The Centre, Bristol

The Centre is a public open space in the central area of Bristol, England, created by covering over the River Frome.[1] The northern end of The Centre, known as Magpie Park, is skirted on its western edge by Colston Avenue;[2] the southern end is a larger paved area bounded by St Augustine's Parade to the west, Broad Quay the east, and St Augustine's Reach (part of the Floating Harbour) to the south, and bisected by the 2016 extension of Baldwin Street.[3] The Centre is managed by Bristol City Council.

The Centre, Bristol
Northern end of The Centre, Bristol, before the removal of statue of slave trader Edward Colston. A paved area with mature trees surrounded by 19th and 20th century buildings.
View of northern end of The Centre, March 2018, before removal of Colston statue
The Centre, Bristol is located in Bristol Central
The Centre, Bristol
Location within Central Bristol
Former name(s) Tramways Centre
Maintained by Bristol City Council
Location Bristol, England
Postal code BS1
Coordinates 51°27′14″N 2°35′50″W / 51.4540°N 2.5972°W / 51.4540; -2.5972Coordinates: 51°27′14″N 2°35′50″W / 51.4540°N 2.5972°W / 51.4540; -2.5972
North Lewins Mead, Rupert Street
East Baldwin Street
South Anchor Road
West College Green

The name 'The Centre' (or 'The City Centre') appears to have been applied to the area from the mid-twentieth century; before that, from 1893 when the upper part of St Augustine's reach was covered, it was known as the Tramways Centre and Magpie Park.[4][5]

The Centre is not the historic or civic centre of Bristol, nor is it a major shopping area. It is, however, an important local transport interchange and cultural destination.[6] Many local bus services terminate at or pass through here,[7] and it is also served by ferry services to Hotwells and Bristol Temple Meads station,[8] and has busy taxi ranks.

The Centre has been altered on a number of occasions, originally to ease traffic flow[9][10] but latterly to try to strike a balance between its use as both public open space and an important traffic corridor.[11] In 2017, alterations to accommodate the MetroBus bus rapid transit scheme were completed.[12]


Before the culvertEdit

The Centre owes its form to the channel dug in the 1240s to provide additional quays and wharves for the burgeoning Bristol Docks.[13]

This channel, St Augustine's Reach, became the heart of Bristol Docks. As trade flourished and ships became larger the docks expanded, but the completion of the Floating Harbour in 1809,[14] and the building of docks at Avonmouth and Portishead, made the wharves at the northern end of St Augustine's Reach increasingly marginal.

The northern end of St Augustine's Reach was narrower and accessed by opening The Drawbridge, which crossed the docks at the end of Clare Street (where present-day Baldwin Street was built in 1881). The Drawbridge was rebuilt for the fourth and final time in 1868, but by 1893 when it was replaced by a fixed structure it had been a source of "great congestion" to traffic (including the new trams) for many years,[4] often being left open for twenty minutes while ships were roped up.[15]

Magpie ParkEdit

In 1892 The Drawbridge was replaced by the elegant stone St Augustine's Bridge; at the same time the docks to the north were infilled. The new area, which was called Magpie Park, was enclosed by Colston Avenue.[5] It was named after the newspaper The Bristol Magpie, whose offices were located on the western side of Colston Avenue.[16] The Bristol Industrial and Fine Arts Exhibition was held here in 1893; this popular attraction saw 500,000 attendees and raised £2200 for charity.[17]

This is now the site of the Bristol Cenotaph, unveiled in 1932.[18] The Cenotaph continues to be the focus of local remembrance.[19]

Tramways CentreEdit

The Tramways Centre in the early 1900s

During the 1890s, Bristol's tramway system was expanded and electrified. In 1896 the Bristol Tramways and Carriage Company (BT&CC) moved their head office to premises at 1–3 St Augustine's Parade, where they remained until 1970.[20] The need for a central interchange was recognised and to this end a large triangular traffic island, later nicknamed 'Skivvy's Island' because of its use by domestic servants,[21] was built between the BT&CC offices and St Augustine's Bridge.[17] The Tramways Centre became the most important of the BT&CC's three central termini, serving more routes than the others at Bristol Bridge and Old Market.[22] It was the terminus for trams from the north and east of the city, and trams from Hotwells to Temple Meads station and Brislington also stopped here. Passengers could straightforwardly alight from one tram and board another to continue their journey without the need to cross roads. A large three-faced ornamental clock was fixed high on the Tramways offices, and 'under the clock on The Centre' became a popular meeting place.[23][24]

J. B. Priestley visited Bristol in 1933, and described The Centre as 'a place where trams and coastal steamers seemed in danger of collision'.[25]

Buses first started to use the Tramways Centre in 1910,[26] initially only on the route to Clifton.[22] By 1913, ten bus routes started from The Centre.[27] In 1938 and 1939 the tram routes serving the Tramways Centre were replaced by buses,[28] so that trams ceased to use the island. Trams elsewhere in the city ceased completely in 1941.[29]

