06 Dec 2020
I wasn't really feeling it when I set out today, on my first car-assisted wander. By the time I'd parked on Alma Vale Road in Clifton it was just starting to rain and I picked my way about in quite a desultory way. It felt strange, as I was very familiar with the area because I'd walked through it hundreds of times when I worked at the top of Whiteladies Road, and used to walk up the hill from Hotwells and through Clifton to get there, and back again, every day.
Then a complete coincidence seemed to make the change I'd been hoping for. I was standing taking a photo of Christ in the front garden of All Saints church when a couple of people walked out of the front door. I got talking with a lady I took to be part of the ministerial team, who invited me to come in and look around—something I'd always wanted to do on the morning commute. (I think we connected a bit when I recognised the name John Piper, who did the amazing windows—I learned about him while I was at Warwick, through his connections to Coventry Cathedral.
I left with much more of a spring in my step, wandered around the area a bit more, finally working out that the tennis courts I used to pass every morning are those of Clifton Lawn Tennis Club, and finally grabbing an excellent Hungarian sausage hot dog from the Budapest Cafe. I feel a lot better now than I did before I went out.
More John Piper work
I bought a vintage post card from eBay this week. It's a well-known photo of the Hotwells landing stage, showing what's likely to be a P&A Campbell paddle steamer moored there. (Just yesterday I snapped a photo of their buoy on display at Underfall Yard with its information sign.) It was posted from here to Canada in 1936, and has now returned via a presumably quite circuitous route.
For tens of thousands of people, the pier at Hotwells was the starting point of their day trip as they boarded steamers with names like Glen Avon, Glen Usk and Britannia. The salty tang of the sea was never far away as the steamers headed for Ilfracombe, Weston-super-Mare, Clevedon and Portishead on the Devon and Somerset coast and Barry, Porthcawl and Tenby in South Wales.
The landing stage is long-abandoned. A variety of economic issues, including fuel prices, the increasing prevalence of the motor car, the construction of the Severn Crossing giving easier access to Wales, and the collapse of Clevedon Pier during safety testing in 1970, which prevented larger pleasure boats from stopping at the resort, all led to dwindling trade.
I went to have a poke about there today, not staying for long as it's a cold day and the wind was biting. I couldn't reproduce the postcard's view—you'd need to risk life, limb and presumably a trespass prosecution—but I did try to judge the rough viewpoint and angle of the photo by lining up with Rock House, the Colonnade and the Suspension Bridge and snapped a photo looking back to where the original photographer would have stood on the pontoon.
This Bristol City Docks history page has many good photos of the landing stage and the nearby Port and Pier Railway line (whose tunnel I was in the other day) and the Hotwells Halt railway station, which was just the other side of the suspension bridge from here.