Saturday, 29 August 2009

Banksy Bank Holiday Giveaway

One of Bristol's current citizens is making history as we speak. Banksy, the world famous "Guerilla Artist" has been making a name for himself for over 10 years with his tongue in cheek social commentary.

Many people are aware of his graffiti - in Bristol and in London, but did you know he has also daubed on the "Peace Wall" in Gaza?

Over the summer of 2009, the Banksy Vs Bristol Museum has been drawing in hundreds of thousands of people. This amazing exhibition was put together in almost total secrecy and every piece was created specifically for the exhibition. Damien Hirst even gave Bansky an original piece of his own work for him to complete! Using one of his recognisable rat painters, many would think it has improved Hirst's work considerably.

Other works include a lion getting his own back on a lion-tamer, a scene of urban deprivation and the Venus De Milo as a WAG and Michaelangelo's David as a suicide bomber. Controversial, misunderstood, sticking two fingers up at the world or a practical joker? How ever you describe
him, Banksy is making his mark and everyone is talking about him!

It has been reported that Bristol Museum paid Banksy the princely sum of £1.00 to host the exhibition. It has put Bristol on the the cultural map this year and coverage has been worldwide. Queues outside the museum have snake back hundreds of yards and the current waiting time is around 6 hours, doubled from the average of 3 hours last week.


As such, I am giving away a copy of "WALL & PIECE" - a collection of Banksy's work from around the world - put together and described by the man himself.

The competition is free, in order to enter all you need to do is leave a comment on Banksy at the end of this post. If you are a follower of my blog, leaving a comment will get you 5 entries, if you introduce someone to my blog and they become a follower you get another 10 entries! You MUST leave a comment to enter the giveaway!

The competition runs until 7th September and is open to all, regardless of country of residency.

Good Luck!

Friday, 21 August 2009

Bristol Gaol - First & Last Executions

Further to my previous post outlining the history of Bristol's New Gaol, I found details of the first and last public executions carried out there.

Hanged 3 days after his 18th birthday, on 13/4/1821, John Horwood was convicted of the murder of a girl he was infatuated with. Eliza Balsum was hiton the head by a large stone, thrown by Horwood, as she crossed a stream.

People crammed onto the road along the New Cut, outside the entrance where the hanging was to take place, to witness the event. It is recorded that so many people wanted to see it, that there was a real danger of people falling in the Cut - there were no safety barriers at this time.

The tale is morbid enough as the death was not a clean or pretty one, but it takes a gruesome turn. After he was cut down, Horwood's corpse was given to Dr Richard Smith of the BRI who taught surgery and used bodies to teach dissection.

He used his body in the normal manner, allowing student's to dissect it and practise surgical procedures. Afterwards however, the boy's skin was removed before preserving and tanning it. A ledger outlining the legal case, trial and execution of Horwood was written in a ledger and the skin was given toa book-binder who covered the ledger with the unusual leather. embossed on the cover were a skull and crossbones in each of the corners and a gilded title "Cutis Vera Johannis Horwood" ("The Skin of John Horwood").

It was kept for many years in the basement records office of the BRI until it was found and transferred to the Bristol Records Office. Inside the ledger, a bill for ten pounds from the binder was found. The ledger is now too fragile to be handled, however microfiches of the contents are available for viewing.

The last execution was of a servant girl young girl in 1849. Sarah Harriet Thomas was convicted of the murder of her elderly employer, Miss Elizabeth Jefferies who was found beaten to death in her own bed. On the day of the sentence, she was dragged kicking and screaming to the gallows begging for her life.

William Calcraft, England's longest serving hangman, was charged with carrying out the sentence and it was reported he was greatly disturbed by the victim's youth and attractive looks. she pleaded for clemency right up to her final moments. Despite the normal distasteful jokes and comments, many citizen's never forgot the way Sarah died - it was such an ordeal that even the Prison Governer fainted.

The Bristol Gaol

I received an email recently asking me about the New Bristol Gaol, situated on the New Cut. I didn't know much about the place other than it was once a gruesome establishment where they used to hang criminals, so I did some research and found it to have a fascinating and morbid history.

Commissioned in 1816 by the city council for a budget of £60,000 - in today's money that would cost around £2m - the New Gaol opened its doors to inmates in 1820. It housed a maximum of 197 prisoners of mixed sex who were, for that time, unusually housed in single cells measuring around 6ft by 9ft.

