For a taste of the States in Bristol, here are the top 10 highlights:
St Mary Redcliffe Church
The parish church of St Mary Redcliffe is one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in England. On her visit in 1574, Queen Elizabeth I is said to have described it as "the fairest, goodliest, and most famous parish church in England. Although its plan dates from an earlier period, much of the church as it now stands was built between 1292 and 1370. St Mary Redcliffe's American links include The American Chapel (St. John's Chapel) which houses the tomb and armor of Admiral Sir William Penn, father of Pennsylvania's founder. Next to The American Chapel, discover the gigantic whale-bone brought back to Bristol by John Cabot in 1497 after he sailed from Bristol to discover North America. Above the North door of the church is a model of the replica of the Matthew (see below), the ship in which Cabot sailed from Bristol to discover North America. Stained glass depicting the voyage, adorns the walls. Before leaving, ask to see the bronze monument to Joanna Brook, the daughter of Richard Ameryck. Legend has it that John Cabot named America after Ameryck, who funded his voyage. Although little is known about Ameryck, a brass monument in honor of his daughter Joanna lies at St Mary Redcliffe.
Over 500 years ago John Cabot and his crew set sail from Bristol for Asia aboard the original Matthew, hoping to trade goods and commodities with the people who lived there. Cabot finally arrived, but on the coast of Newfoundland instead, and therefore was the original discoverer of America (not Christopher Columbus as most people are led to believe). There is plenty of history wrapped up in her timbers and today, a replica of the ship is moored on Bristol's Harbourside just waiting to wisk you away on a voyage of discovery and a maritime tour of the city's historic Harbourside.
A monument to John Cabot can be found right in Bristol's city centre and boasts the best (and most romantic) view of the city, called Cabot Tower. The tower was constructed in memory of John Cabot, 400 years after he set sail in the Matthew from Bristol and discovered North America. The foundation stone was laid on June 24 1897 and the tower was completed in July 1898.
The naming of America
Richard Ameryck was the Bristol businessman who funded John Cabot’s voyage to North America and many believe Cabot may have named America after him. Ameryck lived around 1445–1503 and was a wealthy English merchant, royal customs officer and sheriff. He was the principal owner of the Matthew, the ship sailed by John Cabot during his voyage of exploration to North America in 1497. A Bristolian scholar and amateur historian, Alfred Hudd, suggested in 1908 that the name, 'America', was derived from Ameryck's surname due to his sponsorship of Cabot's expedition to Newfoundland and was used on early British maps that have since been lost. This is not the consensus view of how America was named, but has been repeated as a form of historical revisionism. It is also said that the stars and stripes of the United States flag are based on the design of the Ameryck coat of arms which boasts the same design. To learn more about this possible naming of America and decide for yourself, take a Bristol Pirate Walk and hear the tale from local historian, Pirate Pete. You can also visit a statue of John Cabot on Bristol's Harbourside in front of Arnolfini.
Famous American ancestors
Berkeley Castle has been home to the Berkeley family for over 900 years. Having been such a long-living and prolific family means that there are Berkeley connections all over the world. In an American ancestry series, Courteney Cox visited the castle after 700-year old documents allowed her to trace her roots back to 1327, when her 18-times great-grandfather Thomas III Lord Berkeley, third baron of Berkeley was the owner of Berkeley Castle. It was during this time that the castle was used to imprison (and allegedly kill) the deposed king Edward II.
First American Thanksgiving
Berkeley Castle has another extremely significant connection - the first American Thanksgiving was held by Berkeley men. The Berkeley Company ship, the Margaret, departed Bristol and landed in America in 1619, where they gave thanks – the original thanksgiving. This was a year earlier than the Pilgrim Fathers’ Mayflower voyage (1620), widely considered to be the origination. Berkeley Castle has many thrilling stories to tell - why not go and find out for yourself?
Bristol Port & Old Docks
Bristol played an important role in England's maritime trade in tobacco, wine, cotton and other goods. The American colonies brought more opportunities for Bristol merchants including the notorious slave trade to the West Indies, which made the city a wealthy trading port. Over a thousand years ago Bristol's harbour developed around the lowest bridging point of the River Avon. As ships became larger and trade increased, the quay space became overcrowded and when the water drained away at low tide the ships lay grounded in the mud. With this dilemma, the Bristol Docks Company finally adopted a proposal to create a non-tidal harbour. The 'Floating Harbour', constructed between 1804 and 1809, trapped the water behind lock gates allowing ships to remain floating at all times. Eventually, the growth in the size of ships and the narrowness of the river meant the end for Bristol as an international trading port. Ocean going traffic began to use the Avonmouth Docks, developed during the 1880's and 90's which is the main port today. The Old Docks and 'Floating Harbour' are still a major Bristol attraction today and the centre of activity in Bristol.
Blackbeard the pirate
After a day of sightseeing, stop by the Llandoger Trow for a quiet pint of Westcountry cider. Pirate Captain, Blackbeard (Edward Teach) frequented this oldest pub in Bristol. He later went on to terrorize the eastern coast of the US before meeting his match (and demise) in America. An anchor from Blackbeard's ship, Queen Anne's Revenge, was recently discovered off the coast of North Carolina. The infamous pirate captain once had a hideaway cave under St Mary Redcliffe church and his original birthplace and childhood home still stands on Bristol's Harbourside. To learn more about Bristol's unique ties to America and its pirating past, take a Pirate Walk with the city's own swashbuckling 'Pirate Pete' for some interesting truths and tales about Bristol and pirates.