17 bizarre facts every local should know about Bristol
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A new, updated version of this article can be found here

We’ve all heard weird and wonderful stories about Bristol’s past, but sometimes it’s difficult to extract the fact from the fiction.

Here are just 17 things you might not know about the city, from Ribena to bungee jumping.

1. We’re the world’s biggest manufacturers of hot air balloons

If there’s one true symbol of Bristol it has to be the hot air balloon, and Cameron Balloons in Bedminster makes the most out of anyone in the world. We’ve even got our own festival to celebrate them!

2. Ribena was invented in Long Ashton

Loved by all (except maybe dentists), Ribena was invented by a University of Bristol scientist in 1933 at the National Fruit and Cider Institute, and quickly gained popularity during the war as an alternative source of vitamin C.

3. Bristol invented time travel

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Image: Charlie Marshall / Flickr / CC

A small piece of our time travelling history can be seen on the clock at the entrance to St Nick’s market – it shows ‘Bristol time’ and ‘London time’. Before the invention of GMT, trains travelling to and from Bristol to London used to operate on two different timetables, 15 minutes apart.

4. Bristol is the home of the world’s most famous pirate

Perhaps one of the most well-known facts is that the legendary pirate Blackbeard, aka Edward Teach, hailed from Bristol. He had a hideout in Redcliffe caves and the home of his birth still stands on the harbourside.

5. The Young Ones was filmed in Redland

1980s TV magic was made in Bristol, when the anarchic comedy series The Young Ones chose Horfield as the setting for their fictional student house. The old swimming baths on Gloucester Road doubled as a bank in a scene from the final episode.

6. Only Fools and Horses’ Nelson Mandela House is behind Ashton Gate

The legendary Peckham estate is, in fact, in the south of Bristol. A lot of the filming for Only Fools and Horses took place in and around Bristol, and the famous Batman & Robin scene was filmed in Broadmead.

7. You can see a Crapper in Bedminster


Image: David Edwards / Flickr / CC

No, not quite that kind. London-based Thomas Crapper was the inventor of the modern toilet as we know it, and a small piece of his history survives in Bristol – you can see a Crapper manhole cover down a small lane in Bedminster.

8. The first bungee jump took place from the Suspension Bridge

On 1st April 1979 (this was no April Fools!), a member of the Oxford University ‘Dangerous Sports Club’ bungee jumped from the Clifton Suspension Bridge and a new sport was born around the world.

9. We have our own currency

Bristolians are notorious for wanting to do things our own way, and in 2012 the Bristol Pound was launched. Designed to keep money in the local economy, it’s enjoyed a roaring success in keeping trade local since then.

10. There used to be a jail opposite the Louisiana

Yes, you heard me correctly – the ‘Bristol New Gaol’ used to stand opposite the Louisiana pub next to the Bathurst Basin at the top of Cumberland Road. That’s why the bridge is called ‘Gaol Ferry Bridge’!
The first person to be hanged at Bristol New Gaol was John Horton, an 18 year old miner from Hanham, who was accused of murdering his former girlfriend in 1821. His skeleton was not laid to rest until some 190 years later, in 2011.

11. There’s a book bound with human skin in the M Shed

However, a piece of John Horton still remains in a grisly exhibition at the M Shed. The doctor who testified against him at the trial took possession of his body for ‘medical purposes’, and had his skin tanned and used to bind a book, which now sits in a display at the museum.

12. The Steam Crane pub was once home to a tiger

In 1827 Mr Martin, the landlord of the Bull on North St (now the brilliant Steam Crane pub) purchased a live tiger from a ship docked in the harbour to drum up new trade at the pub. As the interest in the tiger dwindled, Martin paid a man, Joseph Kiddle, to enter the cage with the tiger. You can guess how that ended.

13. The Highbury Vaults was where prisoners used to take their last meal

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Image: guitarfish / Flickr / CC

Now a quaint traditional boozer at the top of St Michael’s Hill, The Highbury Vaults was once the last holding place of prisoners who were due to be hung at the top of the hill, where they ate their very last meal.

14. The Christmas Steps used to be called Knifesmith Street

Once a muddy and seedy alley leading up to St Michael’s Hill, it wasn’t until 1669 when the hill was ‘stepped’ by then Sheriff of Bristol, Johnathan Blackwell, that the name evolved into the Christmas Steps, presumably because of the connection to the Chapel of the Three Kings of Cologne at the very top.

15. Lead shot was invented in Bristol

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Image: GloomyCorp / Flickr / CC

Perhaps not the most riveting fact about our city, but from 1782 way up until the 1980s Bristol used to produce lead shot, for use in muskets. This unusual piece of 1960s architecture on Cheese Lane is the only reminder of this bizarre fact.

16. Bristol’s most wanted criminals hailed from Bedminster

One of the most infamous crimes of the 1980s was intrinsically linked to Bristol – the culprits of the Brinks-Mat robbery were based in Bedminster, and the majority of the stolen cash was laundered through Barclays on East St.

17. Part of New York City was built on the rubble of Bristol

Perhaps the most bizarre fact of all, Waterside Plaza in New York City was built upon the rubble of bombed-out Bristol. There’s a plaque to commemorate it next to the fountains on the harbourside.

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