When constructed reports claimed it to "have beautiful views of the surrounding countryside" as well as being "unequalled throughout England for convenience, health and construction." Even the 20ft boundary wall was built from variegated marble!

Once prisoners were in situ though, conditions deteriorated very quickly. The dedicated well provided water that was undrinkable, the tiny windows did not allow air to circulate and during the winter it got extremely cold.

The granite built gatehouse flat roof was built with a trap door, specifically for the purpose of hanging criminals. The familiar and more humane 'long drop' method where the victim's own bodyweight combined with the fall broke the neck, had yet to be developed. The victim was, at this time, bound hand and foot, and then dropped through a trap door on a short rope. This lead to the victim to strangle to death over a period of minutes - usually with much writhing around and a huge amount of distress.

By 1872 the Home Office had decided that the prison was no longer fit for purpose and ordered a larger and more appropriate building be constructed. The New Gaol was replaced by Horfield Prison in 1884. The building fell into ruin, eventually being sold to the famous Great Western Railway in 1895. They demolished most of the walls and inner buildings to use the site as a coal shed.

The only visible evidence of the Gaol today is the front gate and portcullis entrance. It has been given Grade 2 Listed status by English Heritage, but does face an uncertain future as the land it sits on is privately owned and it is understood the owner is looking to develop the site. Whatever happens it is hoped this part of Bristol's history is kept intact and not erased from the landscape.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Hist-Fic Chick Book Giveaway

Anyone interestedin Egyptian novels, would do well to read the lovely Michelle Moran!

Allie - otherwise known as Hist-Fic-Chick is doing a couple of giveaways on her blog of two of Michelles novels, The Heretic Queen ( and Cleopatra's Daughter ( which is not being published until 15th September!!!

Follow the links and win yourself some wonderful books, by a wonderful writer.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Brethren Giveaway Result

Congratulations to Carine & Terry Burns Des Vos, who have won a copy of Brethren, in my inaugral book competition. If you could email me with your details, I will post your prize!

Thank you very much to all who entered - keep following my blog for more competitions and articles about the history of Bristol .

Monday, 3 August 2009

Bristol Castle - the first structure

Bristol Castle no longer exists and hasn't done since the days of the English Civil War, but it has a fascinating and important history in the development of Bristol.

The first construction of a castle was made, so it is believed in 1088. The Domesday survey of 1087 makes no mention of any type of structure in the area of Barton Regis, which included the city of Bristol. Despite the lack of an important building such as this, the area was still assessed as being wealthy enough to pay the crown 110 marks of silver on an annual basis! However, an Anglo-Saxon chronicle from 1088 mentions, in passing, a castle type building. Obviously recognising the town's worth, its inhabitants wanted to protect it as much as possible.

The castle would have been a typical motte and bailey type. The motte was an earth mound 40 metres in diameter at the base, standing 20 metres high. The bailey had an open space and outbuildings to house a garrison and covered and area of around 2 acres. The motte and bailey were, in turn, surrounded by a large earth embankment with a high stone wall and a ditch connected to both the rivers Frome and Avon.

The castle served the city for around 30 years before being rebuilt in stone by Robert, earl of Gloucester and Bishop Geoffrey de Coutance. It stood 5 storeys high and had square towers on each corner. The walls were reinforced and the original wooden garrison housing were replaced by stone buildings.

The castle was sited on the east side of the town, protecting the only side not covered by the Frome or the Avon. Over time the town walls were rebuilt in stone making Bristol a formidable town that could withstand a determined siege with ease.

Friday, 31 July 2009

Review - Brethren by Robyn Young

This debut novel by Robyn Young catapulted her to acclaim when it wa released. The historical element is finely researched with no detail left unturned. The plot moves at a decent pace and tells the life of William Campbell, the son of a Scottish knight and Templar. He has began training as a knight when his father tells him he will begin to train towards entering the Temple when he comes of age.

Over the next few years he trians hard and forms a fluid relationship with Garin de Lyons, a fellow squire and nephew of the Templar in charge of their training - he is a hard task master who bullies Garin mercilessly to bring out the best of him. Williams father becomes distant and eventually leaves London for the Holy Land without saying goodbye to Will - this is hard on the young man who rebels. Will is left in the charge of Everad, another Temple member and head of a very secret sect within the Temple. he oversees Will training and teaches him in other things that will be useful as he grows older.

