Would you like to take a walk? How about coming with me, down one of my favourite streets in Bristol? It is an unusual street, and it has a slightly unusual history. We'll walk down Regent Street in the Village, turn right after the bridal shop, skip past a few houses that are fronted by the narrow pavement and then out onto the wide Upper Terrace of Royal York Crescent. The terrace of Georgian houses that forms the Crescent on our right is supposedly the longest of its kind in Europe. This Upper Terrace is pedestrian only, and gives access to the main entrances of the 46 houses that form the Crescent. You see, these six storey houses that are running along the north side of the street were built back in the days when houses had main entrances for their inhabitants, and tradesman's entrances for staff. What used to be the tradesman's entrances are on the road level, below us. Now they are the entrances to the Garden Flats, which are the lower two floors of the houses. Only two of the houses remain entire, the rest have been split into flats.
If we walk westwards along the terrace, we can see the influences of the different builders who contributed to the completion of the Crescent in the styles
of the houses. The door widths and the window sizes, the brickwork in the lintels change every few houses, as do the wrought iron canopies and railings of the balconies that run along the first floor. Although the project to build the Crescent was started in 1791 by William Paty, it was not finished until 1820. He went bankrupt in 1793 and work ceased. In 1801 the Government bought the undeveloped land and the buildings that had been completed, and thought that they might turn it all into barracks. The local residents were not overly impressed by this idea (soldiers were obviously regarded as undesirable in upper-class Clifton) and their protests led to the completion of the Crescent as it had originally been envisaged.
Houses 14 and 15, and 16 and 17 do not have individual front doors. Instead, 14 and 15 share one door, 16 and 17 another. What is building 13 has been numbered 12A. Houses 1 to 3 form "Eugenie House", which is styled "Private Accommodation" on the front door. It is painted a delightful pale sludge green colour. The colours of the houses vary: pale blues, pinks, yellows, creams. Or pale sludge green, of course. The houses are all fronted by railings. Honeysuckle, clematis or ivy are creeping through some of these railings. They are preventing us from falling into the Garden Level courtyards. These small courtyards are where the doors are into the Garden Flats and allow light into them; often they are made into small gardens. To get to the main doors of the buildings, you have to walk across what is almost a bridge. Some of these walkways are tiled; some of the front doors are guarded by majestic bay trees.
Now if we turn to the south, there are railings to protect us from falling the two storeys down onto the road, and before us is one of the most beautiful views of South Bristol. The only buildings that run along the street Royal York Crescent are the Crescent, the four houses that we passed when we turned onto Royal York Crescent, which are not part of the Crescent-proper, and two buildings that are opposite them on the eastern end of the street. Those two buildings are the only ones on the south side. Instead, there are the communal gardens, Royal York Gardens, which have been in the joint ownership of the residents of the Crescent and of York Gardens since 1909. They are in the foreground of this view, then the hills roll down into Hotwells and towards the docks. From the western end of the Crescent, you can see the masts of the boats in the marina poking above the rooftops. Then the eyes take you across the river, to Southville and Bedminster. On the horizon are the hills of North Somerset, complete with electricity pylons and mobile
phone beacons. They might diminish the view a little, but it remains spectacular.
Having reached the western end of the Crescent, we have to descend 38 uneven steps that curve around to the right to reach road level, and Princes' Buildings. Although we didn't go up any steps to get onto the Upper Terrace from the eastern end, the road level dips down quite sharply at that end and the Upper Terrace continues to jut outwards as it works westwards: it forms a kind of ridge. This ridge is so prominent and the Crescent so long that when driving on the A38 into Somerset, you can see it, with the Clifton Suspension Bridge to the left.
From Princes' Buildings, we can either turn right and walk up towards the Suspension Bridge, or we can walk along the road level of the Crescent. Walking back along the road level, it does not look nearly as imposing as the Upper Terrace. In fact, some parts look almost delapidated. Effectively, it is a wall that is interspersed with garage doors and garden gates. The width of the pavement of the Upper Terrace allows for garages beneath it, and means that you can only see the tops the main buildings. The doors to the Garden Flats are normally set back level with the buildings on the Upper Terrace (we could see them earlier, when we peered down into the courtyards), and are reached by the gates that front onto the road. There are four staircases at intervals along the Crescent that join the Upper Terrace to the road level. Being the longest Crescent in Europe, you don't necessarily want to have to walk from a middle house to either end to get to road level. From road level, there is no glorious view out over the river and into the countryside. It is just parked cars and the Royal York Gardens. I think that we might hurry back to Regent Street, meander back along the Upper Terrace and then head off to the Suspension Bridge...
All information from Royal York Crescent itself, or from living in the Village.
For some pictures, try going to: http://www.about-bristol.co.uk/clf-02.asp