King Street

Longitude: 51.4520856 / Latitude: -2.5948468 / Distance: 1.57 km / Duration: 30 mins / Google Map

Route Map King Street City Walks Bristol

In King Street, we catch a glimpse of the 17th and 18th-centuries. The street was built outside the old walled city, in 1650, by merchants who wanted to develop the town marsh and create a new residential area for themselves. The north side was developed first followed by the south side in 1663 when the street was named after Charles II. The cobblestone street has been preserved and the whole area is awash with architectural treasures spanning the centuries.

Here, in 1554, the Society of Merchant Venturers founded the pink-washed residential Almshouses to accommodate sixteen old seamen. The property was enlarged in 1696, thanks to the generosity of Edward Colston. Read the poem on the wall in the centre of the building. On the side-wall of the house is the Coat of Arms of the Society of Merchant Venturers, with the date 1699. Associations have been drawn between one of these old sailors’ stories of hidden treasure and the Spanish Main and Edgar Allan Poe’s own story, ‘The Gold Bug’.

Next-door is the Old Library, built-in 1740, now a popular eatery serving Asian cuisine. The site was originally occupied by a house donated to the city in 1624 by Robert Redwood. The original was replaced by the one you see today, designed by James Paty, and has been used by writers and poets such as Southey and Coleridge. This building was superseded by the then-new Municipal Central Library in Deanery Road, erected in 1906.

It is interesting to note the architecture of different centuries sitting side-by-side along the street. Across the street are numbers 17, 18, 19 and 20.

These houses are now commercial outlets, but if you examine them you will see that number 20 retains its original door. The opposite side is number 21, a rather ornate Victorian warehouse and alongside that the Theatre Royal or Bristol Old Vic, the oldest continually-operating theatre in the English-speaking world, which opened in 1766. The interior was designed by James Paty, who took inspiration from Wren’s Drury Lane Theatre. Up in the gallery and you could see the horseshoe-shaped auditorium with the retained eighteenth-century benches. The Coopers’ Hall, built 1743–44, was integrated as the theatre’s foyer during 1970–72. Daniel Day-Lewis called it ‘the most beautiful theatre in England.’
The theatre has undergone recent developments to increase space and seating areas.
A further bout of redevelopment was undertaken between June 2016 and September 2018. The street side of the 1970s Peter Moro building, containing the Studio Theatre (originally the New Vic), was demolished and replaced by a new foyer with bar and box office, which makes a feature of the previously hidden theatre walls. The Coopers’ Hall was adapted to house new performance and event spaces, including a studio theatre in the barrel vaults in its basement.

On the corner of King Street are St. Nicholas Almshouses, built-in 1656 and the first to be erected in the street. Opposite stands The Old Duke, home of Jazz, dates from about 1775. The Old Duke, named after the classic American jazz musician Duke Ellington, has it’s heritage firmly embedded in traditional, New Orleans inspired jazz.

Crossing towards Welsh Back and the River Avon, with views of Bristol Bridge on the left and converted warehouses on the right. This area was once referred to as “Little Venice.” Barrels of old cannons, remnants of the Civil War of 1645, have been used as capstans along the quay.

The Llandoger Trow, with its half-timbered façade, opened near Welsh Back, an area of the harbourside that took in boats from south Wales carrying slate, stone, timber and coal, in 1664. Its first landlord was one Captain Hawkins, who ran the pub after retiring from sailing Trows – flat-bottomed barges – across the Bristol Channel.

Legend has it that a shipwrecked sailor, Alexander Selkirk, met here with Daniel Defoe. It was at this meeting that Selkirk recounted his exploits on the island of Juan Fernandez and his return with privateer Captain Woodes Rogers. These tales are said to have inspired Defoe’s novel ‘Robinson Crusoe.’ The Llandoger Trow is the “Spyglass Inn“. Whether this is true we do not know; however, Woodes Rogers did live around the corner in Queen Square and was undoubtedly a frequent visitor to the Inn. The inn was closed at the time of writing with its future is unclear.

Other houses of interest are numbers 6, 7 and 8, fine examples of 17th-century building notably number 6, a Queen Anne house with shell-hood.

Walking on into Welsh Back and on the corner with Little King Street is the Old Granary, built-in 1869. This has more recently been used as a restaurant. Its polychrome brickwork gave the name to Bristol Byzantine architecture.

Continue along Queen Charlotte Street and into Queen Square, an area of approximately five acres, which was begun in 1699 and named after Queen Anne who visited it in 1702. Before this, the site was the old marsh, home to bear-baiting, archery and military exercises. It was drained to form what is believed to be the largest square in Europe. Many houses were destroyed or damaged in the Bristol Riots of 1831, but what remains is a pleasant reminder of the grandeur of those past days.

Walking around the square you will see many plaques commemorating philosophers, actresses, privateers and Polish patriots. In the centre is a statue of William III on horseback by Michael Rysbrack, erected in 1736. Although removed by Queen Mary during a time of war, it was restored to its rightful place in the year 2000 due to the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, Bristol City Council and The Queen Square Association.

The Custom House, designed by Sydney Smirke in 1836, replaced the original house which was destroyed by rioters in 1831. Leave the square by The Grove where you will see the inn, the Hole in the Wall. This was once called the Coach and Horses and at one time the so-called press gangs would be prowling the area for sailors to man the ships.
On the far side, you will see jutting out from the main building an elongated slit; this would give a discreet view of the floating harbour and its surroundings.

Back in Prince Street again, you will find the Arnolfini Gallery. The Gallery is open to the public every day and includes a cinema, café bar and restaurant and a well-stocked bookshop. Close by is the ‘Horned’ Bridge. The bridge is composed of three spans; the two outer ones are fixed and the central section can be raised to provide a navigation channel in the harbour. The most distinctive features of the bridge are the pair of horn-shaped sculptures which act as counterweights for the lifting section, leading it to be commonly known as the Horned Bridge. On the opposite bank are the Industrial Museum, now the M Shed, and the Waterfront.

If you walk along Narrow Quay towards the centre you will arrive at Broad Quay, just across the road from where you started.

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