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.