50 Bristol Facts That May Just Surprise You!
Whether you live in Bristol or not, you have to appreciate all the history and quirkiness the city is packed with. Creativity overflows from every street corner, and if you look back at the history of the Bristol your eyes are sure to open a little wider – no no no – pop with all the Bristol facts that we’ve uncovered.
Enjoy our top 50 facts about Bristol you probably didn’t know!
Pssst! No.47 is one of my personal favourites…
1. The World’s First Bungee Jump Took Place in Bristol
The World’s first bungee jump took place in Bristol on 1 April 1979 and was undertaken by members of the Oxford University Dangerous Sports Club. David Kirke, who jumped first, did so wearing a top hat and tails. The best bit? He jumped with a glass of champagne in his hand.
2. There’s a Book Bound with Human Skin on Display in Bristol
John Horton was accused of murdering his girlfriend in 1821 and was subsequently hanged in Bristol. The doctor who testified against him took his body for ‘medical purposes’ and had parts of his skin tanned in order to bind a book, which you can go and look at in Bristol today.
3. Brunel Initially Designed the Clifton Suspension Bridge with an Egyptian Edge
Brunel wasn’t actually the sole designer of the Clifton Suspension Bridge. It was originally designed by Thomas Telford and had a more gothic style. When Brunel took over he initially designed the bridge to have Egyptian influences – even complete with Sphinxes! However, this was later dropped.
4. Bristol is the World’s Largest Manufacturer of Hot Air Balloons
It’s no wonder that we have our own Balloon Fiesta (Europe’s largest annual meeting of hot air balloons, attracting over 130 hot air balloons from across the globe!)
5. JK Rowling was Born in Yate
She later moved to Winterbourne where her neighbours had the surname ‘Potter’. Many of the Harry Potter characters names are inspired by places in the West Country.
6. The Chocolate Easter Egg was Invented in Bristol
As well as inventing the first solid chocolate bar in 1847, Bristol chocolate company Fry’s created the first ever chocolate Easter Egg in 1873. No wonder Bristolians are so sweet.
7. Butlins Originated in Bristol
Well, it’s founder, Billy Butlins first-ever business was running a hoopla stand in Bristol. It was only later that he went on to create the holiday camp that Bristolians know and love.
8. Harold Pinter Staged His First Play in Bristol
In May 1957, Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter staged his first play, The Room, in a converted squash court at Bristol University.
9. Bristol Has its Own Currency
The Bristol Pound was first launched in 2012 and is available in both paper and digital forms. Many shops in Bristol accept the currency and the aim of the Bristol Pound is to support the independent business by encouraging people to spend locally.
10. And our own Leaning Tower
Temple Church in Temple Street has been nicknamed as the ‘Leaning Tower of Bristol’, thanks to the fact that it leans at 2.7 degrees, just 1 degree less than the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa.
11. Alfred the Gorilla was Stolen as a Prank in the 50s
In 1956, Alfred the stuffed gorilla was stolen by Bristol University students as part of a rag week prank. However, it took until 2010 to find out who the kidnappers were, as one of the students involved revealed the mystery on his deathbed.
12. Montpellier is Officially the UK’s Hippest Neighbourhood
In 2018, Travel Supermarket named Montpellier the UK’s coolest neighbourhood, beating Peckham in London and Ancoats in Manchester.
13. Prisoners Used to Have their Last Meal in the Highbury Vaults Pub
Bristol has its fair share of haunted pubs, including the Highbury Vaults in Cotham which was used as a holding place for prisoners before they were hung at the Gallows at the top of St. Michael’s Hill.
14. The Hatchet Pub’s Front Door may be Made From Human Skin
Dating back to 1606, the Hatchet Pub is said to have a front door that, underneath the layers of black paint and tar, is made from human skin.
15. The First Gender Reassignment Surgery Took Place in Bristol
Although assigned female at birth, Michael Dillon had 13 gender reassignment procedures between 1946 and 1949. They were so successful that no one knew he had been biologically born female.
16. Darth Vader is a Bristolian
Well, the man who physically portrayed him is at least. David Prowse was an English bodybuilder and actor best known for portraying the physical form of Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy. He sadly died in 2017 but leaves behind quite the legacy.
17. Bristol is a Popular TV and Film Location
From Doctor Who and Sherlock to Skins and The Young Ones, Bristol has been the setting of many TV programmes over the years.
18. Ribena Comes from Bristol
Name-checked in a Kanye West song and loved by kids across the UK, Ribena was actually created in Long Ashton in 1933 as an alternative form of vitamin C.
19. Del Boy and Rodney Spent Some Time Here
Although set in Peckham, Only Fools and Horses was regularly filmed in Bristol. In fact, the famous Batman and Robin scene was actually filmed in Broadmead. Die-hard fans can even go on an Only Fools and Horses tour around Bristol.
20. Bristol Used to have its own Time Zone
Up until 1840, Bristol’s clocks ran 10 minutes behind the ones in London. It was only the introduction of train travel that meant all time had to become standardised.
21. Wallace and Gromit Come From Bristol
Aardman, the Oscar-winning animation studio that created Wallace & Gromit, Shaun the Sheep and Creature Comforts (among many others) is based near the Bristol Docks.
22. 25% of the World’s Nature Documentaries are Made in Bristol
Bristol is a hub for wildlife enthusiasts, and the BBC Natural History Unit is based in Bristol.
23. Blackbeard was Born in Bristol
One of the World’s most famous Pirates, Blackbeard, was born on the Harbourside and even had a hideout in Redcliffe caves.
24. Lead Shot Was Invented in Bristol
Cheese Lane shot tower produced lead shots by dropping molten lead from the top of the tower into a water basin below. The shots solidified as they fell, resulting in spherical lead balls.
