Longitude: 51.4584939 / Latitude: -2.594000 / Distance: 1.6 km / Duration: 35 mins / Google Map
The Haymarket was the location of the Horsefair held from 1238. An annual fair, held over fifteen days, was held here. Originally starting on July 25th (the feast day of St James) it was later changed to the first fortnight in September. The fair, which was held in the churchyard and adjoining streets, was regarded as the most important of the Bristol Fairs. By the 17th-century the fair was so prominent that merchant ships sailing to Bristol for it were frequently attacked by Turkish pirates in the Bristol Channel. The last fair was held in 1837. It also subsequently left its mark on the geography of Bristol as the roundabout nearby is called the Horsefair.
Start your walk at St James Church. The original Priory erected, in 1130, by Robert FitzRoy, 1st Earl of Gloucester, but it shared the fate of all monasteries at the dissolution in 1543.
St. James Church is a fine Norman Church with some unusual features. The church is entered through the West Front entrance in Whitson Street, where you will see the Norman arcade of arches.
Although the interior has been altered, in the twelfth-century the timbered roof and painted corbels have survived. In the South Aisle is the tomb of its founder, who died in 1147.
Situated on the corner of Whitson Street is the White Hart Inn (1672), an old pilgrim’s hostelry. To the front of the church is St. James’ Parade and the grass park, all that remains of the graveyard. It was once thought that this area was used as a plague-pit. When the area was built over, in 1954, three hundred bodies were recovered and reburied elsewhere. However, these were all traditional burials and there the legend ended.
Taking the pedestrian crossing to Lower Union Street, with Broadmead to your left, you will see the ‘…church above the shops‘, built-in 1969. The origins of the church were founded, in 1671 by Dorothy Hazzard, a religious reformer and a clergyman’s wife.
Continuing to the top, where Union Street meets Newgate, the site of the old Newgate Gaol (also known as Newgate Prison); a plaque on the wall commemorates the site. Newgate prison was located roughly where the main entrance to the Galleries Car Park is now.
It was rebuilt in 1690 from the medieval New Gate which controlled access to Bristol Castle. It was Bristol’s main prison in the 18th-century, where most of those convicted before 1820 were imprisoned. Conditions were appalling. John Wesley, among others, campaigned tirelessly for improving conditions. Eventually, the gaol was replaced by a new purpose-built prison on Cumberland Road which opened in August 1820.
Walking across to Castle Park and the ruins of St. Peter’s Church. It was just east of this spot where the old Saxon town of Bricgstow, meaning place by the bridge, once stood. Over the years, archaeologists have discovered evidence that the town was demolished to build the castle, which in turn was raised to the ground in 1654 on orders from Oliver Cromwell.
When the castle was built in 1126 it was double the size of Caernarfon Castle and covered this whole area. The site contains a glimpse of the past, with courtesy ‘Story Boards’ positioned along the way. Standing high on the castle mound you can appreciate the importance of this natural vantage point, with the River Frome and Avon on three sides. The moat went around the present Broadweir.
On the opposite side of the river, the buildings you see were breweries. These are now converted into smart town apartments and offices but once would’ve been a hive of activity for local breweries with familiar names like Courage, 1732 – 1999.
Turning left on the corner of Broadweir and Penn Street into Quaker’s Friars. This was an old Dominican Friary that was dissolved in 1542. Dennis Hollister originally donated the land in 1670. It was here that William Penn married Hollister’s granddaughter, Hannah Callowhill, in 1696. Penn later went to America and founded Pennsylvania. The present structure was the product of architect George Tully, in 1747. His friend, Thomas Paty, had previously built the New Room for the Wesleyans. Until recently it was home to the Registry Office and now boasts chef Raymond Blanc’s Brasserie and Bar which opened in 2008.
Leaving Quakers’ Friars into Merchant Street, formerly Marshal Street, and opposite you will see the only surviving property after the bombings of 1940, the old Merchant Taylors’ Almshouses, built-in 1701. The property, now a café, is the entrance to the Galleries shopping complex.
Turning left at the ‘Hub’ into Broadmead, the centre of the shopping area. Even in this apparently latter-day commercial environment, three interesting features remain. On the left is the site of the Greyhound Inn, an old coaching inn, dating from 1620. Originally two buildings, the Birmingham Hotel (previously the Bell) and the smaller Greyhound merged to form one hotel named the Greyhound in the early 19th-century. In 1958 most of the pub was converted into shops and the whole front re-built in the replica. Today it serves as an entrance to the Galleries shopping centre and is no longer a pub.
Looking up you will see the name remains and also the “Bristol Union” fire mark is retained. The fire mark for Bristol Union Fire and Life Insurance Co. in Bristol, England was used between 1814 and 1844.
Opposite, in a courtyard, is a stable behind an equestrian statue. This is the site of the first Methodist chapel in the world, The New Room. The chapel was founded by John Wesley who took possession of the land on May 9th 1739. Today, the building is still used as it was intended and is virtually unchanged.
An American alliance was forged here following a conference in 1771 when Francis Asbury was invited to go to New York and establish the first Methodist chapel over there. John’s brother Charles, whose statue stands in the North entrance to the Horsefair, lived nearby at 4 Charles Street, behind St. James’ Church. Charles Wesley, arguably the greatest hymn writer that ever lived, is buried where all his children were baptised, at St. James’ Church.
Next-door is the Arcade, one of two which survived the Second World War. It was built in 1824 as a covered shopping area serving the local community.