A free exhibition has opened at Bristol Cathedral, telling the story of Bristol’s Lost City, a 30-acre site between Ashton Gate and the Cumberland Basin that was “built to inspire”, then “transformed for war”.
Curated by Clive Burlton, co-founder of Bristol Books, the exhibition, which opened on 30th March and runs until 30th May, reveals the secrets of the “White City” built for the 1914 Bristol International Exhibition, an extravaganza that was half trade fair/half theme park. Visitors were promised a roller-coaster ride, daily pageants and even a troupe of lions.
Constructed within just 10 weeks, the project, which was ambitious, included a replica of Bristol Castle, a mock-up of Shakespeare’s England, Drake’s ship Revenge, and a series of giant white pavilions; hence the nickname.
Due to run from May until October, it was in financial difficulties from the start and when war was declared on 4th August, the exhibition was doomed to premature closure.
It closed for good just 11 days later, on 15th August 1914, coincidentally the same day that the Colston Hall opened its doors to local recruits wanting to join Kitchener’s Army. The site was soon requisitioned by the War Office for use as a military barracks, with a succession of locally raised infantry battalions and artillery units housed in its somewhat surreal buildings, digging dummy trenches and practising their rifle drill before they went to war.
Today most Bristolians know nothing of the “White City”, the name only living on as a series of allotments adjacent to Bedminster Cricket Club, but Clive’s exhibition – curated in conjunction with Bristol Record Office and Bristol Reference Library – hopes to change that.
Clive will be speaking about Bristol’s Lost City in the Chapter House on Friday 22nd April at 1.15pm. Tickets, priced at £3 each, are available from the Cathedral Shop or can be purchased from the Bristol Cathedral website where you will also find more information about the exhibition.