His coming of age passes without him being made a Knight - Will grows increasingly depressed at the tasks Everard sets for him and as their relationship reaches breaking point everad unleashes the secret as to why Will has been seemingly treated unfairly.

Robyn Young writes in a way that can easily transport you back to the harsh times of the early 13th Century. The description and attention to detail is second to none, the characters are deep and interesting (if somewhat highly strung). As it is the first of a trilogy that will give you a real desire to read the second and third parts.

A debut novel making the Sunday Times bestseller list is not a regular event but "Brethren" is an enthralling book that will keep any reader entertained.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Book Giveaway: Free To Enter Competition.

Brethren by Robyn Young
This is the debut novel from Robyn Young, a review of the book will follow shortly. Do you want a free copy?
The rules are the following:

Anyone can enter...even if you are outside the UK!

Please send an email to or leave a reply on this post telling me your are a follower or are interested in the giveaway.

You don't have to be a follower to enter, but you get extra chances to win if you are!!

If you are a follower you get 5 extra entries!

If you have a friend sign up as a follower you both get an 10 extra entries! (Don't forget to tell me the your friend's name).

The competition is free to enter and closes on Friday 14th August 2009.
Good luck!

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Coming Soon!

Sorry for the lack of posts for the last couple of weeks but I have not been too well.

Anyway, please keep an eye on my blog as some new features will be published soon, including a new regular feature - I will be launching a competition in which copies of a fantastic book will be given away!

Thanks for your patience and I hope you will come back regularly to check out my blog.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Bristol Facts - no.1

1.A 12thC charter forbade anyone in who was not a Bristolian from owning a tavern in the city.

2. Bristol's oldest building is St James Priory and has been standing for over 900 years. It is open daily to the public and acts as a centre to help drug and drink addicts try to overcome their addiction.

3. Bristol Zoo is the fifth oldest in the world.

4. The world's oldest working cinema, The Curzon, is in the small town of Clevedon 17 miles south west of Bristol.

5. John Cabot set sail on his voyage of discovery from Bristol in 1498.

6. Bristol was first granted a royal charter in 1188 by Prince (later King) John.

7. The Knights Templar were given land in Bristol to build a church in 1145. The area is still known as the Temple Quarter today.

8. The oldest railway terminal in the world was built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and is called Temple Meads.

9. Edward III gave Bristol a royal charter in 1347, enabling the city to have a proper full-time jail.

10. Bristol was given county status - again by royal charter - in 1373. It is the only city in Great Britain to be a County in it's own right.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Early Bristol (to 1066)

Bristol was founded by the Saxons in the late 9th Century, so it is believed. With the River Avon flowing into the River Severn, it allowed the first settlers to become traders and set the course of Bristol’s future reliance on shipping.

The Romans were one of the earliest people to try and form a settlement on the Avon, but the small hamlet of Abonae (now called Avonmouth) was too near the Estuary and the large rise and fall of tide and strong current made it difficult to get cargo on and off ships. The tide can fall and rise 30 to 40 feet, depending on the time of year and caused the Roman settlement to regularly flood.

The Saxons wanted a place on high ground, to solve the flooding problem. It had to be easy to defend, as the territory was full of bandits and thieves who were keen to steal the goods honest people brought to buy and sell.

As they explored the river, they saw a lot of flat marshland that flooded on every tide, but then the landscape changed and they passed through a large limestone gorge, hundreds of feet high. Further up the river they came across another tributary, called the River Frome (pron. Froom). They travelled up the Frome a short way and came across large sandstone mound which looked perfect for their needs.

Their journey showed how the strong current allowed ships to navigate the river easily. The mound was over 40 feet high and therefore wouldn’t easily flood. They could build proper moorings and platforms to load and unload cargo. Defending the town was easy too, as it was surrounded by water on three sides by the River Avon and the smaller River Frome, providing a natural barrier.

The place looked to be just what the Saxons were looking for and they began to build their settlement. One day, they realised that there were sheep farmers on the south side of the river that wanted access to the north bank, for grazing and selling their stock. So, the enterprising Saxons built a wooden bridge, across the Avon and the town was named “The Place Of The Bridge” or Brycgstowe (pron. Brig-stow).

