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Bristol Time

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Like many other cities, Bristol had its own time. Each town, city and village set its own time from sundials which created changes from London time depending on how far east, or in this case, west you were. The clock at the top of the flag is on the front of The Exchange building which currently houses St Nicholas Market. It was made in 1819 with two hands; however you can see it now has three hands.


When people started to use train travel, all the different times became a bit of a problem. Train timetables were very confusing and people missed their journeys a lot! When the Great Western Main Line rolled into Bristol in 1840 it became necessary to use ‘Railway Time’ or Greenwich Mean Time. Bristol was a little resistant to the changes from London and wanted to keep its original “Bristol Time”. The third black hand represents local time accurate to the sundial method. Did you know it's still somebody's job to wind the clock every Saturday morning?


In the middle of the flag you can see a cyanotype print of the beautiful original medieval map of Bristol which is part of one of the greatest treasures in the city archives. The map(1) is a bird’s eye view of Bristol in the 15th Century created by Robert Ricart who was the town clerk. The map shows us the old walled city and it’s gates.  St John’s gate which is seen on the left of the map still remains on Broad Street. Bristol High Cross, seen in the centre of this map, was so big that it was moved several times to accommodate our ever-changing city. Eventually the cross was moved to Stourhead Estate in Wiltshire.


Take a moment to orientate yourself in this truly beautiful map, and reflect that it is the earliest town plan of any city in existence.

The bottom clock is just one of the many ornate clocks in the Old City. It belonged to The Leeds and Holbeck Building Society on Broad Street. Many of the fine and ornate buildings you see in the Old City were previously financial institutions set up to process the significant profits from the transatlantic traffic in enslaved Africans (2). Time dominated the banking industry and the proliferation of clocks here reflect just how many financial institutions were based here to profit from that wealth. Standing out from the crowd, when there were many similar institutions, was very important to the banks, and clocks were symbols of status. Timepieces were rarely available on wrists so people would look up to check the time. Clocks were a powerful form of subtle advertising (3). How many clocks can you count in the Old City?

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