M Shed’s Historical Walks: Old City

Posted on by Lauren MacCarthy.

Richard Harrison

Walk guide Richard Harrison © Lee Hutchinson

Two highlights by Richard Harrison, M Shed volunteer and walk guide

The Old City walk takes you to the historic heart of Bristol.

Along the way, we stop at locations that saw the birth of the city, its growth, decline as a major seaport, and subsequent regeneration.

It’s the perfect way to discover some of the events, people and places that earned the city a place in national history, culture and the arts.


A city of adventurers

Jon Cunningham with John Cabot

Walk guide Jon Cunningham with John Cabot’s statue © Dave Blackburn

Standing at the end of Narrow Quay is Stephen Joyce’s statue of John Cabot. For me, this bronze statue of a mediaeval sailor staring over the harbour towards the open seas captures the spirit of Bristol.

It’s a reminder of the generations of seafarers and adventurers who have voyaged from this city seeking the boundless possibilities of other countries, continents and peoples – and that free-spirited outlook still resonates in the city today.  I particularly like the obvious tactile appeal of the statue and the way the bronze has been burnished by the hands of thousands of visitors.


The three-handed clock

Historical tour guide Jon Cunningham and walkers, outside the Exchange and the clock that shows Bristol Time

Outside the Corn Exchange and the clock that shows Bristol time © Dave Blackburn

Another indication of Bristol’s independent spirit can be seen on the clock face on the Exchange in Corn Street. The clock has two minute-hands. This can be quite mystifying for sightseers who don’t know the story behind it. The reason it has two is because one indicates the time in Bristol and the other the time in London. Before the advent of the railways, towns and cities each had their own local times, based on the solar day. They would set the time at noon – when the sun was at its highest – as 12 o’clock.

Bristol is 2º 35′ west of the Greenwich meridian (in London) and the earth rotates through 15º each hour, making Bristol roughly ten minutes behind London. And that’s the time that used to be shown on Bristolians’ clocks and watches. But the railway changed all of that, because a standard time was required for timetables – and London time, otherwise known as Greenwich Mean Time, became the standard. When Bristol was forced to adopt Greenwich Mean Time, instead of doing away with Bristol time altogether, a second minute-hand was added to the clock on the Exchange to show both.

Main image © Matt Gibson


M Shed’s historical walks are led by volunteer guides with a wealth of knowledge and an infectious passion for their subject. All the walks at M Shed are free, donations are gratefully received, and bookings can be made in advance by calling 0117 352 6600.

Find out when the next Old City walk is.


Other blogs in this series:

RedcliffeWindmill HillFloating Harbour | 1831 Riots | Bristol Abolition | Pirates and Prejudice

2 comments on “M Shed’s Historical Walks: Old City

  1. Martin Parsons

    A big thankyou to the lady who did the Winddmill Hill last Tuesday.
    Very interesting especially the decoration on Bedminster Bridge.
    I’ve crossed it many times but never noticed.
    Many thanks Martin Parsons


  2. Celeste

    Fascinating Historical Walk:Old City this morning with John Cunningham. Highly recommended. Thank you John.


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