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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

(393,000 in 1991)
City and port on the confluence of the rivers Avon and Frome; administrative centre of the county of Avon. From early Norman times Bristol developed rapidly to become the major port on the west coast. It was from here that Sebastian *Cabot sailed in 1497; the Society of Merchant Venturers was incorporated in 1552; and trade with the colonies in tobacco, sugar and slaves brought Bristol great prosperity until it began to lose its pre-eminence to *Liverpool in the late 18C. Nevertheless in the 19C two of *Brunel's massive ships, the Great Western and the *Great Britain, were built and launched in the city.

The cathedral was originally the church of a 12C abbey, given this new role when Bristol became an Anglican diocese in 1542. The 12C chapter house, with elaborately carved linear decorations, is one of the best Norman interiors in Britain. The 14C choir and Lady Chapel survive from the abbey church; the present nave was discreetly added in the 19C by G.E. *Street.

More of a piece is the 14C St Mary Redcliffe, in the Perpendicular style and famous as probably the grandest parish church in all England; the three panels of the large altarpiece commissioned for this church from *Hogarth in 1755 are displayed in St Nicholas, bombed in the war and now a museum of ecclesiastical art. The city also contains the world's first *Methodist chapel, the New Room, built for John *Wesley in 1739. The modernist Roman Catholic cathedral of SS Peter and Paul was consecrated in 1973. Bristol Grammar School, founded in 1532, is now an independent school.

The Corn Exchange (by John Wood the elder, 1741–3) is well known for the bronze 'nails', pillars set in the pavement outside, on which merchants are said to have completed their transactions – an explanation often given (without any evidence) for the phrase 'to pay on the nail', meaning to pay promptly. The Theatre Royal (1766) has been since 1943 the home of the Bristol Old Vic, and is the oldest theatre in the country in regular use.

The Museum and Art Gallery, founded in 1823, are housed together in a building of 1905. Suspended in the entrance hall is a full-scale replica of the city's contribution to early aviation, the Bristol Boxkite biplane of 1910. The museum is particularly strong in glass (Chinese and ancient Roman as well as English) and in ceramics, including the local Bristol delftware. The art gallery has a good general collection but is made exceptionally interesting by the work of local 19C painters, in particular Francis Danby (1793–1861).
An elegant residential district developed in the 18C and early 19C to the west of the city, in Clifton, with views over the Avon gorge which were later made even more spectacular by the addition of the *Clifton Suspension Bridge.

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