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Bristol History, United Kingdom

Bristol has a prehistoric history dating all the way back to the Paleolithic Era.  Archaeological evidence tells of 60,000 year old settlements in the area.  Hill forts from the Iron Age can be found near the town, giving evidence of dwellings from within the past 5,000 years as well.

A few centuries later, the area was filled with small Roman settlements and forts.  By 1000 A.D., the town of Brycgstow (Old English for Bristol and meaning “the place at the bridge”) had been built up.  Later in that century, and under Norman rule, one of the strongest English stone castles was built in the town.

Bristol Castle played a large role in Middle Age English history.  Stephen, the last Norman king tried to take the castle in his endeavors to keep control of England.  However, several years later he was imprisoned there instead.  Around the time of Henry III, the castle was taken by the new royal family who spent a lot of money refurbishing it. 

By 1500, though, they no longer used it and it instead became a refuge for outlaws since local Bristol authorities had no jurisdiction on the property.  After dealing with these issues for more than 100 years, the city of Bristol purchased the castle from the royal family. 

Ironically, the castle was used during the English Civil War to protect the Parliamentarians.  Unfortunately, though, the Royalists took Bristol and Oliver Cromwell ended up having the castle destroyed in 1656.

During the life of the castle, the city of Bristol itself was also growing and changing.  During the 1100’s, Bristol Harbor was built on the River Avon.  This was a very important English port.  By 1300, the city was the third largest English town and it was so important that it became its own county in 1373. 

In the years 1348-1349 Bristol was struck with the Black Death.  This stunted the population growth of the city throughout the next two centuries.  However, the town was made a city in 1542 and given Bristol Cathedral.  One hundred years later the city was struck with the plague and the English Civil War. 

Bristol’s economy grew with the rise of the slave trade from 1700-1807.  Bristol shipbuilder’s outfitted more than 2000 slave ships. 

In 1739, Methodism was founded in Bristol by John Wesley.

After abolition took place, the economy of Bristol was struck a blow since the River Avon was dangerous for ships to travel on.  This made it hard for Bristol to keep up with some of the larger cities in the middle and north of England.

During the 1800’s, though, new industries emerged and the city began to grow up on both sides of the River Avon.  The engineering of several historic monuments such as the Great Western Railway, the Clifton Suspension Bridge, and steamships were associated with Bristol.

Bristol industries also included the manufacture of aircraft and this made it a prime target for the Nazi’s during World War II.  The worst of the bombings took place during November and December of 1940 when a major part of Bristol was flattened.  At this point, Adolf Hitler applauded himself for having destroyed the city.  Ever since, lots of money has gone into rebuilding the city and more recently there have been attempts to restore it to part of its original beauty.

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