25. Concorde Originated in Bristol
The world’s first commercial supersonic jet was designed and built in Filton, April 9, 1969, and had its last official flight touching down at Heathrow in 2003.
26. There are 36 Bristol’s in the World
29 of these places are in America.
27. There is no 13 Royal York Crescent in Clifton
Instead, the address is known as 12A Royal York Crescent in agreement with a previously superstitious owner.
28. The Suspension Bridge Was Once Closed for One Day due to Strong Winds
On the 12th February 2014, the Suspension Bridge closed for one day due to strong winds. It was the first time in recorded history that the bridge has ever been closed for this reason
29. Bristol Zoo is the 5th Oldest Zoo in the World
The Zoo has been open since 1836 and has been home to many Bristol favourites over the years.
30. The Avon Gorge has its own Native Flower
Bristol is the only place in the UK that you will find the round-headed Bristol Onion flower.
31. Bristol was the First University to Have a Dedicated Drama Department
The Department of Drama in opened in 1946 and alumni include Simon Pegg, David Walliams, Matt Lucas and Emily Watson.
32. One of the Lowest Ever Rated Films Was Set In Bristol
The Truth About Love stars Jennifer Love Hewitt and has an impressive 0% score on the film rating site Rotten Tomatoes. To put this into context, even Sex and the City 2 managed to get a 16%.
33. Bristol Analysed Moon Dust
Samples of Moon Dust taken from the lunar surface by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were sent to Bristol University to be analysed for signs of life.
34. IMDB was Created by a Man From Stoke Gifford
Colin Needham sold his company to Amazon in 1998 but still heads it up now.
35. Taylor Swifts Latest Boyfriend Studied at Bristol University
Keep your eyes peeled for the pop megastar having a pasty down in Broadmead.
36. Bristol’s Top Tourist Attraction? The SS Great Britain
Launched in 1843, the SS Great Britain carried thousands of people across the Atlantic Ocean and was the first ship to have both a steel hull and a propeller.
37. Swans Have Lived in the Bristol Docks for over 300 Years
The magnificent birds are here all year round but fly away to breed because of the lack of suitable nest sites in Bristol Docks.
38. Stalin’s Daughter Lived in Clifton
Svetlana Alliluyeva, the daughter of the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin left Communist Russia in 1967 and fled to the United States. She later moved to Bristol where she was believed to have remained throughout the 90s.
39. Bristol is Home to a Natural Slide
The ‘Slidey Rock’ as it is affectionately named by locals, is located near the Clifton Suspension Bridge and is a natural slide that has formed on the cliff face. You didn’t grow up in Bristol if you haven’t gone down the slidey rock!
40. Bristol was the UK’s First Cycling City
Despite the number of hills, Bristol was named the UK’s First Cycling City by the Government in 2008, when the city was rewarded over £10m to create more bike lanes, better facilities and more training for kids.
41. The Odeon Cinema is Said to be Haunted
On 29th May 1926, someone broke into the cinema and fired 5 shots at the screen. A sixth shot was heard in the Odeon managers office, where it was discovered that the cinema manager had been killed. So if you notice that screen 3 is unusually cold, it’s said to be haunted by the ghost of murdered cinema manager.
42. Part of NYC was built with Rubble from Bristol
Waterside Plaza in Manhattan, New York City was built using landfill from Bristol after the Second World War. The rubble was used to stabilise American ships on their return from the UK and created what’s now known as ‘the Bristol Basin’ in New York.
43. Bristol is the Birthplace of Hollywood Royalty
Cary Grant (Archibald Leach)was born in Horfield and grew up in Bristol. One of his first jobs was working at the Bristol Hippodrome.
44. Bristol was the First UK City to Win the European Green Capital.
Bristol was awarded the title in 2015 due to its well-established record of achieving high environmental standards and commitment to further environmental improvement.
45. Bristol is Home to 4 Michelin-Starred Restaurants
The Bristol food scene is constantly improving, and Casamia, The Pony & Trap, Paco Tapas and Wilks all now have Michelin Stars.
46. The Christmas Steps Used to be Named Knifesmith Street
Originally a muddy alley, Christmas Steps only became ‘stepped’ in 1669 by the then Sheriff of Bristol, Johnathan Blackwell. It was originally called Knifesmith Street and although there are a few theories, no one really has a definitive answer to why it was renamed Christmas Steps.
47. Bristol is Home to Some Unusual Beers
The Bristol beer scene is thriving, with micro-breweries popping up all over the city. Try the Arbour Ales Chai Guy ale which blends American Hops with Indian Spices, or grab a bottle of Wiper and True’s Milk Shake which uses chocolate malts and vanilla pods.
48. The HMV Dog is From Bristol
Nipper the dog was born in Bristol in 1884 and served as the model for a painting by Francis Barraud titled ‘His Master’s Voice’. This image, which depicted the dog next to a gramophone, went on to be the logo for many companies, the most famous being HMV.
49. The Bristol Old Vic was Illegal when it First Opened.
When the theatre first opened in 1776 it was technically illegal as it didn’t have the necessary Royal Patent. Because of this, productions were referred to as “concerts with a specimen of rhetoric” and the building was hidden away with no direct access to the street. To gain admission, spectators had to go through a nearby neighbours house!
50. A Woman Jumped off the Suspension Bridge and Lived
In 1885 Sarah Ann Henley, who was 22 at the time, decided to jump off the Clifton Suspension Bridge because her fiancee called off their engagement by letter. Luckily, she was wearing a big crinoline skirt, which acted like a parachute, slowing her fall and also blowing her onto the land rather than the water. She then went on to live until the ripe old age of 85.
Do you have Bristol fact we should add to this list? Let us know in the comments below and if it’s good, we’ll include it.