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).

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