The Cumberland Basin to Ashton Gate road system is this complicated tangle of roads passing above and below each other, with endlessly confusing ways over and through it for cars and pedestrians alike. It’s generally seen as a brutalist concrete nightmare, but back in the 1960s, when it was built, it was seen utopian and futuristic, full of exciting new ways to live in a city, with vibrant spaces and an urban park. These included a market place and piazza on the Northern edge, a service station, a new hill, playgrounds under the roads, and of course, the viewpoint up the River Avon to the Clifton Suspension Bridge, all designed by Sylvia Crowe.
Despite having no formal schooling after leaving school at the age of ten due to TB, Crowe was an important British twentieth century landscape architect, working on everything from vast Forestry Commission schemes, New Towns, power stations and reservoirs, down to private gardens.
These Bristol spaces must have been incredible to see at the time, with a giant fountain spraying up between the raised lanes of traffic, and a nautical-themed playground overlooking the Entrance Lock. The problem was that no one had predicted how fast car ownership would increase, turning what were vibrant spaces into discarded concrete no-man’s-lands.
Sylvia Crowe Cumberland Basin Bridges, Landscape Plan.
Coloured up by Wendy Tippett, with our Avon Stories walk marked up in red line.
Ref. Landscape Report, Cumberland Basin Bridges & Ashton Gate Junction, April 1964, University of Bristol Library.
Landscape Architect Wendy Tippett took me walking through the northern parts of the road scheme, and told me about how the spaces would have looked in the 1960s, including the design elements that are taken for granted these days, and why, ultimately, it failed.
You can join us on the podcast we recorded on the walk, with photos and lots of links to old photos and plans below.
Sylvia Crowe Cumberland Basin Bridges & Ashton Gate Junction, Aerial View.
Ref. Tippett, W., Unloved Landscapes Dissertation, 2014.
Wendy Tippett is the Landscape Director at Andrew Kenyon Architects in Bristol and Conservation Trustee of Avon Gardens Trust, and you can follow her on her twitter. I highly recommend her guided walks, they made me see familiar spaces with new eyes – if you’d like to arrange one for a group, or talk to her about Sylvia Crowe’s work in Bristol, you can contact her on wendy [at] andrewkenyonarchitects [dot] co [dot] uk.
Since we recorded this podcast, Bristol 24/7 has reported that there are plans to sell off and re-develop a lot of the site, so this is likely to change again in the future.
I retraced the walk Wendy took me on in December, and my photos (DSLR, 35mm and 120 film) are in this flickr album – click on the first photo and a slideshow should start.
And here’s the map that goes with it:
One of the places we stopped was the Avon viewpoint, on a spit of land between the Plimsoll and Avon Bridges, with the stunning view up the river to the Clifton Suspension Bridge. I have more photos of the spot at different tide times in this flickr album.
I also have a bad film I made walking around the edge of the Cumberland Basin control tower. It was just made walking with my phone, and it’s purely for illustrative purposes!
If you want to see how the area has changed over time, you can find maps, photos and drawings of the area on the Know Your Place website. A good place to start a search is “Cumberland Basin Road” in Hotwells, and I especially liked seeing the map before the Floating Habour was built, and the layer of Public Relations photos.
I like these images especially: some of the planning drawings of the scheme: the Piazza market, the fountain; the original Piazza paving, the Plimsoll swingbridge under construction; the system from above.
There’s a lot more information about Know Your Place, and how to use it to explore Bristol and South West England, in this podcast post.
View from wooded hill.
Ref. Powell, W., Sylvia Crowe and Associates, 1964. 37167/353, Bristol Records Office
Big thanks to Wendy Tippett for providing the images for this post.
You can download this podcast directly from the Avon Stories Soundcloud, and sign up for all the future podcasts via the Avon Stories RSS and subscribe on iTunes or Soundcloud to make sure you hear all the future stories. You can also follow the project on twitter and instagram, for regular photos of the rivers and water in Bristol.