Community – East Street in Bedminster, Bristol

Communities are strange which seems like a strange thing to say until you think about it.

If you lived in a village in not so long times past you may remember walking into a pub and the bar falling silent as the collective heads of the customers turned to look at you before turning back again and resuming whatever conversations they were having, if any.

If you turned out to be a tourist then all well and good because the village could make money out of you but should you be a incomer then unless you were young you would never be considered a villager and perhaps not even then. Incomers steal properties from the villagers so that theres not enough to go round and the young people can’t afford to buy or rent homes in their own community.

Sound familiar? If it doesn’t then you haven’t noticed what’s going on in the world or, you’re part of the problem.

Cities suffer just as much. Bristol, which is where I live, is a collection of villages that have melted together and become one big place. Those of us who live in Bedminster, again where I live, doesn’t really consider itself part of Bristol at all. We got forced into being part of the city in 1899 and we didn’t see why we should.

Bedminster has a rich history.  The Royal Manor of Bedminster was all the land south of the Avon (from the Avon Gorge to Brislington) and recorded in the Domesday Book as having 25 villeins (tenant farmers), three slaves in the way that slaves are defined now and 27 smallholders, a small holding being a small farm.

Bedminster existed 200 years before Bristol was even thought of. The church of St John the Baptist was the most important church in the area and the sand used in the building of Bristol Cathedral came from a sand mine on Sheene Road and a McDonalds sits above it now.

During the Civil War Prince Rupert razed Bedminster to the ground as he felt it made Bristol vulnerable and it’s reputed that he considered it a dying market town. Some people think that way today but hey, we were over 600 years old when dear Prince Rupert was being judgemental and we’re now well over a thousand years old. Which old lady wouldn’t looked a bit worn round the ages at such a great age?

Let’s fast forward if not into the present date we can get into the 80s.

In the 80s we had a wonderful greengrocer near what is now the bus stop on Bedminster Parade. The bright and yet subtle green boards that covered the window (for practical use not as a guard against vandalism) came down to form a sturdy counter on which the greengrocer displayed fruit and vegetables. It was, as a lot of shops near Bedminster Bridge were, very small. It was one of the most enticing shops in Bedminster. Further along, on East Street opposite the Old Globe, were two tiny shops also. They were owned by the same family and one sold pet food and fish, the other sweets and tobacco.

We were old but we were unique and we are unique in one particular respect today.

As you walk along East Street you cannot help but notice the amount of benches that there are. There is no other street in England with that many benches in such short as space. (I’m discounting the centre of Bristol from this because, as you will see, they have a different use.)

A different use? Surely benches are there for sitting on. But wait, on East Street we do a different kind of sitting.

East Street’s uniqueness is that the Street is the gathering place and not the cafes and pubs that are up and down it. You meet someone outside whichever cafe or whatever shop is convenient and then decide where to go or what to do. The street is the most important part of this bit of Bedminster when it comes to community.

Personally I cannot go out to get shopping without factoring an hour extra for talking time. Meeting half a dozen people to say a quick hello to is normal, meeting a couple of people to have a brief chat to is normal and meeting one person to have a long chat to is normal and this happens every time not just now and then. As we chat we sit on a bench and are sometimes joined by other people who will walk towards home and chat as you go.

We have independent shops and big chains on the street. I can’t just nip into the pet shop and buy something quickly because Hayley loves to chat, I can’t get a key cut or shoes repaired because the shoe man and I have to put the world to rights. I can’t pop in and out of Greggs if Jacqueline is working because we exchange stories about my pets and the squirrels she feeds. I go into Boots and Jean always has a chat, I pick up my prescription in Superdrug and Edyta, the pharmacist always says more than a few words. I rarely go through a check out in Asda without someone I know being on the till and there’s always a grumpy queue of people waiting behind me as we chat.

As a community we all agree that East Street needs regeneration but it does not need gentrification. We all want tagging reduced but “legal” graffiti walls are not the answer but that’s another topic all together. We need  new businesses but we don’t need posh ones. We need businesses that the people here will use. We are not ashamed of our working class backgrounds because there is nothing to be ashamed of.

This blog post has been a the laying down of history which demonstrates our pride in our little town and one street in particular. The next one will be about another retail street in Bedminster namely West Street and then I’ll get on to the blog I set out to write. Oh and did I mention that both East and West Street were part of the ancient Glastonbury Way?

So much history, such a community.