Inner Circuit RoadEdit

In 1938 construction started on a culvert covering the area between St Augustine's Bridge and the southern end of Broad Quay.[30] This created a route for the Inner Circuit Road, which had already bisected Queen Square, to continue northwards. Construction continued despite the outbreak of war. A large elongated roundabout was formed, with the central space initially being used as a car park.[31] The Tramways Centre island remained, devoid of trams.[9]

After the war the central space was planted with lawns, ornamental borders and golden Irish yews and became known as the Centre Gardens.[32]

1957 remodellingEdit

The Inner Circuit Road was extended northwards into Colston Avenue in 1957–58. The Tramways Centre island was removed and the Centre Gardens island was extended to a point near the end of St Stephen's Street. Magpie Park was reduced in length, Colston Avenue was widened and many of the (by then) mature plane trees were felled.[10]

1998 remodellingEdit

It had been recognised since the 1960s that the southern half of the Inner Circuit Road had badly impacted the amenity of Queen Square and The Centre,[33] and by the 1990s tentative steps were being taken towards downgrading this part of the road and transferring traffic along less sensitive routes. By the mid-1990s, the road across Queen Square had been closed and plans were being developed to re-balance The Centre in favour of pedestrians and public transport.

The water fountains and paddling area in 2006, part of the 'Promenade Option'. The sail structure, removed in 2009, is shown behind

Bristol City Council launched a consultation exercise in 1996, in which the public were asked to choose between a 'Dock Option' (reopening the old harbour as far as St Augustine's Bridge) and a cheaper 'Promenade Option'. Both options involved closing the road across Quay Head; the Promenade Option used the new space to create a larger pedestrianised area in place of the Centre Gardens, with fountains, a cascade leading down to the waterside, and a sail structure to evoke Bristol's maritime past. The remaining road space in both options would be designed to give greater priority to public transport.[11]

The Council decided to build the 'Promenade Option'. This soon came under criticism for its poor safety, particularly after a number of pedestrians were injured by vehicles and at least two people struck by buses and killed.[34] The new design was also criticised for its traffic noise and fumes, "dribbling" fountains, poor traffic flow, poor cycling infrastructure, and delays to public transport.[35] Few were happy with the new design, and many were disappointed that the 'Dock Option' had not been pursued.[35]

The area around the pedestrian crossing at the Baldwin Street end of Broad Quay was altered in 2003 after the Bristol Coroner called for improvements following an inquest on the death of a pedestrian hit by a bus.[36]

Despite remedial work in 2007, the sail structure was found to be unsafe and removed in 2009.[37]

In 2011 plans were again being developed for major changes to The Centre. These plans include the possibility of prohibiting private vehicles from crossing The Centre on the east-west axis, as mooted in the 1996 consultation.[11][34]

2015 remodelling for MetroBusEdit

Between 2015 and 2018 the layout of The Centre was changed once more, this time to accommodate the MetroBus bus rapid transit scheme.

Private motor traffic was routed along the western edge of The Centre, and the gyratory traffic system was replaced by extended and more accessible pedestrian spaces. The new layout reduced the number of routes available to general traffic, some of which was diverted away from the area, whilst improving segregation for cycles and buses.[12] The taxi ranks were relocated, and new bus stops were constructed for MetroBus services.

Early indications suggest that journey times have been improved by these changes.[38]

Sites of interestEdit

As well as the Cenotaph, Magpie Park has a bronze statue by James Havard Thomas of MP Edmund Burke (1894)[39] and had a statue of Edward Colston (1895, by John Cassidy).[40] On 7 June 2020, the statue of Colston was pulled down during a Black Lives Matter demonstration, following the murder of George Floyd in the United States.[41][42] A drinking fountain commemorates the 1893 Industrial and Fine Art Exhibition.

St Mary on the Quay stands on Colston Avenue to the west of the park, and St Stephen's Church stands nearby to the east.

The southern end of The Centre (the Centre Promenade) has a 1723 lead statue of Neptune, moved to The Centre from Temple Street in 1949 and now Grade II* listed.[43][44] There is a modern water feature with fountains, and another stepped water feature leads down to a ferry landing stage at the current head of St Augustine's Reach. There is a busy taxi rank on Colston Avenue, near its junction with Baldwin Street.

