Hi everyone. Last week, Robin and I had a few days away in Bristol. I was at university there (a few years ago!!) and I’ve only been back there a couple of times since, once to play for a trumpeter in a BBC Musician of the Year qualifier (he didn’t get to the broadcast stages), and once to show my son George when he was applying to uni. We were really going away to celebrate Robin’s birthday (she’s many years younger than me of course), but luckily she was just as keen as me to explore Bristol.
Thanks to a 9am start from Eastbourne and the excellent FAST train from Paddington, we were booked into our hotel by 2pm and ready to explore straight away. There’s a steep hill Park Street that divides the university area of Clifton from the main City centre. At the top of Park Street is the Wills Memorial Building built in the 1920’s which houses the Great Hall where I did my degree recital.
This is Bristol remember – a city whose wealth and importance is based on its historic position as a major port, hence Booze, Fags and Slaves are all hot topics – and it’s easy to spot funding sources in Bristol. The major cigarette producer W D & H O Wills paid for this building. I was very lucky that my digs were a few 100 yards from here. I lived at the Deanery no-less. The then Dean, Horace Dammers, had been a Canon at Coventry Cathedral when I was a chorister there, and although his house was ‘the smallest deanery in the country’ he still considered it too big, so he and his lovely wife, Brenda, rented out two rooms to needy students like me. We walked passed the Deanery on our way up Park Street and spoke to a lady who was outside putting out the rubbish. She was pleased to talk and fascinated to hear that I’d lived there years ago. It was obvious she lived or worked there, so I don’t know if she was the current Dean (who is a woman) or the cleaner.
Next we headed towards the Music Department. But that involved passing the University Refectory where I remember eating many a hearty lunch. It’s now a Browns Restaurant so I guess university students don’t want to eat stodgy lunches these days.
The Music department in my day consisted of under 60 people, 8 of whom were lecturers or staff. We were housed in a lovely area called Royal Fort Gardens, in the main 18th century house.
Here’s our department photo (I’m guessing this was my 2nd year there). And then here’s me in a similar place just over a week ago.
The Music Department moved to much larger buildings soon after I left, and just like the university will have grown significantly in size since.
Moving on, we walked into central Clifton. Even back in the day it was a nice area, but now it’s much classier and probably impossibly expensive to live in. I wanted to visit to the Roman Catholic Cathedral which I had good memories of.
I remember attending a service here and being impressed by the way the Cantor led a congregational rehearsal before the start. I also remember turning pages for Nicolas Kynaston one evening when he was making a record (remember them?) of Bach on the fine organ there. It’s a lovely clean and airy building – and we were the only people there. It was completely empty otherwise.
Finally we made a visit to Brunel’s famous and lovely Clifton Suspension Bridge. Massively over engineered (I’m told) but very elegant and still very busy. The gorge is amazingly steep, and you do wonder how (or why) he built it. The views are fab. but if you’re like me, my stomach goes a bit funny if I get too near the edge.
The next day we spent looking around the old docks. We took a 45 minute boat cruise and learnt that the docks had been functioning until 1970 and only then began to be re-developed. So most of this was all new to me. The M Shed is a new museum where we saw the statue of Edward Colston on its side and still graffitied as part of a big display about the different parts of the city and its cultural diversity.
In the evening we went Smoke and Mirrors, a Magic and Comedy club. Great fun and entertainment, but I did get hauled up onto stage. With an audience of around 30 (capacity) I suppose the odds were stacked against me. I enjoyed it, and only afterwards did I realise that everyone was laughing AT me (but in a nice way). I’ll leave you to guess the trick – it was new to me.
Bath is only an 11 minute train ride away, so we spent Robin’s birthday there. Went to the Thermae Bath Spa (we had packed our swimmies) and also had a lovely lunch at a French restaurant. We visited the Abbey with it’s wall to wall and entire floor covered with monuments. We made a visit to 1 Royal Crescent, and enjoyed the Bath ambiance.
Back in Bristol, we were lucky that Welsh National Opera were on tour, so we had booked to see Rossini: The Barber of Seville. I had forgotten that, like English National Opera, they perform mostly (entirely?) in English. And for the first time, I felt that I would have preferred to hear it in Italian. The story’s not difficult, and every aria seems to move towards a fast patter style when you can’t help feeling that the Italian would fit better than a translation. However, the performance was excellent.
And finally the following morning, before getting our train back, we visited Bristol Cathedral which was next door to our hotel. I had organ lessons there in my first year and think I did an organ recital there as well. Most of the cathedral is 19th century, so is considered unremarkable, but it is a lovely space and worth a visit. Nothing wrong with a nice bit of Gothic to my mind!
Bristol has another large church which I forgot mention earlier. St Mary Redcliffe, which featured in the first BBC A house through time (if you saw that programme). Although I did conduct my very first choral concert there (with the Bristol University Chamber Choir) I hardly knew it and am very pleased that we were able to take it in.
It has cathedral proportions and is really beautiful; well Queen Elizabeth I thought so, and apparently described it as “the fairest, goodliest, and most famous parish church in all England”.
Some of you will already know that Robin and I are currently in isolation having had Covid confirmed earlier this week. We are both feeling a lot better today than we were a couple of days ago, and we very much hope to be back in circulation at the end of this week. Meanwhile, choir rehearsals (and AGMs) continue but I have had to rely on good colleagues to stand in for me. Thank you Andrew Robinson, Liz Woodhouse, Ruth Kerr and John Hancorn. We did so many things in Bristol and it seems most likely we picked Covid up on our travels, but I’m fairly sure we didn’t pick it up in this church. The Lord Mayor’s Chapel at the bottom of Park Street. A lovely little church that’s taken it’s Covid precautions to the extreme. Shame on you LMC for ruining a lovely building!
I hope you enjoyed this, and wish you all well.