Clifton, Bristol

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Clifton - Princess Victoria Street (750px).jpg
Princess Victoria Street at the heart of Clifton Village
Grid reference: ST571737
Location: 51°27’36"N, 2°37’12"W
Population: 21,818  (2011[1])
Post town: Bristol
Postcode: BS8
Dialling code: 0117
Local Government
Council: Bristol
Bristol West

Clifton is an ancient parish of Gloucestershire that forms a suburb of Bristol. It forms part of the Barton Regis Hundred.

Notable places in Clifton include Clifton Suspension Bridge, Clifton Cathedral, Clifton College, The Clifton Club, Bristol Zoo, Goldney Hall and Clifton Down.


Clifton was recorded in the Domesday book as Clistone, the name of the village denoting a 'hillside settlement' and referring to its position on a steep hill. Until 1898 Clifton St Andrew was a separate civil parish.[2] Various sub-districts of Clifton exist, including Whiteladies Road, an important shopping district to the east, and Clifton Village, a smaller shopping area near the Avon Gorge to the west.

The name Clifton is generally applied to the high ground stretching from Whiteladies Road in the east to the rim of the Avon Gorge in the west, and from Clifton Down and Durdham Down in the north to Cornwallis Crescent in the south.

Clifton is one of the oldest and most affluent areas of the city, much of it having been built with profits from tobacco and the slave trade. Situated to the west of Bristol city centre, it was at one time a separate settlement but became attached to Bristol by continuous development during the Georgian era and was formally incorporated into the city in the 1830s. Grand houses that required many servants were built in the area. Although some were detached or semi-detached properties, the bulk were built as terraces, many with three or more floors. One famous terrace is the majestic Royal York Crescent, visible from the Avon Gorge below and looking across the Bristol docks. Berkeley Square which was built around 1790 is an example of Georgian architecture. Secluded squares include the triangular Canynge Square. The ABC Cinema on Whiteladies Road was converted into offices and gymnasium in the 1990s but there are now plans to re-open it as a cinema.[3] Clifton Lido was built in 1850 but closed to the public in 1990, it was redeveloped and opened again to the public in November 2008.[4]

Parts of Clifton itself are now in the process of being pedestrianised.[5]

Geography and transport

Immediately north of Clifton is Durdham Down, a relatively flat and open area, used for recreation purposes. On the western edge of Clifton is Clifton Down, a less open/more wooded area, adjacent to the gorge. Clifton is home to many buildings of the University of Bristol, including Goldney Hall; Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Clifton Suspension Bridge; the Roman Catholic Clifton Cathedral; Christ Church, Clifton Down; Clifton College; Clifton High School; the former Amberley House preparatory school; Queen Elizabeth's Hospital School, The Clifton Club; and Bristol Zoo.

Clifton is served by Clifton Down railway station]on the local Severn Beach railway line, and by frequent bus services from central Bristol. It has road links to the city centre and outer western suburbs, and across the Clifton Suspension Bridge to Leigh Woods in Somerset. Between 1893 and 1934, it was connected to Hotwells by the Clifton Rocks Railway.

Famous and notable residents

  • Angela Carter - author (whilst studying at the University of Bristol)[6]
  • Eliza Walker Dunbar - early female doctor[7]
  • Eugénie de Montijo - later Empress Eugenie of France, wife of Napoleon III, was a student in Royal York Crescent where she was known as "Carrots"[8]
  • Keith Floyd - restaurateur and TV personality[9]
  • Catherine Grace - founder of St Christopher's School for students with special needs in 1945
  • W. G. Grace - cricketer and surgeon[10]
  • Francis Greenway - renowned Australian architect and designer of The Clifton Club[11]
  • John Grimshaw - founder of Sustrans and a voice for cyclists in the UK.
  • Sarah Guppy - inventor and collaborator with Isambard Kingdom Brunel[12]
  • Charles Hansom - architect of Clifton College[13]
  • Henry Selby Hele-Shaw - engineer and inventor of the Hele-Shaw clutch], Professor at the University of Bristol[14]
  • Victoria Hughes - carer for prostitutes whilst cleaning the public toilets on Clifton Down[15]
  • Annie Kenney - leading suffragette[16]
  • Thomas MacAulay - historian[17]
  • Peter Nichols - actor and playwright at the Bristol Old Vic
  • Frank Norman - novelist and playwright
  • Peter O'Toole - actor starting his career at the Bristol Old Vic[18]
  • Svetlana Alliluyeva - later known as Lana Peters, Stalin's daughter[19]
  • Ellen Sharples and Rolinda Sharples - artist family
  • Tom Stoppard - playwright
  • John Addington Symonds - writer[20]
  • Paule Vézelay - artist[21]
  • William West - artist and builder of Clifton Observatory[22]

