Culture in Bristol

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Bristol is a city in South West England. As the largest city in the region it is a centre for the arts and sport. The region has a distinct West Country dialect.


Se Fire on the Main Stage at the Ashton Court Festival

In summer the grounds of Ashton Court to the west of the city play host to the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, a major event for hot air ballooning in Britain. The Fiesta draws a substantial crowd even for the early morning lift that typically begins at about 6.30 am. Events and a fairground entertain the crowds during the day. A second mass ascent is then made in the early evening, again taking advantage of lower wind speeds.

The annual Bristol International Festival of Kites and Air Creations,[1] featuring kite makers and flyers from around the world, takes place in September at Ashton Court.

From 1974 until 2007, Ashton Court also played host to the Ashton Court festival each summer, an outdoors music festival which used to be known as the Bristol Community Festival. Torrential rain during the 2007 festival and mounting costs incurred as a result of the Licensing Act 2003 led to the dissolution of the not-for-profit company which organised the event.[2]

The annual Bristol Harbour Festival features displays of tall ships and musical performances. The St Pauls Carnival takes place in Bristol during the summer and features a procession and late night music.[3]

The Slapstick Festival celebrates silent film comedy every January and the organisation also promotes screenings throughout the year.[4] In November the Encounters Short Film Festival offers a platform for new short films.[5] The biennial Wildscreen Festival showcases wildlife filmmaking in the city that is home to the BBC Natural History Unit.[6]

The Great Reading Adventure was introduced in 2003 as part of Bristol's bid to be European Capital of Culture 2008. It was inspired by an equivalent scheme in Chicago, where they were reading Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. In its first year in excess of 15,000 people read Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson as part of the scheme.[7] The Bristol Art Library (TBAL) is an art performance project created in 1998 by British artist Annabel Other. It consists of handmade books in a library the size of a suitcase.[8]

The Bristol Festival of Ideas is an annual programme of debates and other events, which aims "to stimulate people’s minds and passions with an inspiring programme of discussion and debate".[9] It was first set up in 2005 as part of the city's ultimately unsuccessful bid to become the European Capital of Culture for 2008, and awards an annual book prize, worth £10,000, to a book which "presents new, important and challenging ideas, which is rigorously argued, and which is engaging and accessible".[10][11]


Bristol Old Vic[edit]

The Old Vic.

The city's principal theatre company, the Bristol Old Vic, was founded in 1946 as an offshoot of the Old Vic company in London. Its premises on King Street consist of the 1766 Theatre Royal (400 seats), a modern studio theatre (150 seats), and foyer and bar areas in the adjacent Coopers' Hall (built 1743). The Theatre Royal is a grade I listed building and was the oldest continuously operating theatre in England.

The Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, which originated in King Street as an offshoot of the Bristol Old Vic is now a separate company. Based in Clifton in a property bought with royalties from Julian Slade's musical Salad Days, the school trains actors, stage managers, directors, lighting and sound technicians, designers and costumiers for work in stage, television, radio and film productions. BOVTS is an Associate School of the Faculty of Creative Arts of the University of the West of England and an affiliate of the Conservatoire for Dance and Drama. Alumni include Annette Crosbie, Brian Blessed, Daniel Day-Lewis, Gene Wilder, Jane Lapotaire, Jeremy Irons, Miranda Richardson, Patrick Stewart, Pete Postlethwaite, Stephanie Cole and Tim Pigott-Smith.[12]

Bristol Hippodrome[edit]

The Bristol Hippodrome is a larger theatre (1981 seats) which hosts national touring productions, whilst other theatres include the Tobacco Factory (250 seats), The Brewery (90 seats), Bierkeller Theatre (400 seats), QEH (220 seats), the Redgrave Theatre (at Clifton College) (320 seats) and the Alma Tavern (50 seats). Arnolfini stage a regular programme of experimental, physical and live art theatre and the University of Bristol Drama Department has a regular programme of visiting companies and in-house work at the Wickham Theatre.[13] Other venues which have hosted theatre productions include Hope Chapel (Hotwells) (formerly the Hope Centre), the Hen and Chicken pub (Bedminster) and PACTS (Easton).

