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Clifton

PUBLISHED: 17:34 20 October 2008 | UPDATED: 15:32 20 February 2013

Clifton Suspension Bridge

Clifton Suspension Bridge

Clifton sits - the more petite, elegant and refined sister of sprawling, big-hearted, colourful Bristol - replete with green space, architectural treasures, a majestic and awe-inspiring gorge, a magnificent zoo, a superb antiques market, and an ur...

Clifton possesses a thriving guardian of its heritage and future in the Clifton and Hotwells Preservation Society and has just celebrated the re-opening, after nearly two decades, of the Clifton Lido - the oldest Listed lido in the UK.

Clifton's first public mention came in the Domesday Book of 1086, which lists it as a parish of 30 souls, all engaged in farming. The Civil War - which had such a lasting impact on the whole of Somerset - brought disaster to Clifton when Prince Rupert's forces, defeated by the Parliamentarians in Bristol, burnt the entire village, with the exception of the church, to the ground.

Its golden age really kicked off when the Hotwells spa began to draw the leisured classes to it and the area soon became a haven of refinement and tranquillity for a monied, cultured class seeking a residential area whose clean air and quality of life would provide an antidote to the commercial and industrial hothouse that was the city of Bristol. Fine Victorian terraces were built and the proliferation of blue plaques in the area is eloquent proof of its appeal to distinguished artists, poets and leaders of society.

Victoria Square, one of the most beautifully proportioned of its kind anywhere in the Westcountry, was named in homage to Queen Victoria, whose face is carved into the stone of an archway leading to it. The square is dominated on one side by the Royal Promenade - a row of 15 houses whose façade was designed to resemble a palace. Number 15 was, for several years, the home of cricketing legend Dr WG Grace.

The square surrounds a beautiful garden, once private and designated for the exclusive use of residents. Beneath it ran a tunnel, allowing them to cross from one side to the other without the necessity of setting eyes on the hoi polloi outside its iron railings!

Royal York Crescent is reputedly the longest crescent of its kind in Europe. This lovely avenue, built in 1793, comprises 46 houses and keen-eyed visitors will note there is no number 13. When England went to war with revolutionary France plans were laid to turn the crescent into one long barracks - a plan that was dropped in the face of local outrage. Later it became the home of Britain's first US consul Cornelius Van De Horst, and Empress Eugenie, later wife of Napoleon III, attended school at No 2 (now called Eugenie House). This period she chronicled as being the unhappiest of her life, when her schoolmates nicknamed her 'carrots' owing to her magnificent red hair.

Today, Clifton has a vibrant and bustling atmosphere thanks not only to its cafs and restaurants, but to the presence of a young student population which enjoys a thriving social life centred on Whiteladies Road.

For anyone wishing to escape to green space, the rolling and unspoilt Downs not only provide gloriously clean air and beautiful vistas but a permanent football pitch, which is used by one of the oldest amateur teams in the country. Originally owned by the Society of Merchant Venturers, the Downs were given to the public and protected by an Act of Parliament in 1861 and are today regarded as the 'lungs' of the City of Bristol.

Located on the Downs, more than 90 metres (300ft) above the River Avon and not far from the suspension bridge, the Clifton Observatory was originally a working mill. It was leased in 1828 by artist William West who used it as a studio and installed both telescopes for observing the night sky and a camera obscura, a device invented in the 16th century which allowed a 360-degree-view of the surrounding area. The device is the only camera obscura in the UK that is available for public viewing.

Clifton's most recently opened landmark, its new Lido, is located on the site of the Clifton Victoria Baths, the oldest Grade II Listed swimming pool in the UK and the first electrically heated pool in the British Isles. Developers behind the new Lido have respected its cultural and architectural importance and have combined sophisticated modern technology with its original architectural features to make a luxury leisure facility. BY KAREN DANIEL

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