In popular culture

In Frances Burney's novel Evelina (1778), young gentlemen are racing their phaetons on the public highways of Clifton (then still outside Bristol), and not without incident.

Part of the background to Philippa Gregory's historical novel "A Respectable Trade" – dealing mainly with the slave trade in late 18th-century Bristol – is the start of construction at Clifton, then a far area outside the city limits as they were at the time. In some passages characters debate whether Clifton could ever become viable and whether investment in real estate there would not be too risky – questions which were evidently quite relevant at the time though to the modern reader the answers are obvious.

The song "32 West Mall", which appeared on the 1971 album Stackridge was named after the communal flat that the band shared as their headquarters at 32 West Mall in 1970.[23]

The 1978 children's paranormal drama "The Clifton House Mystery" – produced by HTV; was set in the Clifton area. The plot revolved around a family moving into an old house; and subsequently finding a skeleton of a long-dead person in a hidden room. After some unexplained incidents, they become convinced that a ghost connected in some way with the Bristol Riots of 1831 is haunting the house. The plot is based on the story of the real-life Thomas Brereton, a Dragoon commander who committed suicide after being court-martialled for his lenient approach to suppressing the rioters; although the ghost is named "George Bretherton" in the TV series.

Clifton has been featured in many television sitcoms, including the late 1970s and early 1980s TV series Shoestring, which was set in Bristol and starred Trevor Eve as a radio reporter and part-time sleuth. Much of the BBC series Mistresses was set there, including the 2008, 2009 and 2010 series. The TV series Teachers was partly filmed in Clifton, as was teen drama Skins and Being Human. Costume drama The House of Eliott was also largely filmed in Clifton, including at Goldney Hall and Berkeley Square.

The long-running hospital drama Casualty also drew on Clifton for many scenes between 1986 and 2009, when it was filmed in Bristol.[24]

A number of films have also been set in Clifton, including The Truth About Love (2005) starring Dougray Scott and Jennifer Love Hewitt, The Foolish Things (2005), starring Lauren Bacall and Anjelica Huston, and Starter for 10 (2006), starring James McAvoy and produced by Tom Hanks, which was filmed largely on Royal York Crescent.[25] The 1962 film about delinquent teenagers, Some People, starring Kenneth More and Ray Brooks was filmed in and around Clifton.[26]

Exhibitions and galleries

In 2010, Bristol-based art gallery Antlers Gallery exhibited its first exhibition Grotesques. The exhibition was held at a disused retail space in Whiteladies Gate. The project featured work by eleven Bristol based artists.

Natural history

Clifton has a long history of natural history television programming and global conservation, due to the presence of Bristol Zoo in the north of the ward and the proximity of the BBC Natural History Unit, which means that more than 25% of the world's wildlife programmes are made in Bristol.[27] Animal Magic with Johnny Morris was filmed at Bristol Zoo for the duration of the programme (1963–1983).

The UK arm of the conservation charity Ape Action Africa, which rescues and rehabilitates chimpanzees and gorillas in Cameroon, West Africa, operates out of Clifton.


Houses in Cliftonwood and Hotwells, with Brandon Hill and Cabot Tower visible in the background.

Cliftonwood is bounded approximately by the Hotwell Road to the south, Jacob's Wells Road and Constitution Hill to the East and North East, Clifton Vale to the West, and by the gardens of Goldney Hall, a University of Bristol hall of residence, to the north. Due to the geography of the area, there are only two roads in and out: Ambra Vale in the south-west corner, and Clifton Wood Road in the north-east, though there are many footpaths. On some sources the area is spelled Cliftonwood (one word), and in some Clifton Wood (two words).

