Death and the Bridge: The Georgian Rebuilding of Bristol Bridge

 
9780955101014: Death and the Bridge: The Georgian Rebuilding of Bristol Bridge
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Bristol Bridge is the city's namesake. It is at the heart of the city, and though now overshadowed by Brunel's spectacular suspension bridge, is still an integral part of it.

But by the early 18th century it was becoming a problem. It was never falling down, but was, like the nearby High Cross, a victim of the city's success: booming trade led to an increase in carriage use, and the encroachment of shops onto the roadway, leaving no room for pedestrians. Local newspapers cried out for action, yet nobody - not local dignitaries, not the corporation or the Merchant Venturers were interested, so the injuries and deaths continued.

This is the mystery at the heart of the book, but the origins and subsequent history of James Bridges is also an intriguing one. How was a man with no claims to previous work appointed as engineer on the bridge? Where did he learn his trade, and where did the money come from to guarantee his work? And why did he have so many enemies, despite his undoubted ability, talent and amenable personality? And where did he end up?

This book is full of well researched information, but the gaps are intriguing. Why was the giant clock built by his father? What training did James have? Why does Bristol have such a long tradition for being unable to carry out large projects without outside help?

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Review:

Reading Barb Drummond's slim but well researched volume, one is constantly surprised that such an intriguing and compelling story has received such scant attention from historians until now. Bristol's bridge across the Avon has been an essential and abusy commercial routeway fom its first medieaval building to the present day, a vital artery for trade between Bristol's second city adn its Southern hinterland. Yet, until the middle of the 18th century, when Bristol was already past its peak as a mercantile and productive centre, the city's Bridge remained antiquated, too narrow for modern traffic, and bedecked on either side by dense and tottering shops and houses. Barb Drummond asks the obvious question here: why did it take until the 1760s for something to be done about it, and why did the Corporation seem so reluctant to give a lead for redevelopment? Why, once a private enterprise solution had been found, did the competition to win the architectural commission cause such local rancour, and why, once an architect had been chosen, did he suddenly disappear from the City before the work was complete? And, for that matter, what on earth happened to him?

This then, is the story not only of the Georgian Bristol bridge but of its ill-fated designer, James Bridges, architect, physicist, scientist and showman. Obliquely, it is also about his father, the celebrated inventor of one of the world's most phenomenal mechanical wonders, the travelling Microcosm, (or 'the world in miniature', as contemporary advertising handbills would have it). The product of much time spent determinedly ferreting in the city library, this is a detailed and engrossing study, told with considerable wit as well as with care. But the book has a serious heart. The free market principles on which the new Bridge was built left it financially dependent upon the levying of tolls, a nexus for social disharmony and a byword for corruption. In the end, the author concludes, the controversies over the Bridge symbolised the demise [of] out-dated collective ideas about shared civic values and the birthinstead of a more socially exclusive class society:

"The medieval bridge was built to unite the two halves of the city. The eighteenth century tolls encouraged people and businesses to stay on their own side, so its effect was to divide the city between the rich north and the poor south, and to continue the decline in the southern parishes." -- Dr Steve Poole, The Regional Historian, Issue No. 15 Summer 2006

From the Publisher:

This book should have been written many years ago. In a city awash with history groups and writers, Brunel's bridge has been promoted at the expense of this far more intriguing story. But that is typical of history publising. Glance at any history section and it seems there was little happening between Elizabeth and Victoria. Yet if it wasn't for early pioneers like Bridges, there would have been no Brunel or his grand Suspension Bridge. And the riot from the tolls was a warning to local promotors both of the Floating Harbour and of the Suspension Bridge.

Bristol's georgian history is rich and fascinating, and as the bridge was at the centre of the city, this story is at the heart of the history, as its rebuilding triggered and enabled the subsequent rebuilding of many other streets in the city.

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Drummond, Barb
Published by Barb Drummond (2005)
ISBN 10: 0955101018 ISBN 13: 9780955101014
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Book Description Barb Drummond, 2005. Paperback. Condition: Used; Good. Fast Dispatch. Expedited UK Delivery Available. Excellent Customer Service. Seller Inventory # BBI2560100

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