Does Bristol have a West End?

8 01 2011

I was alerted on Twitter this week to the fact that at least two Park Street businesses, the Bristol Ram and Goldbrick House, both give their addresses as “Park Street, West End, Bristol” (see for yourself here and here). Now, I ask you, what is the West End? This is Bristol, not London. The Hippodrome may market itself as “Bristol’s West End theatre”, but it is resolutely not in the West End because Bristol does not have a West End.

Or does it? According to certain maps and street signs, Bristol does in fact have a West End. The area mapped as West End on maps produced by Visit Bristol and given out at the tourist information centre is simply Park Street and its close environs.

What we know as Park Street is also referred to as the West End in Visit Bristol’s Days Out, In and Around Bristol guide, which says “the ‘strip’ of Whiteladies Road and the West End is packed with bars, cafes, shops and clubs”.

Apart from on those blue sign posts (see photo at the bottom of this story) dotted around the city, maps for tourists, and ill-judged addresses from businesses who should know better, the only real West End in Bristol is the car park at the top of Jacob’s Wells Road (above), a small cobbled cul-de-sac at the end of Somerset Street in Kingsdown, and an even smaller street off Coronation Road in Southville next to a patch of wasteland.

I would argue that the West End is an artificial geographical construct dreamed up by the marketing team at Visit Bristol to attract more tourists to an area that already has a perfectly appropriate name that has been with us for centuries.

The same argument can just as easily be applied to Harbourside (left), the ghastly new development of flats built by Crest Nicholson which now seems to apply to an ever-growing area next to the Floating Harbour and which has been widely adopted.

I will say it again: Harbourside is a commercial development, not an area of Bristol. Except it now is, with the same maps and guides that also mark the West End as an area of Bristol using Harbourside (with a capital H to please Crest Nicholson) to describe the location around the homogeneous flats (sorry, apartments), and the word slowly but stealthily creeping into the popular vernacular.

It’s a massive marketing success if there ever was one for a development that this week are selling luxury two- and three-bedroom flats in Beacon House (facing the water at the far west of the development) at prices ranging from £295,000 for a fourth floor two-bedroom flat with an aspect “south across the Garden (sic) and harbour”, to £475,000 for a first floor two-bedroom flat with an aspect “South West towards the SS Great Britain and down the harbour”.

In Crest Nicholson’s own words in their glossy brochure, available from the marketing suite near the new Tesco: “Construction began in 2005 to redevelop the area now known as Harbourside, a 16-acre site transformed from derelict wasteland into a vibrant place to live, work and relax on the waterside of the city’s floating harbour (sic). One of the country’s finest examples of city re-development, it’s easy to see why the award-winning Harbourside at Bristol is so popular.”

I’m sure that when it opens for business, Finzel’s Reach will be known as just that. Both Finzel’s Reach and Harbourside are made up of accommodation, leisure and office space built on brown field sites. The difference between the area slowly taking shape opposite Castle Park and Harbourside is that Finzel’s Reach is an artificially-created part of Bristol, whereas the harbourside (small H, ‘the’ included) has been with us for more than 200 years.

202 years to be precise, because in 2009 Bristol celebrated the bicentenary of the Floating Harbour. No mention of Harbourside, as this was to commemorate the brilliant piece of engineering that diverted the River Avon and created an area of water that remains at permanent high tide, thus enabling ships to float and not shed their cargo when the tide goes in. Hence the Floating Harbour.

Those blue sign posts which also include West End do not point to the Floating Harbour, they point to Harbourside. But where Harbourside (big H, no ‘the’) is located is clear for all to see by the huge adverts on the side of many unoccupied retail units in Crest Nicholson’s bafflingly award-winning scheme.

“Shaping a soul in the heart of Bristol,” proclaims the slogan on the advert. I beg to differ. Instead of creating a vibrant community, Crest Nicholson have created a monstrous Lego dwelling with no architectural integrity, life or soul.

“This is a private development,” signs dotted about Harbourside scream (above). “No dogs. No cycling. No roller skating. No skateboarding. No sunbathing.” No life. No soul.

Of course, the harbourside has become an appropriate way to describe an area of Bristol that we can all be proud of in so many ways and many agree is one of the best things about the city.

But Harbourside it is not. I would also vouch that not one single person living in Bristol would choose to meet friends in the West End. Let’s stick to what we know and not have marketing professionals determine what we should call this great city of ours.



5 responses

8 01 2011

Having the deep (mis)fortune of living on College Green, we have been baffled by the increasing amount of mail we get where the address sites the West End. The West End of what? But then again, it is now on all the street names, so if the highways department of the council have decreed it to be so, it must be true!

8 01 2011

I have been struggling with the location of the West End for a while. I thought it might be due to the QEH Theatre opposite the car park but all very perplexing. Nice post, most illuminating.

9 01 2011

Another one creeping on to the radar is the unwieldy ‘Bristol Central Shopping District’ or somesuch. This is, of course, Broadmead to me and you.

9 01 2011

I noticed a sign saying West End recently and thought I hadn’t seen it before and wondered where the hell that was meant to be.
I don’t mind a bit of tourist office marketing, but I think we shouldn’t try to adopt/nick well-established London areas to crowbar into a corner of north west Bristol.
People all over Bristol already know it as Park Street, what’s wrong with that?

9 01 2011
West End, Bristol; All part of the planning

[…] is an intriguing post on Bristol Culture which questions the use of the terms West End and Harbourside for the city of Bristol. From where […]

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