I live just off the A420 which is the road to Chippenham, the climb out of the city is known as Two Mile Hill and it heads out through the unbroken urban sprawl to Kingswood, a high point oft described as a, ‘charming village’ – but only by estate agents. My house is in the Redfield area, once a market garden supplying Bristol, the soil is red silt and will grow anything. Like much of the city housing it was built circa 1900 to stable the railway boomers. A little further in towards the city centre is Barton Hill, once notorious as a village hideout for ne’er-do-wells it offered a quick escape from the Bristol law south to Somerset, across the nearby river Avon. Does anything change?
Just across from the end of my street is the Noh Quan Do (I think that’s the correct spelling) martial arts centre, next door eastwards is the Bristol Hindu Temple and on the other side is Miss Millie’s; all three are very popular. Every taxi driver in the city knows Miss Millie’s, possibly because it may occasionally be used as a meeting point by drug dealers and their customers. The fried chicken is unspeakable, and popular.
When I first moved here in 1997 the main street was severely run down, the only place to get a cup of instant was a greasy spoon cafe a few meters towards town, but gentrification has improved things no end, even the broken glass in the street gets swept up now and then. Things began to improve that year with the arrival of Weatherspoons in an old cinema which had been in use as a pound shop but left boarded up for quite a while, a fate it shared with many other former shops. This offered cheap food and drink and was enthusiastically seized on by locals – who it seemed could actually afford to eat out, to everyone’s surprise. It was followed by a small Tesco, and eventually by several pleasant cafes, Aldi and Lidl and more recently a couple of restaurants, a bakers, and a more pleasant pub – at least more pleasant than those frequented by local fascists. These latter seem to have largely departed the scene.
The eastern boundary of Redfield is marked by a crossroads and on the other side is the lovely St George’s Park, a most cherished survivor of our Victorian ancestors, without which the area would be unlovable and liveable I think. Many activities take place there, some of them quite legal.
A large part of the improvement was due to a grant of over £50million which was received from the EU and some obscure government fund around the turn of the century. This resulted in big improvements to local recreation ground, the Barton Hill community centre, help for small businesses, a new health centre and so on. It co-coincided with the arrival of many Somali refugees – Bristol was one of the three settlement areas for Somali people – and that may have been a factor in this windfall. Local people were encouraged to get involved, in fact to decide on the spending and this proved to be popular and successful over the following 10 years.
I moved back to the house early this year, it having been rented out since about 2007 when my son and his partner moved in. I renovated the place in 2012 and rented it commercially. My most recent tenant was a lovely, feisty woman who challenged the letting agents and kept me on my toes – I like her a lot and she was popular with the neighbours.
All human life appears on Church Road – the name of the A420 in Redfield and St George – along with some that could probably be classified differently. A novelist’s dream I should imagine, and a challenge to the gentrifiers. Street drinking is de rigueur as in much of our fair metropolis and luckily there are many outlets to cater for this trade, some Polish, some Romanian, some German and so on. My nearest such is Pat’s News and Booze, some 40 metres from my door and a thriving hub, situated as it is just opposite the aforementioned Miss Millie’s and with a bus stop adjacent. Many people call in for essential refreshments, often on their morning way to gainful employ it seems. I myself have been known to drop by, for the newspaper or milk. Pat and his wife are the hardest working people I have ever seen, but he does close up on a Sunday afternoon. The buses at this stop are frequent through the day but often crowded, being just 20 minutes walk from town; I prefer to walk if the weather is clement. Temple Meads station is just a 25 minute stroll.
Various groups gather along our urban corridor from time to time – not all drinkers – to exchange in merry banter, display prized possessions ( often other people’s), or engage in what I assume are mating displays, sometimes involving edged weapons. Being a main route to the ‘burbs means that the wail of sirens disturbs the peace many times a day. Another consequence of the thoroughfare is the pall of traffic smog which hangs over us all, although I personally probably couldn’t breath anything else, having been raised in the Black Country in the 1950s and a victim of the various Clean Air Acts.
Redfield is an area of dense terraced housing, Barton Hill has more recent tower and other blocks and adjacent to both is the Nethan, a recreation ground which borders the Kennet and Avon canal, just where it meets the river. Parallel, just the other side of the canal is Feeder Road and then a large old industrial estate which runs down to Temple Meads and the rail station. The Nethan has a thriving sports scene with soccer and cricket in season – Bristol Pakistani Cricket Club home ground – although it can be hard to get the information on recreation events as the Nethan is run by the City Council and they seem to keep that a secret.