The medieval city of Bristol was focussed on the high Cross at the crossroads of Corn Street and High Street. Its medieval roots are still visible in the street pattern and hidden lanes, which reflect the lines of the old City walls and indeed the earlier Saxon fortified settlement bounded by St Nicholas Street, Leonard Lane, Bell Lane and Tower Lane. This is most obvious at the remaining historic entrance of St John’s Gate.
As the city expanded the city walls were demolished and new buildings replaced old. With the notable exception of the churches, most of the older buildings in the Old City are Georgian or Victorian and the area around the spine of Clare Street and Corn Street retains its cohesion and historic character. Many of these were banks and grand civic buildings such as the Guildhall and the former Corn Exchange, now St Nicholas Market.
The medieval heart of the city was irrevocably damaged by bombing during the Second World War, which destroyed much of the area that is now Castle Park. The historic character of the north eastern part of the study area, including the historic crossroads, has been lost in the post war reconstruction around the Pithay and across to the brutalist Bank of England complex that hides the ruined church of St Mary le Port.
The Old City Today
Today trade is still the key part of the Old City. The Exchange is home to the famous St Nicholas Market - St. Nicks lovingly called by Bristolians - a vibrant, thriving market housing Bristol's largest collection of independent traders and named as one of the ten best markets in the UK. Its historical architecture with its glass arcade, covered market, fantastic stalls bursting with a wide variety of goods and food items and its quirky ambience make this the perfect place to shop, eat and enjoy.
The streets and alleys around St. Nicks still hold a whole array of street markets and events, from a weekly farmers market, to book markets, arts markets, and the famous ‘Nails’ market - named after the unique brass pillars that are located on Corn Street, dating back to the 16th century, which were used for the Exchange of money between traders and their customers, hence the phrase 'Pay on the Nail'.
For dates and opening times of the markets see www.visitbristol.co.uk/things-to-do/st-nicholas-market-p18841
But it is by no means just the rich cultural history and the markets that charm people to the Old City again and again - it is also the unique mix of independent businesses that add flair and take care of all modern world desires.
From one of the country’s most renowned bookshops to browse, to one of the city’s trendiest eateries to indulge, quirkiest cafes to brew, hottest wellbeing places to relax, largest bars to meet friends, most famous live music venues to dance the nights away, and highest crowned places to stay an extra day longer.
Extracts taken from BCC City Design Group “Medieval Core Public Realm” report, October 2012 - http://www.citizenspace.com/bristol/city-development/oldcity