‘An Ancient City Is a Glorious View’: Urban Identity and Antiquarian Visions of Bristol in the Eighteenth Century


  • Adam Borch Åbo Akademi University


urban identity, eighteenth-century literature, Bristol, William Goldwin, Andrew Hooke, antiquarianism


Henri Lefebvre suggests in The Production of Space that a study of human interaction with a given place should have an excavating dimension, drawing attention to the importance of examining records that bring to light historical layers which, over the course of time, have been buried beneath the present configurations of a given place. In this respect, he has something in common with, for example, the practice of Deep Mapping. Following this line of thought, this article looks to show how, during the first half of the eighteenth century, the buried past of the city of Bristol, United Kingdom became a site of contestation. The article focuses on two texts: William Goldwin’s poem A Poetical Description of Bristol (1712) and the first published history of the city, Andrew Hooke’s A Dissertation on the Antiquity of Bristol (1748). To varying degrees, both texts look back to Bristol’s foundation, suggesting, more or less explicitly, that the city was several thousand years older than otherwise believed and intimately linked to the mythical foundation of Britain. Reading the two texts in conjunction, I argue that both Goldwin and Hooke were trying to use this knowledge of Bristol’s foundation – its buried past – to bolster its urban identity. I also argue that both were supported in their work by Bristol’s authorities, suggesting that they were part of an official push to strengthen the city’s status. Beyond thus showing how literary and cultural texts can evoke and engage with the buried past of a specific urban environment, the article also looks to further our knowledge of the kind of cultural texts produced in Bristol during a period when Britain’s urban landscape was rapidly changing.

Author Biography

Adam Borch, Åbo Akademi University

University Teacher in DanishSwedish Language


Baker, N., Brett, J. and Jones, R. (2018) Bristol. A Worshipful Town and Famous City. An Archaeological Assessment. Electronic book. Oxford: Oxbow.

Barrett, W. (1789) The History and Antiquities of the City of Bristol. Bristol. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. [Online] [Accessed 24 June 2018]. https://link.gale.com/ apps/doc/CW0104010687/ECCO?u=aboacad&sid=bookmark-ECCO&xid=8e853f57&pg=1.

Barry, J. (1991) ‘Provincial Town Culture, 1640-1780: Urbane or Civic?’. In Pittock, J.H. and Wear, A. (eds) Interpretation and Cultural History. London: Macmillan, pp. 198-234.

Borch, A. (2017) ‘‘A Sort of Second London in Every Thing but Vitiousness’: Bristol in Eighteenth-Century Poetry, 1700-1750’. In Finch, J., Ameel L. and Salmela, M. (eds) Literary Second Cities. Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 67-88.

Borsay, P. (1989) The English Urban Renaissance. Culture and Society in the Provincial Town 1660-1770. Oxford: Clarendon.

Brewer, J. (1997) The Pleasures of the Imagination. English Culture in the Eighteenth Century. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Brownlow, T. (1978) ‘A Molehill for Parnassus: John Clare and Prospect Poetry’. University of Toronto Quarterly, 48(1), pp. 23-40.

Buck, S. and Buck, N. (1734a) ‘The North West Prospect of the City of Bristol’. The British Library. [Online] [Accessed 3 June 2021] https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/the-south-east-and-north-west-prospects-of-bristol.

Buck, S. and Buck, N. (1734) ‘The South East Prospect of the City of Bristol’. The British Library. [Online] [Accessed 3 June 2021]. https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/the-south-east-and-north-west-prospects-of-bristol.

Camden, W. (1695 [1586]). Camden’s Britannia. Gibson, E. (trans and rev). London. Early English Books Online. [Online] [Accessed 6 August 2018]. https://www-proquest-com.ezproxy.vasa.abo.fi/books/camdens-britannia-newly-translated-into-english/docview/2254522926/se-2?accountid=8166.

Defoe, D. (1959) A Tour Through England and Wales. 2 vols. London: J. M. Dent & Sones.

