Photos of Victorian Bristol and how the city looks now - The Centre, Park Street, Temple Meads and more

Parts of Victorian Bristol are still recognisable today

Bristol has changed a lot since the Victorian age. In 1801 the city’s population stood at around 68,800 - by the time of Queen Victoria’s death in 1901, it had risen rapidly to 330,000.

Ship building, copper, brass and glass making helped transform Bristol, bringing more money and people to the city and turning it into a hub of interational trade while the city’s port flourished throughout the century.

But, since then, the city has undergone massive changes as the way we travel, work, shop and spend our leisure time has changed.

We found some old pictures of Bristol and compared them to scenes found from Google Maps.

Have a look at these pictures from Victorian Bristol and the same locations now to get an idea of how much (and how little, in parts) the city has changed.

Park Street

The elegant Georgian buildings you’ll see lining Park Street were mostly occupied by merchants, doctors and their families in the 1700s. But by 1820, shops had begun to pop up along the road. More and more houses were converted into shops over the course of the century and soon the street boasted a grocer, confectioner, florist and dressmakers among other businesses. It’s still one of the main shopping areas in Bristol today.

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Clifton Suspension Bridge

Brunel described this famous bridge over the Avon Gorge as ‘my first child, my darling’. Work on the bridge started in 1831 and took 33 years to complete. But the monument has certainly stood the test of time, and doesn’t look much different, save for the addition of a few cars. Here’s the bridge in 1900 and 2017.

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Colston Avenue

The area enclosed by Colston Avenue was originally called Magpie Park, named after the newspaper The Bristol Magpie which had offices on the western side of the street. The Bristol Industrial and Fine Arts Exhibition was held here in 1893 and saw 500,000 attendees raise £2,200 for charity. This is now the site of the Bristol Cenotaph which was unveiled in 1932. Following the toppling of the Colston statue in 2020, Colston Tower that you see in the picture was renamed Beacon Tower and there are calls to restore the road’s original Medieval name, ‘St Augustine’s Back’.

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Victoria Rooms

The Victoria Rooms, at the junction of Queen’s Road and Whiteladies Road, was built between 1838 and 1842 and named in honour of Queen Victoria. The building boasts a lecture theatre in which Charles Dickens and Jenny Lind once performed. It was also used for important dinners and assemblies, including banquets to commemorate the opening of the Clifton Suspension Bridge. The building is now home to the University of Bristol’s music department.

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Temple Meads

Bristol Temple Meads opened in 1840, another feat of engineering by Brunel. It was designed to be the western terminus of the Great Western Railway but was soon being used by Bristol and Exeter Railway, the Bristol and Gloucester Railway, the Bristol Harbour Railway and the Bristol and South Wales Union Railway. These days, the building is managed by Network Rail. Most services are still operated by the Great Western Railway along with Cross Country, and the horse-drawn carriages outside have been replaced by blue taxis.

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The Centre

The Centre has never been the historic or civic centre of Bristol, nor is it a major shopping area, but it is an important transport interchange. Many bus services still terminate or pass through it today. In 1896 the Bristol Tramways and Carriageway Company (BT&CC) moved their head office to premises at 1–3 St Augustine’s Parade, where they remained until 1970. J. B Priestly visited Bristol in 1933, and described The Centre as ‘a place where trams and coastal steamers seemed in danger of collision’.

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