• Explore Bristol on Foot: Hotwells
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Explore Bristol on Foot: Hotwells

For many centuries most of the local population lived along the banks of the River Avon, below the hamlet of Clifton on the hill.

The district of Hotwells owes its name to a natural spring which emerged from the muddy river banks at the foot of the Avon Gorge between high and low tides. The water, which was not especially hot, just 20 C(76 F), had long been drunk by sailors as a hoped-for cure for scurvy, a disease caused by the lack of fresh fruit and vegetables on long sea voyages.

When the Society of Merchant Venturers, the powerful guild of Bristol merchants, became lords of the manor of Clifton in 1685, they licensed two of their members to build Hotwell House beside the river. The milky water was pumped to the house and sold at a penny a glass.

Following a visit by Catherine of Braganza, King Charles II's queen, a popular spa quickly developed. Lodging houses were built and let at 16 shillings (80p) a week. Servants were lodged at half price. The entire area flourished, resulting in a building boom of fine terraces, often overlooking private shared gardens. A theatre, pleasure gardens and two riverside assembly rooms were established. Bristol's Hotwell complemented Bath spa - Bath being a winter resort and Bristol a summer one. The Bristol Spa eventually fell into disrepair, but left behind a legacy of grand houses, fine squares and Georgian terraces.

Explore Bristol on Foot: Hotwells is a walking tour that takes in this fascinating harbourside community and reveals many quirky facts from the area's past.


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