Elden, S. (2004) Understanding Henri Lefebvre. Theory and the Possible. London: Continuum.

Foster, J.W. (1975-1976) ‘The Measure of Paradise: Topography in Eighteenth-Century Poetry’. Eighteenth-Century Studies, 9(2), pp. 232-256.

Goldwin, W. (1712) A Poetical Description of Bristol. Bristol and London. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. [Online] [Accessed 24 February 2016]. https://link.gale.com/ apps/doc/CW0110083670/ECCO?u=aboacad&sid=bookmark-ECCO&xid=4f50381a&pg=1.

Goldwin, W. and Smart, I. (1751) A Description of the Antient and Famous City of Bristol. A Poem. 3rd ed. London. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. [Online] [Accessed 15 March 2016]. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/CW0102705297/ ECCO?u= aboacad&sid=bookmark-ECCO&xid=5ce8996d&pg=1.

Hammond, B. (2001) ‘The City in Eighteenth-Century Poetry’. In Sitter, J. (ed) The Cambridge Companion to Eighteenth-Century Poetry. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 83-107.

Hanham, A.A. (2002) ‘Bristol’. In Hayton, D., Cruickshanks, E. and Handley, S. The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1690-1715. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

www.historyofparliamentonline.org. [Online] [Accessed 7 August 2018]. https://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1690-1715/constituencies/ bristol.

Heath, G. (1799) The New Bristol Guide. Bristol. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. [Online] [Accessed 3 June 2021] https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/ CW0102755188/ECCO?u=aboacad&sid=bookmark-ECCO&xid=c73df480&pg= 1.

Hooke, A. (1748) A Dissertation on the Antiquity of Bristol. London.

Johnson, S. (1755) Dictionary of the English Language. 2 vols. London. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. [Online] [Accessed 3 June 2021] https://link.gale.com/apps/ doc/CW0111285282/ECCO?u=aboacad&sid=bookmark-ECCO&xid=56fb6420 &pg=52.

Lefebvre, H. (2001 [1974]) The Production of Space. Nicholson-Smith, D. (trans). Oxford: Blackwell.

Levine, J.M. (1987) Humanism and History. Origins of Modern English Historiography. Ithaca and London: Cornell.

Macky, J. (1724) A Journey Through England. In Familiar Letters from a Gentleman Here, to his Friend Abroad. 2 vols. London. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. [Online] [Accessed 3 June 2021] https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/CW0116595998/ ECCO?u=aboacad&sid=bookmark-ECCO&xid=f776ef03&pg=2.

Mathews, J. (1825) The Bristol Guide; Being a Complete Ancient and Modern History of the City of Bristol. 6th ed. Bristol. The Internet Archive. [Online] [Accessed 3 June 2021] https://archive.org/details/bristolguidebein00math.

Morgan, K. (2007) Slavery and the British Empire. From Africa to America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mulvey-Roberts, M. (ed) (2015) Literary Bristol: Writers and the City. Bristol: Redcliffe Press/The Regional Historical Centre, University of West England.

Pevsner, N. (1958) The Buildings of England. North Somerset and Bristol. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Propertius. (1990) Elegies. Goold, G.P. (ed and trans). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. [Accessed 31 May 2021] DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.propertius-elegies.1990.

Ricart, R. (1872) The Maire of Bristowe Is Kalendar. Toulmin Smith, L. (ed). Camden Society. The Internet Archive. [Online] [Accessed 3 June 2021] https://archive.org/ details/maireofbristowei00brisrich.

Roberts, L. (2016) ‘Deep Mapping and Spatial Anthropology’. Humanities, 5(5), pp. 1-7.

Rogers, P. (1980) Hacks and Dunces: Pope, Swift and Grub Street. London: Methuen.

Sussman, C. (2012) Eighteenth-Century English Literature. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Sweet, R. (1997) The Writing of Urban Histories in Eighteenth-Century England. Oxford: Clarendon.

Williams, R. (1973) The Country and the City. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.






Special Issue Articles