The suburb is primarily a residential area, with the only commercial premises being the Lion pub. Housing is largely large Victorian terraces, which are often painted bright colours – the coloured houses one can see when standing on Bristol's harbourside and looking up at Cliftonwood are the backs of houses on Ambrose Road and Clifton Wood Terrace.

A mediæval Jewish ritual bath, known as a mikveh, was discovered in 1987, in the former Hotwells Police Station bicycle shed, by the Temple Local History group. This is believed to be the origin of the name Jacob's Well, also given to the adjoining road.[28]


Hotwells is located to the south of and below the high ground of Clifton, and directly to the north of the Floating Harbour. The southern entrance to the Avon Gorge, which connects those docks to the sea, lies at the western end of Hotwells. Bristol Cathedral is situated at the eastern end of Hotwells, adjacent to The Council House and College Green. Hotwells forms part of the city ward of Clifton.[29][30]


  1. "Clifton" (PDF). 2011 Census Ward Information Sheet. Retrieved 26 February 2015. 
  2. A Vision of Britain Through Time : Clifton St Andrew Civil Parish
  3. "Relaunching the Whiteladies Picture House". Clifton Conservatives. 17 April 2012. Retrieved 1 May 2012. 
  4. "Suburb's Victorian lido reopens". BBC News. 24 November 2008. Retrieved 30 November 2008. 
  5. "Charles Lucas: Boyces Avenue – people, cars or both?". Clifton Conservatives. 23 March 2012.–-people-cars-or-both. Retrieved 1 May 2012. 
  6. Mark Jones, Bristol Folk, Lulu Press Inc, 2015
  7. Helen Blackburn, A Handbook for women engaged in social and political work, Arrowsmith, 1881
  8. John Taylor, Bristol and Clifton Old and New, 1878
  9. Jane Pearce, Wanderlust, Authorhouse, 2013
  10. Richard Tomlinson, Amazing Grace: The Man who was WG, Hachette UK, 2015
  11. Alistair McGregor, A Forger's Progress: The Life of Francis Greenway, New South, 2014
  12. The Repertory of patent inventions, 1831, original from Oxford University
  13. Kelly's Directory of Somersetshire: With the City of Bristol, Kelly & Co, 1883
  14. J Murray, Report of the ... Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Volume 53, Part 4, 1884
  15. The Telegraph: Fame at last for prostitutes' friend from the ladies loo accessed 8 October 2015
  16. Elizabeth Crawford, The Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide, Routledge, 2003
  17. T MacAulay, The Letters of Thomas Babington MacAulay: Volume 1, 1807-February 1831, Cambridge University Press, 2008
  18. Robert Sellers, Peter O'Toole: The Definitive Biography, Pan Macmillan, 2015
  19. Tobacco Factory play about Lana Peters' story accessed 8 October 2015
  20. Catherine Reilly, Mid-Victorian Poetry: 1860-1879, A&C Black, 2000
  21. Zabriskie Gallery, Paule Vezelay: Imagination, Mathematics, Balance : [exhibition] February 23-March 26, 1988
  22. John H Hammond, The camera obscura: a chronicle, Hilger, 1981
  23. "STACKRIDGE HISTORY 1969–1970 – according to Andy Davis" at
  24. BBC Bristol – MP protests over TV Casualty move
  25. Visit Bristol – Filmed in Bristol
  26. Nield, Anthiny (25 February 2013). "Film Reviews: People Like Us: Some People Reappraised". The Quietus. 
  27. Filmed in Bristol
  28. Emanuel, R. R.; Ponsford, M. W. (1994). "Jacob's Well, Bristol, Britain's only known medieval Jewish Ritual Bath (Mikveh)" (PDF). Transactions (Bristol: Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society) 112: 73–86. 
  29. "Clifton Ward Map" (PDF). Bristol City Council. Archived from the original on 22 November 2009. Retrieved 16 June 2006. 
  30. Ordnance Survey (2005). OS Explorer Map 155 – Bristol & Bath. ISBN 0-319-23609-9.

Outside links

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