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Slave To No Man – The First Bristol Chronicle – Synopsis

A tortured prisoner, waiting for death and an heir to an estate become unlikely allies in this story of betrayal and redemption, corruption and truth, based in and around the City of Bristol in the mid 1190s.

King Richard The Lionheart is in the Holy Land and Prince John is ignoring his promise to stay out of England, causing uncertainty amongst the law abiding citizens of England. The port of Bristol is an important and strategic place for him to plan a new assault on Ireland, a local baronet is keen to cement himself to the Prince and strives to impress him. Lord Richard De Kenton comes from a family whose wealth is derived from the worst of all trades – slaves!

Bristol is a centre for selling men, women and children. De Kenton's estate is landlocked between Bristol and the Vale of Blakeney, a larger and more fertile demesne with access to the River Avon. The Blakeneys are vociferous anti-slavers and have extensive legal trading connections with Wales, Ireland, Devon, Cornwall and France. Their family is well liked and respected, something that De Kenton despises as he feels his trade is just as respectable and worthy of acknowledgement.

The heir to Blakeney Vale is to be declared dead and as his widowed mother has no other heir, De Kenton is scheming to ensure Prince John gives him Lady Blakeney's hand in marriage and make him Lord of Blakeney. Samson Blakeney was sent to Outremer to fight as part of a penance by his father and not one word has been heard from him since the day he left.

In Outremer, Samson knows nothing of his mother's plight and is making plans with his squire to return home. They have been away for nearly five years and not heard any news from home in all that time. Samson does not realise that he is being searched out by Richard De Kenton's cousin - Hugh De Gilles – who has been tasked with making sure Samson does not leave the shores of the Holy Land alive. De Gilles has looked for Samson for many months, using discreet enquiries and bribery, yet by chance he enters the port of Acre to get passage back to England.

De Gilles considers his options and sends a letter to his cousin informing him that the man has been found and despatched as ordered. This news allows De Kenton to begin allying himself with John by forming a private army formed by slaves and conscripts, that will form the invasion force of Ireland. By using the Blakeneys trading ships and moorings he reduces his costs and increases the amount of people he can trade in. However, being as successful in the family business as his English cousin, De Gilles kidnaps Samson and sells him, therefore giving him two incomes from one task.

Three months later, a Templar arrives in Acre and learns of the disappearance of a Bristol man who had white hair. Normally when people go missing at night, a body is found the next morning but this young man who was staying at an inn vanished without a trace. After talking to a serving girl who provides him with some startling information, he discards his Templar mantle and goes off in search of the missing knight. Over the next six months our story takes us from Outremer, through the Mediterranean to France, England and Ireland. Family secrets, moral dilemmas and a vicious feud stretching back a generation that resulted in a murder come to the fore.

Will good triumph over evil and will the Blakeney lands stay with it's rightful owners? All will be revealed in “Slave To No Man” – a work in progress, the first novel in the Bristol Chronicles series.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

First message

Hello and welcome to my blog.

I am an aspiring novelist, currently writing my first book which is set in the amazing and richly diverse city of Bristol.

A small settlement in Saxon times, Bristol has grown to a major city with nearly half a million inhabitants. Whilst it's early history is steeped in the maritime industry and trading, the modern city is wonderfully eclectic with small businesses working alongside national and international concerns.

I've always wanted to write, in fact I wrote a lot when I was at school and my stories always used to be read out to the class. But, I felt it would remain a hobby and over the years I wrote less and less; that was until two years ago.

I realised I wanted to write and finish a novel, possibly even get published. I've always read books and love historical fiction, but what era to write about? I am fascinated by the Crusades, from an early age I have loved the story of Ivanhoe (my dad read it to me as a boy) so chivalry and knights have been a source of enjoyment. What about the Civil War? A truly remarkable era where the lives of everyone was affected by their personal convictions and beliefs. It was then, I hit on my unique selling point as a writer (I hope, anyway!).

With over 1000 years of history, why not write stories based around the city rather than a defined age? This allows me to indulge myself in various times in our past and also show how the city has grown through the ages!

My first novel is well underway and I have outline plans for three more. I hope you enjoy my blog, any constructive comment is always welcome.

Thank you