbey and the more cynical among us might think that they saw it as a good way to raise funds for the restoration.  Part of the myth is that Arthur is still sleeping and that if England is in danger he will awake to save the day. There was renewed interest in this during the second world war.

Another legend about Glastonbury is that Joseph of Arimathea the man who looked after Christ’s  body after the crucifixion visited Glastonbury and where he touched the ground with his walking stick a holy tree grew.

A blooming Hawthorne in the grounds of Glastonbury abbey said to be a descendent of the original Glastonbury thorn
A Glastonbury thorn in the grounds of Glastonbury abbey

The Glastonbury thorn is a hybrid Hawthorne tree and there is a specimen in the abbey grounds.

Not your average high street

A lady offering tarot readings
A tarot reader had set up stall outside the church

Nowadays Glastonbury is a strange mixture of Christian and Pagan. You can still visit the ruins of Glastonbury abbey and say a quiet prayer in St. Patrick’s chapel. But  in the high street, shops sell crystals and magic potions. When we were there this week a group of men dressed as Morris dancers were parading through the town carrying a tree trunk which was destined to become the new maypole. Many of the female onlookers had colourful long skirts, embroidered blouses and flowers in their hair and the men had long hair and beards. We climbed up the Tor and were accompanied by a group performing some sort of eastern meditation to the sound of a single drum.

The cat and Cauldron.
Supplies for any visiting witches
A narrow shopping arcade
The viaduct shopping passage

May day is an important date in the pagan calendar and I felt Harry Potter and friends would have felt at home.

If you want to find out more I recommend this website Normal for Glastonbury

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