Bristol is connected by the M4 to London and West Wales and to Birmingham and Exeter by the M5 motorway.
Originally part of Gloucestershire, Bristol is a city, a unitary authority area and ceremonial county, bordering Somerset and Gloucestershire in the South West of England. Bristol was granted County status in 1373 following receipt of a Royal Charter in 1155. Bristol is built around the River Avon and has a small coastline flowing into the Bristol Channel on the Severn Estuary.
For 500 years Bristol was one of the top three English cities after London alongside Norwich and York in terms of tax receipts. This changed during the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century and for a long time Bristol’s affluence has been attributed to its proximity to the sea. Bristol’s commercial port, originally in the city centre, was moved to Avonmouth on the Severn Estuary on the western edge of the city boundary. More recently, the economy in Bristol has depended on the electronics, aerospace and creative media industries, the docks in the city centre are now a centre of culture and heritage.
Bristol’s development began around the junction of the River Frome with the River Avon just outside the town walls in the 11th century with the port. By the 12th century this was paramount to much of England’s trade with Ireland. The town was extended in 1247 when a stone bridge was built, connecting Bristol to neighboring suburbs, leading to it becoming a county in its own right. By this time Bristol was one of the largest medieval towns in the country and by the 15th century was the second most important port in the country, handling trade to Ireland, Iceland and Gascony. Following more enhancement to the docklands in the early 1900s came the opening of the Royal Edward Dock and then later on the Royal Portbury Dock in the 1970s.
Bristol’s major imports are motor vehicles, grain, timber, fresh produce and petroleum products; as a major seaport, it has a long history of trading commodities, originally wool cloth exports and imports of fish, wine, grain and dairy produce, later tobacco, tropical fruits and plantation goods.
As well as its nautical connections, Bristol’s economy is also reliant on the media, information technology, tourism and financial service sectors. In the 20th century, Bristol's manufacturing activities expanded to include aircraft production at Filton and Patchway. The Bristol Aeroplane company became famous for the WW I Bristol Fighter and WW II Blenheim and Beaufighter aircraft.
In the 1950s Bristol became one of the country's major manufacturers of civil aircraft. In the 1960s Filton played a massive role in the Anglo-French Concorde supersonic airliner project. The Bristol Aeroplane Company became part of the British partner, the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC). Concorde components were made in British and French factories and shipped to the two final assembly plants, in Toulouse and Filton. The British Concorde prototype made its first flight from Filton to RAF Fairford on 9 April 1969.
The aerospace industry is still a huge part of the local economy. BAE Systems, Airbus and Rolls-Royce are now the main aerospace companies in Bristol, all based at Filton, and aerospace engineering is a principal research area at the University of the West of England.
The Bristol Old Vic, Bristol's biggest theatre company, was founded in 1946 as a branch of the Old Vic company from London. Its King Street home consisted of a modern studio theatre called the New Vic and the 1766 Theatre Royal.
Since late on the 70s, the city has been known for a variety of punk, funk, dub and political consciousness bands, the most famous of these have included Glaxo Babies, The Pop Group, Tricky, Portishead and Massive Attack.
There are two Football League clubs in Bristol, Bristol City and Bristol Rovers, along with a number of non-league football clubs. Bristol Rugby union club, Gloucestershire C.C.C. and the Bristol Sonics, a Rugby League Conference team also call Bristol home.
The two universities in Bristol are the University of Bristol, a "redbrick" chartered in 1909, and the University of the West of England, formerly Bristol Polytechnic, which became a university status in 1992. Bristol also has two colleges, City of Bristol College and Filton College, along with Trinity College, Wesley College and Bristol Baptist College which are theological colleges.