Other theatres[edit]

Bristol's theatre scene includes a large variety of producing theatre companies, apart from the Bristol Old Vic, including Show of Strength Theatre Company, Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory, acta community theatre, Myrtle Theatre, Cirque Bijou, Desperate Men, Theatre West and Travelling Light Theatre Company. Theatre Bristol is a partnership between Bristol City Council, Arts Council England and local theatre practitioners which aims to develop the theatre industry in Bristol.[14] There are also a number of organisations within the city which act to support theatre makers, for example Equity, the actors union, has a General Branch based in the city,[15] and Residence which provides office, social and rehearsal space for several Bristol based theatre and performance companies.[16]

The University of Bristol Drama Department offers undergraduate and post-graduate degrees in performance and screen studies.[17] The University of the West of England offers undergraduate and post-graduate drama and film programmes.[18] Circomedia is a training school for circus and physical theatre skills offering foundation degrees and BTEC courses.[19]

In addition there are around 25 active non-professional theatre companies in the Greater Bristol area listed in Bristol City Council's Leisure and Culture database.[20] Mayfest is an annual contemporary theatre festival that takes place for two weeks in May. It is best known for presenting contemporary theatre but also dance, site specific, experimental, interactive and participatory theatre as well as music events.[21]


The music scene is thriving and significant. In 2010, PRS for Music announced that Bristol is the 'most musical' city in the UK, based on the number of PRS members born in Bristol relative to its population.[22] From the late 1970s onwards it was home to a crop of cultish bands combining punk, funk, dub and political consciousness, including The Pop Group, close friends of The Cortinas, who led the City's punk scene from 1976. Bristol's premier fanzine from this time through until early 1978 was Loaded. It featured all of the Bristol bands as well as those who visited the city, some of whom were promoted by the magazine.

Ten years later, Bristol was the birthplace of a type of English hip-hop music called trip hop or the Bristol Sound, epitomised in the work of artists such as Tricky, Portishead, Smith & Mighty and Massive Attack. It is also a stronghold of drum and bass with notable bands like the Mercury Prize winning Roni Size /Reprazent and Kosheen as well as the pioneering DJ Krust and More Rockers. The progressive house duo Way Out West also hails from Bristol. This music is part of the wider Bristol Urban Culture scene which received international media attention in the 1990s and still thrives today.

Other forms of popular music also thrive on the city's scene. In the 1980s the city gave birth to thrash metal band Onslaught who became the first non-American thrash band to sign to a major label. Other notable rockers from Bristol include folk rock outfit K-Passa, Stackridge, Act of Contrition, Chaos UK, Vice Squad, Wushcatte, The Claytown Troupe, Rita Lynch, Herb Garden, Doreen Doreen, The Seers, Pigbag, and The Blue Aeroplanes. More recently a new wave of Bristol-based bands have been promoting themselves across the UK underground, including New Rhodes, Santa Dog, Tin Pan Gang, The Private Side, Big Joan, You and the Atom Bomb, Riot:Noise, Two Day Rule, Alien Stash Tin, Osmium, Hacksaw, Allflaws, Bronze Age Fox and Legends De Early.

There is also a left field / experimental music scene in Bristol, which has built on the tradition of Bristol bands like The Pop Group, Third Eye Foundation and Crescent. These musicians are supported by record labels such as Invada, Farm Girl, Blood Red Sound and Super Fi, and promoters such as Qu Junktions, Illegal Seagull, Let the Bastards Grind, Noise Annoys and the, now defunct, Choke (music collective). Despite regular performances and the success of many of its members, this scene tends to be passed over in the national press' view of Bristol music which focuses on Trip Hop,[23] which represents only one aspect of the city's musical culture. Active bands include Gravenhurst (Warp), Team Brick (Invada), The Heads (Invada), Gonga (Invada), Joe Volk (Invada), Fuck Buttons (ATP - now moved to London), Hunting Lodge (Yosada), SJ Esau (Anticon, Twisted Nerve), Bronnt Industries Kapital (Static Caravan), Zoon van snooK (Lo Recordings, Mush Records), Aut (Fällt), Geisha (Crucial Blast) and Defibrillators (Gravid Hands). Bristol was also a home to post-rock music, with bands such as Flying Saucer Attack and Movietone.[24]

Bristol is home to many live music venues including the 2000-seat Bristol Beacon, formerly Colston Hall, named after Colston Street and the Colston School that once occupied the site, which can attract big names, the Trinity Centre (a community-run converted Church in the Old Market area of Bristol), the O2 Academy which is part of the national touring circuit for rock bands, the Anson Rooms (part of the University of Bristol Union), the Mothers Ruin, The Thekla, Fiddler's, the Bristol Folk House, Start the Bus, the Hatchet, the Fleece, the Croft, the Cooler and the Louisiana. The Colston Hall was renamed in 2020, following three years of consultation, after protests regarding Edward Colston's ties to the Atlantic slave trade.[25]

The city also has a popular jazz and blues scene with The Old Duke pub being a popular venue for bands such as Fortune Drive. Internationally recognised jazz and blues musicians active in Bristol include Eddie Martin, Jim Blomfield and Andy Sheppard. Other notable supporters of jazz include the Bristol Jazz Society, the Be-Bop Club and the East Bristol Jazz Club. St George's Bristol, on Brandon Hill, is notable for its jazz along with classical and world music performances.