The Hippodrome stands to the west of the Centre Promenade on St Augustine's Parade. Further north is the Colston Tower and just west of this on Colston Street is the soon-to-be-renamed Colston Hall.[45]

On Broad Quay, the former head office tower of the Bristol and West Building Society was repurposed in 2011 into a hotel[46] and serviced flats.[47]

The Centre is part of the College Green Conservation Area.[48]



  1. ^ Insole & Porter 2016, p. 30-31.
  2. ^ "Unofficial plaque calling Bristol capital of Atlantic slave trade removed from Edward Colston statue". Bristol Post. Archived from the original on 27 March 2018. Retrieved 26 March 2018.
  3. ^ Insole & Porter 2016, p. 30.
  4. ^ a b Appleby 1969, p. 10.
  5. ^ a b "Bristol's Fascinating Fountains" (PDF). Temple Local History Group. p. 6. Archived (PDF) from the original on 21 July 2011. Retrieved 17 February 2011.
  6. ^ Insole & Porter 2016, p. 19.
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  8. ^ "Ferry Map". Bristol Ferry Boat Co. Archived from the original on 8 July 2011. Retrieved 17 February 2011.
  9. ^ a b Winstone 1980, Plate 15.
  10. ^ a b Winstone, Reece (1972). Bristol as it Was 1956–1959. Reece Winstone. ISBN 0-900814-39-X.
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  13. ^ Insole & Porter 2016, p. 16.
  14. ^ Little, Bryan (1991). The Story of Bristol From the Middle Ages to Today. Redcliffe Press Ltd. ISBN 1-872971-40-7.
  15. ^ Winstone, Reece (1978). Bristol in the 1880s (2nd ed.). Reece Winstone. p. 23. ISBN 978-0-900814-55-6.
  16. ^ Winstone, Reece (1973). Bristol in the 1890s. Reece Winstone. p. 9. ISBN 0-900814-42-X.
  17. ^ a b Winstone, Reece (1983). Bristol as it Was 1845–1900. Reece Winstone. ISBN 978-0-900814-00-6.
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  19. ^ "Remembrance Day parades and services across greater Bristol area". Bristol Evening Post. Archived from the original on 18 December 2010. Retrieved 17 February 2011.
  20. ^ Appleby et al. 1974, p. 90-92.
  21. ^ Winstone, Reece (1977). Bristol in the 1920s. Reece Winstone. ISBN 0-900814-50-0.
  22. ^ a b "BT&CC tram map, 1911". Bristol Vintage Bus Group. Archived from the original on 23 July 2012. Retrieved 2 March 2011.
  23. ^ Historic England. "Bristol Omnibus Company Travel and Chief Traffic Offices (1202525)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 9 June 2018.
  24. ^ "Britain at War: Devastated by friend's death". Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 29 June 2011. Retrieved 20 February 2011.
  25. ^ Priestley, J.B. (1934). English Journey. Mandarin. ISBN 978-0-7493-1924-3.
  26. ^ Hulin 1974, p. 3.
  27. ^ Hulin 1974, p. 4.
  28. ^ Hulin 1974, p. 9.
  29. ^ Appleby 1969, p. 65.
  30. ^ Winstone, Reece (1978). Bristol as it Was 1939–1914 (5th ed.). Reece Winstone. ISBN 0-900814-54-3.
  31. ^ Winstone 1980, Plate 124.
  32. ^ Winstone 1980, Plate 12.
  33. ^ City centre policy report and map 1966. City and County of Bristol. City of Bristol Printing and Stationery Department. 1966.
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  35. ^ a b "Bristol Central Area Action Plan: Cherish & Change summary". Bristol City Council. 26 July 2010. Archived from the original on 29 October 2010. Retrieved 19 February 2011.
  36. ^ "Bristol centre to be revamped". BBC News. 15 May 2003. Archived from the original on 11 December 2003. Retrieved 18 February 2011.
  37. ^ "Bristol city centre landmark has wind taken out of its sails". Bristol Evening Post. Archived from the original on 12 September 2012. Retrieved 19 February 2011.
  38. ^ "City Centre Improvements". travelwest. Archived from the original on 26 March 2018. Retrieved 26 March 2018.
  39. ^ Historic England. "Statue of Edmund Burke (1282140)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 18 April 2018.
  40. ^ Historic England. "Statue of Edward Colston (1202137)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 18 April 2018.
  41. ^ "Protesters begin fresh UK anti-racism demos". BBC News. 7 June 2020. Retrieved 7 June 2020.
  42. ^ "Black Lives Matter protesters pull down statue of 17th century UK slave trader". The Independent. 7 June 2020. Retrieved 7 June 2020.
  43. ^ Historic England. "Neptune Statue (1202528)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 18 April 2018.
  44. ^ "Statues and Sculptures – Introduction". About Bristol. Retrieved 18 February 2011.
  45. ^ "Renamed and shamed: taking on Britain's slave-trade past, from Colston Hall to Penny Lane". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 24 May 2018. Retrieved 23 May 2018.
  46. ^ "From eyesore to Bristol icon". Bristol Evening Post. Archived from the original on 21 April 2013. Retrieved 18 February 2011.
  47. ^ "Broad Quay Serviced Apartments, Bristol". activehotels. Archived from the original on 7 July 2011. Retrieved 18 February 2011.
  48. ^ Insole & Porter 2016, p. 6.


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