Bristol icons was the theme for the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta 2019 – an iconic event in itself, as Europe’s largest meeting of hot air balloons. 

In keeping with the theme, we have rounded up our own list of Bristol icons. Discover how each has made their mark on the city.

View over Bristol International Balloon Fiesta

Image credit: Adam Gleeson 

Aardman

Academy Award-winning studio Aardman Animation is a Bristol institution, based here since 1976. Since then, they’ve been nominated for ten Oscars and won four. More importantly, they’ve won over the nation with lovable characters and charming TV shows and films.

Their iconic duo Wallace and Gromit are flagship characters who the city has wholeheartedly embraced. Anyone who visited in the summers of 2013 and 2018 would have seen the colourful giant Gromits dotted around the city for the Gromit Unleashed sculpture trails.

2019 is the 30th anniversary of Wallace and Gromit, and they will have a starring role in the Night Glow soundtracks at the Balloon Fiesta. Plus, there will be the chance to win a hot air balloon ride with another classic Aardman creation, Morph.

Aardman's Morph at Bristol International Balloon Fiesta

Concorde

From animation to aviation and another momentous milestone, this year is the 50th anniversary of Concorde’s maiden flight from Filton in 1969. Capable of crossing the Atlantic in three hours and cruising at twice the speed of sound, the first British prototype of the history-making supersonic airliner was developed and built here in Bristol. It’s remained a lasting symbol of the city’s renowned aerospace industry ever since.

Today, you can admire and even step aboard the last Concorde ever to fly at Aerospace Bristol, while the Balloon Fiesta will be graced with an appearance from a very special hopper balloon belonging to Captain Time Orchard, former Concorde pilot and balloonist. His entirely unique balloon is made from original seats of the 1980s Concorde he used to pilot.

A more down-to-earth Concorde experience will also be at the Fiesta, as Aerospace Bristol are taking along a dedicated exhibition. ‘Concorde: The World Shrinker’ will share absorbing insights into the world’s fastest passenger jet together with objects from its past and live science shows.

The last Concorde to fly on display at Aerospace Bristol

Image credit: Aerospace Bristol

Isambard Kingdom Brunel

He may have been born in Portsmouth but legendary Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel is an honorary Bristolian whose marvellous designs make up seminal pieces of the Bristol puzzle. Who could imagine the city today without the Clifton Suspension Bridge or the SS Great Britain – two more Bristol icons in their own right - after all?

The Suspension Bridge was actually Brunel’s first major commission, which was granted in 1830 when he was just 24 years old, though it was not until after his death that it was finally completed. Then in 1843, his vision for the ‘world’s first great ocean liner’ was brought to life in Bristol, in the form of the SS Great Britain. 

Brunel was also Chief Engineer of the Great Western Railway from London to Bristol and had a hand in every element of its design - the route, gauge, engines, civil engineering structures and the original Bristol station, which today is the Passenger Shed. The railway was so influential it even changed time. Once trains started travelling to Bristol, the city had to fall in line with Greenwich Mean Time to avoid confusion on timetables. Look at the clock on the side of St Nicholas Market on Corn Street today and you'll see that there are still two minute hands - one for GMT and one for 'Bristol time'!

As if these celebrated achievements weren’t enough of a legacy for Brunel and Bristol, he was also instrumental in the design of the Floating Harbour, had his Great Western steamship constructed in the Harbour, and designed the sluice gates at Underfall Yard too.

Inside the Being Brunel museum at SS Great Britain, Bristol

Image credit: Brunel's SS Great Britain

Banksy

Elusive as the world’s most famous street artist might be, there is one thing that has always been known and celebrated by locals about Banksy – he’s a born and bred Bristolian. Originally part of the street art wave that swept Bristol in the 1980s, Banksy has gone on to stack up global acclaim and his fair share of controversy. 

Banksy’s stamp, or should we say stencil, remains firmly imprinted on the city. You can seek out a number of pieces, from some of the earliest like Cat and Dog to the more recent Girl with the Pierced Ear Drum, on your own time with help from the Banksy Bristol Trail app. If you want to join an organised walking tour instead, check out Where The Wall or Graft.  

Banksy's Girl with the Pierced Ear Drum

John Cabot

John Cabot led the first English expedition to North America – albeit accidentally. In 1497, the Italian explorer left Bristol on The Matthew with the intention of reaching Asia, but actually landed on the banks of what he named Newfoundland. He claimed it for England and there began the connection between the two continents.

Two iconic symbols of the explorer and his journey stand tall in Bristol today. A faithful reconstruction of The Matthew is usually found moored outside the M Shed and is also used for tours on the city’s waterways. Head up to Park Street and into Brandon Park to climb the steps of Cabot Tower, built in 1897 to commemorate 400 years since Cabot’s historic venture across the Atlantic. From the top you get unbeatable views of the city.

Cabot Tower and Brandon Hill Park in Bristol

Cary Grant

Cary Grant made his name in Hollywood, but started life as Archie Leach in Horfield, Bristol. His first foray into the world of performance and theatre was as a ‘gofer’ backstage at Bristol Hippodrome, where he had visited on a school trip and become enamoured with the idea of being an actor.

From those humble beginnings, Grant went on to have a distinguished career as a Hollywood star. He maintained close ties with Bristol and regularly returned for visits, often staying in the Royal Hotel, now the Bristol Marriott Royal Hotel.  

The biennial festival Cary Comes Home is dedicated to celebrating the life of Cary Grant and his links to Bristol. One for your 2020 calendar, it returns on 20 – 22 November next year. Until then, there are year-round commemorative mementos to Grant in the form of a life-sized bronze statue in Millennium Square and a blue plaque on the house that he was born in on Hughenden Road. 

Cary Grant statue in Millennium Square, Bristol

Thomas Chatterton

Bristol’s boy poet of the 18th century has a tragic story. Born into relative poverty near Redcliffe, he caused controversy by claiming to find poems written by a 15th century monk, only for it to be discovered he wrote them himself. He moved to London to make his fortune, but sadly took his own life aged 17 after struggling to get published and fit in with peers in the capital.

Despite his short life, Chatterton was celebrated by the likes of Keats and Coleridge and had an edition of poems published posthumously, ensuring he is remembered as one of Bristol’s literary icons. Chatterton’s Café is now open in his old home and there are a series of literary events planned across the city to commemorate the 250th anniversary of his death in 2020.

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