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

Adam Borch


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.


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

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