Wander through this lively, colourful city and you’ll soon understand how it has inspired the stories of some of literature’s most famous writers. From its medieval Old City to its culturally diverse enclaves. Here’s an introduction to help you explore Bristol’s literary legacies…

Black and white medieval beamed pub, the Llandoger Trow, on King Street, Bristol.

Image - Haunted and Hidden Walking Tours, The Llandoger Trow 

Famous literary connections

Bristol's rich maritime history has inspired stories of exploration and daring voyages. Robinson Crusoe is allegedly based on Alexander Selkirk, a shipwrecked sailor, whom author Daniel Defoe met in the Llandoger Trow on King Street. Whilst The Hole in the Wall on Queen Square is said to have inspired The Spyglass in Robert Louis Stephenson's Treasure Island.

The city is also known for being the birthplace of Robert Southey. Southey, a close friend of Wordsworth and Coleridge (whom, incidentally, he met in Bristol) later became a Poet Laureate. Although he only spent his early years living in Bristol, his time here had a lifelong influence on his work.

Bristol made an impression on romantic poet William Wordsworth. Apparently he wrote the famous poem 'Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey' in Bristol at publisher Joseph Cottle’s house.

Then there’s the tale of young Bristolian Thomas Chatterton who was born and brought up near Redcliffe, where his family had held the office of sexton at St Mary Redcliffe for nearly 200 years. Educated at Colston's School, Chatterton later moved to London to find fame. Be sure to check out Chatterton's Cafe, which has recently opened in the poet's former home on Redcliffe Way. 

York Crescent, Clifton, with couple relaxing on a bench in the foreground.

Image - Destination Bristol, York Crescent, Clifton 

Jane Austen also spent time in Bristol, with her mother, and is thought to have stayed in Clifton. The folly at Blaise Castle Estate is mentioned in Northanger Abbey. The nearby city of Bath also features frequently in her books.

The region is also known for the penning prowess of contemporary writers such as Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling, who was born and brought up just a few miles from the city in Chipping Sodbury. It is claimed she drew inspiration for the teen wizard from a young boy she met in Bristol. Also, award-winning author and poet Helen Dunmore currently lives here with her family.

Tours, trails and events

The Treasure Island Trail is a self-guided walking and cycling route around the city’s historic Floating Harbour, which starts at the Merchant Venturers Almshouses on King Street. It celebrates Bristol’s connections with Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel Treasure Island – the early part of the book was set in the city. Devised by Bristol-based Long John Silver Trust, the trail is linked by eight wine barrels placed in sites of relevance to Treasure Island.

Bristol Film Office has produced a series of Bristol Movie Maps to allow people to take self-guided tours around the famous local filming locations of popular film and television programmes – usually based on books - including BBC drama Sherlock. A Sherlock special aired on 1 January 2016 featuring great Bristol locations such as Arnos Vale Cemetery, King Street and the National Trust’s Tyntesfield Estate.

Image - Rob Stothard, National Trust, Tyntesfield

There are also many buildings in Bristol that hold particular literary significance. Bristol Old Vic – the UK’s oldest working theatre, on King Street, was opened in 1766 (it celebrates its 250th anniversary in 2016) and has played host to many famous actors and actresses such as Sarah Siddons and Elizabeth Inchbold. In 1795 The Rummer Hotel, in the Old City, was the location of the launch of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s magazine, The Watchman.

The Victoria Rooms, built in 1841, has hosted many a literary icon. Charles Dickens and his friend Wilkie Collins performed two plays here in 1851, and 19th-century novelist Oscar Wilde also spoke there extensively, on aesthetics.

A woman walks through Bristol Cathedral, looking up in wonder.

Image - Graham Flack, Bristol Cathedral 

Bristol Cathedral was a filming location for popular BBC series Wolf Hall – based on the Hilary Mantel book. The Cathedral’s vaulted ceilings, exquisite chapels and hushed splendour inside always make an impression, and now visitors can follow the Wolf Hall Trail round it using the specially produced leaflet which details filming hotspots. In spring 2016 there will also be a performance of Henry V at the Cathedral to coincide with Shakespeare 400.

To coincide with the 100th anniversary of Roald Dahl’s birth in 2016, Watershed is planning five family-friendly film screenings throughout the summer holidays including James and The Giant Peach, Matilda, Fantastic Mr Fox, BFG and a fifth to be announced. Four August Sunday Brunch daytime screenings of classic Roald Dahl story adaptations will include The Witches, Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Gremlins.

Berkeley Castle, with blossoms in the foreground.

Image - Berkeley Castle 

Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire’s Berkeley Vale near Bristol has a strong link to Shakespeare – A Midsummer Night's Dream was written for a Berkeley family wedding that took place in 1596. There will be performances of the much-loved play in the beautiful gardens of the castle from 17 to 27 July, 2016.

Actor performing outdoors in GB Theatre's Twelfth Night

Image - JonCraig.co.uk, GB Theatre's Twelfth Night, Bristol Shakespeare Festival

The annual Bristol Shakespeare Festival takes place in July and includes outdoor performances at unusual spaces across Bristol such as Blaise Castle, Arnos Vale Cemetery and Brandon Hill nature reserve, plus intimate (audience of 30) performances inside Redcliffe Caves. See more our bog, Celebrating Shakespeare in Bristol this summer, for more information.

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