Secrets of Bristol revealed in new book

Published on: 06 Jul 2016

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The Malago riverSecrets of the city revealed in new book

 

THE HIDDEN stories of our city have been uncovered and collected together in a new book by a Bedminster author, James McVeigh.

In Secret Bristol he admits that he’s not Bristol-born – but as someone who has lived here for several decades, he reckons he has picked up on some stories that locals have grown up with and not noticed.

He uncovers little-known sights such as the local prison cells, known as Charley Boxes, which were used by night-watchmen to lock up drunks before taking them to the magistrates the next morning. These existed all over the city and can still be found in Picton Street and Westbury Hill. Locally the Ostrich pub at Bathurst Basin has its own historic lock-up.

The watchmen were known as Charleys and they were the main means of keeping order until Bristol became one of the first British cities to set up its own police force in 1836.

Bedminster led the way – its purpose-built police station was one of the original four opened in the city. Now awaiting renovation, it retains its tiled cells and until recently was an Italian restaurant. It was also the first Bedminster building to have a flushing toilet.

The story of Secret Bristol begins in the area’s Palaeolithic past when the Bristol Channel was a plain inhabited by bands of hunter gatherers, who lived by hunting hares, hyenas, and woolly rhino.

In the Iron Age the area became settled by the Dubunni, a tribe which stretched from Somerset to Worcestershire. Settlements are known in Blaise Castle and Kings Weston – both later taken over by the Romans – but also in Filwood. 

The Romans did not found the city, but made the port of Sea Mills and left several great houses – one still partly visible at Long Cross Road, Kings Weston, and one under what is now Winchester Road in Brislington.

In early medieval times Bristol was still little more than a settlement around its bridge – while across the river Bedminster was already an established town, possibly founded on the site of an Iron Age village around West Street and East Street.

Mills were built on the sides of the Malago river, which could be dammed to make it flow faster, and also made it the site of early Christian Baptisms.

“The ancient word for baptism, beydd, may be the origin of Bedminster’s name, while the name Malago also has its roots in pre-Roman Britain, since melis meant mill and agos meant place in the Celtic language of the ancient Britons,” writes James.

By 1373, though, Bedminster was little more than a suburb of Bristol and was absorbed into the city along with Redcliffe.

Much of Secret Bristol, of course, is taken up with happenings on the north side of the river – but South Bristolians will still find plenty to fascinate in this book.

Secret Bristol, Amberley Books, £14.99

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