The International Classical Season at the Colston Hall features regular performances by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra as well as other leading British orchestras such as the Philharmonia Orchestra and visiting orchestras from abroad, including the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and Berliner Symphoniker in the 2011-2012 season.[26] Bristol Choral Society also stages at least three concerts annually at the Colston Hall, as it has since its foundation in 1889.[27] The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Brodsky Quartet, among other internationally renowned ensembles, as well as local groups such as Bristol Bach Choir and the Bristol Ensemble, regularly perform at St George's Bristol, which also hosts BBC Radio Three lunchtime concert series. Bristol University's Victoria Rooms also have a seasonal programme of classical concerts, and other concerts are frequently staged at Bristol Cathedral and various Bristol churches.

Museums and galleries[edit]

Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery[edit]

The Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery houses collections of natural history, local archaeology, local glassware, Egyptology, Chinese ceramics and art, including the Bristol School. Touring exhibitions from other galleries are regularly hosted.

The City Museum is also responsible for

  • The Tudor Red Lodge, built in 1580 as the lodge for a 'Great House' which once stood on the site now occupied by the Colston Hall. Displays include Tudor and Georgian rooms and a Tudor knot garden.
  • The Georgian House was built by slave trader and plantation owner John Pinney in 1790 and is preserved in the style of a Georgian-era town house.
  • The Blaise Castle House and estate on the northern outskirts of the city houses the social history collections. The grounds were designed by 18th century landscape gardener Humphry Repton and John Nash designed the dairy and conservatory.
  • The remains of Kings Weston Roman Villa which is open on request.


Arnolfini specialises in contemporary art, live performance and dance and cinema.

Spike Island[edit]

Spike Island is an international centre for the development of contemporary art and design, home to a gallery, café and working space for artists, designers and creative businesses.

Other cultural venues[edit]

The Watershed Media Centre exhibits digital arts and cinema. The former Industrial Museum, housed in former warehouses at Prince's Wharf has been extensively rebuilt and, now called M Shed opened as a museum of Bristol life in 2011.

Bristol Archives in Hotwells houses the extensive city archives. The Royal West of England Academy in Clifton was founded in 1849 and exhibits works by William James Müller and Francis Danby amongst others.

The Alexander Gallery, F-block at the School of Creative Arts, Bower Ashton, Bristol Architecture Centre and Glenside Museum. The Bristol Guild of Applied Art also has a small gallery. Science interests are catered for by the At-Bristol complex at Canon's Marsh, which includes 'hands-on' exhibits and a planetarium. Antlers Gallery, a gallery nomadic by design produces temporary exhibitions across varying locations in Bristol.

A variety of youth clubs and day and residential activities, including National Citizen Service, are run by Young Bristol.[28][29]


From the early twentieth century, Bristol had a number of cinemas including the Whiteladies Picture House, Academy, Bedminster Hippodrome, Ashton Cinema, Prince's Theatre and Coliseum Picture House.[30]

As at May 2016, operational cinemas in Bristol include the Odeon Cinema in Broadmead (3 screens), the Showcase Cinema de Lux in Cabot Circus (14 screens), the Watershed on the harbourside (3 screens), the Cube Microplex in Kingsdown (1 screen), the Everyman Cinema in Clifton (3 screens), the Orpheus Cinema in Henleaze (3 screens), the Showcase Cinema in St Philip's Marsh (14 screens), Cineworld in Hengrove (12 screens), the Vue Cinema in Longwell Green (13 screens) and the Vue Cinema in Cribbs Causeway (12 screens).


Bristol's architecture includes many examples of mediaeval, gothic, modern industrial and post-war architecture. Notable buildings include the gothic revival Wills Memorial Building, and the tallest building in the city, St Mary Redcliffe. The city is noted for its Victorian industrial architecture of the Bristol Byzantine style, characterised by deep red and polychrome brickwork and Byzantine style arches.

Examples of most of the stages of the Architecture of the United Kingdom from the mediaeval era onwards are present in the city. Little remains of the fortifications of the walled city and castle, although several churches from the 12th century have survived. The Tudor period saw several large mansions and estates being built for wealthy merchants outside the traditional city centre. Almshouses and public houses for the rest of the population remain mixed in amongst areas of more recent development. In the eighteenth century, several squares were laid out for the prosperous middle classes in the expanding suburbs which grew to take in many of the surrounding villages. The development of the floating harbour provided a focus for industrial development and the local transport infrastructure including the Clifton Suspension Bridge and Temple Meads railway station, the original part of which was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The twentieth century saw further expansion of the city, with the growth of the University of Bristol buildings and the aircraft industry. During World War II the city centre suffered from extensive bombing during the Bristol Blitz and redevelopment of shopping centres and office buildings continues into the twenty-first century.

Bristol's skyline at sunset, from Bedminster


Bristol is the home of two major football clubs - Bristol City FC and Bristol Rovers FC, the Gloucestershire County Cricket Club, and Bristol Rugby Football Club. It also hosts an annual half marathon. The city has a large number of amateur football, cricket and rugby clubs and many active participants in a range of sports from tennis to athletics, and rowing to golf.


Bristolians speak a distinctive dialect of English. Uniquely for a large city in England, this is a rhotic dialect, in which the r in words like car is pronounced, usually as a postalveolar approximant. Once common across England, this feature has now receded to Bristol and the rural West Country, as well as parts of Lancashire.

The most unusual feature of this dialect, unique to Bristol, is the Bristol L (or Terminal L), in which an L sound is appended to words that end in a letter a: the standard illustration of this is the sentence "Africal is a malarial areal". Additionally, -al is drawn out as -awl, and an l may be added within a word with an aw, or an aw in a word with al. Thus "area" becomes "areawl", "drawing" becomes "drawling", "cereal" becomes "cereawl" etc. This may lead to confusions between expressions like area engineer and aerial engineer which in Bristolian sound identical. Other examples include Americawl and Canadawl, and, when unsure, the answer "I have no ideal". In the same way, the Swedish IKEA is known by some as "Ikeawl", and Asda supermarket as "Asdawl". The city's name evolved in the same manner, as it transformed from Anglo-Saxon "Brycgstow" to modern "Bristol."[31]

Another feature is the addition of S to verbs in the first and third person. Just as he goes, in Bristle I goes and they goes. As with other west country accents, H is often dropped from the start of words, th may become f, and -ing become -en.[31] Bristolians often add a redundant "mind", "look" or "see" to the end of sentences: "I'm not doing that, mind." A redundant "like" may be placed in the middle of a sentence, a feature that has become more common throughout the country.[31] Another Bristolian linguistic feature is the addition of a superfluous "to" in questions relating to direction or orientation. For example, "Where's that?" would be phrased as "Where's that to?" and "Where's the park?" would become "Where's the park to?". This speech feature is predominant in Newfoundland English, where many of that island's early European inhabitants originated from Bristol and other West Country ports. They lived on the island in relative isolation in the centuries to follow, maintaining this feature. These linguistic features can also be heard in Cardiff.

A (slightly tongue in cheek) guide to Bristol's dialect is at The linguist John C Wells codified the differences between a Bristol accent and Received Pronunciation in his Accents of English series in the following way.[32] It is much more similar to General American than most other accents in Britain.

RP English Bristol
/ɑː/ as in 'bath' [a]
/ɑː/ as in 'start' [aɻ]
/e/ as in 'dress' [ɛ]
/iː/ as in 'fleece' [i]
/aɪ/ as in 'price' (rounded) [ɑɪ]
/əʊ/ as in 'goat' [ɔʊ]
/eɪ/ as in 'face' [ɛɪ]
/ɔː/ as in 'thought' [ɔ]
/uː/ as in 'goose' [u]
/ɪə/ as in 'near' [iɻ]
/eə/ as in 'square' [ɛ(ɪ)ɻ]
/ɔː/ as in 'force' [ɔɻ]
/ɜː/ as in nurse [ɝ]
/uə/ as in 'cure' [uɻ] or [ɔɻ]
/ə/ as in 'letter' [ɚ]
/ə/ as in 'comma' [ə] or [ə̹]


Banksy graffiti, Park Street, Bristol 2006

There are several graffiti artists active in Bristol; probably the most known is Banksy, who produced the album cover for Think Tank by britpop band Blur. Other Bristol graffiti artists include Nick Walker, Sickboy, Inkie, Stars,[33] Lokey, cheo.

Massive Attack's Robert Del Naja was the first strongly active graffiti artist in Bristol in the early 1980s, with the nicknames of "3D" and "Delge".[34] He appeared in the UK documentary called "Bombin'" alongside Wolverhampton artist and later DJ and producer Goldie.[35]

Children of the Can: 25 Years of Bristol Graffiti by Felix Braun (FLX) and Steve Wright, is a book illustrating and documenting the street art scene in the city.[36]

900,000 people visited an exhibition of Banksy's work at the Bristol Museum in 2009. In August 2011 Bristol City Council finally recognised the importance of graffiti to the city's culture by allowing an entire street to be painted by various international street artists. In August 2011 the See No Evil public art event was installed in Nelson Street, transforming it into a walk-through graffiti gallery. Among other works, it includes a 20-metre tall mural.[33]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Bristol International Festival of Kites & Air Creations". Bristol International Festival of Kites & Air Creations. 20 July 2007. Retrieved 19 December 2008.
  2. ^ "Ashton Court Festival Organisation Collapses". Bristol Indymedia. 20 July 2007. Archived from the original on 28 July 2011. Retrieved 19 December 2008.
  3. ^ "St Pauls Carnival". St Pauls Carnival. Archived from the original on 2 August 2008. Retrieved 19 December 2008.
  4. ^ "Bristol Silents - Celebrating Silent Film". Bristol Silents. Retrieved 19 December 2008.
  5. ^ "Encounters Short Film Festival". Encounters Short Film Festival. Retrieved 19 December 2008.
  6. ^ "Wildscreen Festival". Wildscreen Festival. Retrieved 19 December 2008.
  7. ^ Bristol Plants a Reading Seed - from the Guardian Online
  8. ^ "The Bristol Art Library". Jonathon Allen. Retrieved 26 December 2015.
  9. ^ Bristol Festival of Ideas Archived 17 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Katie Allen, Bristol Festival of Ideas reveals Book Prize shortlist, The, 26 February 2009 Archived 15 September 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ Bristol Festival of Ideas: Book Prize Archived 7 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ "BOVTS Past Graduates". BOVTS. Archived from the original on 17 June 2008. Retrieved 20 December 2008.
  13. ^ "Wickham Theatre". University of Bristol. Retrieved 5 January 2009.
  14. ^ "About Us". Theatre Bristol. Retrieved 8 May 2008.
  15. ^ "Bristol and West General Branch". Equity. Retrieved 8 May 2008.
  16. ^ "About". Residence. Archived from the original on 28 August 2008. Retrieved 8 May 2008.
  17. ^ "Welcome to the Department of Drama: Theatre, Film, Television". University of Bristol. Retrieved 5 January 2009.
  18. ^ "Welcome to the School of Creative Arts". UNiversity of the West of England. Retrieved 5 January 2009.
  19. ^ "Circomedia". Retrieved 5 January 2009.
  20. ^ "Amateur Dramatics database". BCC. Archived from the original on 21 May 2011. Retrieved 5 January 2009.
  21. ^ "This Week's New Theatre". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 October 2013.
  22. ^ "Bristol is Britain's 'most musical city'". BBC. 12 March 2010. Retrieved 9 April 2010.
  23. ^ "Bristol Time: The return of a trip-hop legacy". The Independent. London. 11 April 2008. Retrieved 30 April 2010.
  24. ^ "Harder Shade of Dark: The Sound of Bristol Post-Rock - Pitchfork".
  25. ^ "Colston Hall music venue to be renamed Bristol Beacon". BBC. Retrieved 23 September 2020.
  26. ^ "Colston Hall International Classical Season 2011/12 brochure" (PDF). Colston Hall. Retrieved 8 December 2011.
  27. ^ Bowen, George S. (1989). Rejoice Greatly. Bristol: White Tree Books. ISBN 0-948265-87-6.
  28. ^ "Young Bristol". Bristol Harbour Festival. Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  29. ^ "Young Bristol". Charity Commission. Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  30. ^ Bill Thomas (31 May 2012). Upstage, Downstage, Cross. AuthorHouse. p. 121. ISBN 978-1-4685-0193-3. Retrieved 18 December 2012.
  31. ^ a b c Harry Stoke & Vinny Green, 2003. A Dictionary of Bristle. Bristol: Broadcast Books.
  32. ^ p.348-349, Accents of English 2 John C Wells, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1992
  33. ^ a b Cullen, Miguel (26 August 2011). "Graffiti gets the star treatment in Bristol". The Independent. London. Retrieved 10 November 2011. Nick Walker was author of perhaps the most striking piece at the event, a 20-metre mural on the front of a tower block, of a sinister man in a black bowler hat dripping a bucket of red paint over the cement.
  34. ^ From 3D to Banksy: Why Bristol’s Street Art Tops European Walls
  35. ^ Feature / When Bristol music went 'Out of the Comfort Zone', 2019
  36. ^ Braun, Felix; Wright, Steve; Jones, Richard Foster (November 2008). Children of the Can: 25 Years of Bristol Graffiti. Bristol: Tangent Books. p. 288. ISBN 978-1-906477-07-3.

External links[edit]