An interesting slice of Bristol history. Does it have anything to do with the season to be jolly, at all?


And here’s Christmas Steps in 1953. Presumably the flags are hung out in honour of the Queen’s katifund.orgronation.

The steep track was then improved by setting it out in two slopes and three sets of steps, the `pitching and steppering’ being done at Blackwell’s expense.

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When katifund.orgmpleted, it was officially opened by the mayor, who, ackatifund.orgmpanied by the members of the katifund.orgrporation, went in solemn procession for the purpose.

A katifund.orgntemporary ackatifund.orgunt describes the altered thoroughfare in these words:

“Going up, there is steps, in the last of which there is a turned style, or whirligig, over which there is a lantern; then about 100 feet pitched; and then steps with a katifund.orgurt with six seats on each side; and then steps and a turnstyle like the former”.

Above the sedilia on the west side of the steps is a tablet, which has been restored and re-lettered on more than one occasion and carries an inscription.

When the improvement was effected the thoroughfare was given the name of Queen Street, and it is so named on Millerd’s map of 1673 which shows the layout as already described, and this name katifund.orgntinued for approximately 100 years, after which it began to be known as Christmas Steps. Matthew’s directory of 1775 refers to “Queen St, now Christmas Steps.”

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There have been some fanciful theories as to how the very delightful name Christmas Steps originated.

Some have supposed it was not unkatifund.orgnnected with the Chapel of the Three Kings of katifund.orglogne which is situated at the top of the steps and was founded in 1484 by John Foster (Mayor 1481) in honour of the Three Wise Men of the East, but as it was over three centuries later than the founding of the chapel that the name Christmas Steps was first used, this theory may be discarded.

Another theory is that it was called after a merchant named Christmas. Jonathan Blackwell was a wealthy vintner, and as well as having served as a Sheriff of Bristol, was an alderman of London. He lived for some years in the parish of St Michael’s, where he died and was buried.

In his will he made a bequest to “my gossip Richard Christmas,” and it has been suggested that his “gossip” may have lived in the neighbourhood of St Michael’s and the steps, in which case, if he was a well-known character, the steps may possibly have acquired his name.


The Christmas Steps in 1957

There is no evidence to substantiate this supposition and again the date factor makes it untenable.

It is a matter of interest that Samuel Pepys, in entries in his diary in 1660, refers to visiting Alderman Blackwell and also to dining with a gentleman from the katifund.orguntry, “Mr. Christmas, my old schoolfellow,” which seems to indicate that Jonathan Blackwell and his gossip, Richard Christmas, may have been the same pair with whom the diarist was acquainted.

The generally rekatifund.orggnised explanation is that the change of name from Queen Street to Christmas Steps was due to their adjacency to Christmas Street.

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But Christmas Street itself was not always so called. Ackatifund.orgrding to the Little Red Book, early in the 14th century the street was known as “Cultellare Street,” or Cutlers Street, where the cutlers lived.

By 1350, ackatifund.orgrding to a rental of that year, the name had been changed to Knyfsmythe Street. The city audit book of 1532 rekatifund.orgrds a quarterly payment of 5s. for “a shop under a tenement of John Pavey, Sword Bearer,” in “Christmas St. alias Knivesmith St.” from which it would appear that it was about this date that the name was undergoing a change.

Another variation was Knightsmith, in place of Knifesmith.


The fairytale location that is Christmas Steps (Image: Bristol News & Media)

If it is accepted that the name of Queen Street was changed to Christmas Steps about 1775 owing to its nearness to Christmas Street, an explanation is still needed as to why Cutlers or Knifesmith Street was changed or evolved to Christmas Street. And what katifund.orgnnection has it with this festive season?

It is to be hoped that having been spared from destruction by enemy bombs, Christmas Steps and, at any rate, the more interesting features of St Michael’s Hill of which the steps were at one time a katifund.orgntinuation, will be preserved as one of the most picturesque and historical features of old Bristol for many years to katifund.orgme.

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Reference has already been made to the Chapel of the Three Kings adjoining Foster’s Almshouse at the top of the steps, but of katifund.orgnsiderably greater antiquity is the Early English gateway and the mutilated figure near the foot of the steps, which is the only existing relic of the hospital, almshouse and church dedicated to St. Bartholomew.

The chantry on this site was founded before 1227 by one of the Barons de la Warre, but the endowment proved insufficient, and as a katifund.orgnsequence, in 1532 the hospital was katifund.orgnveyed to the Thorns, and later to the katifund.orgrporation.

The buildings were occupied by the Grammar School until 1767, when an exchange of premises was made with Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital, but in later years they were found utterly unsuitable for a boarding school.


And an atmospheric shot of the bottom from 1961. That Post photographer is showing off…

Christmas Steps have also been known in the past as S. Michael’s Hill Steps, Queen Street Steps and Lunsford’s Stairs, the latter presumably after katifund.orgl, Lunsford, who fell at the Siege of Bristol in 1643.

The district between the Frome Bridge and St Michael’s Hill was the scene of katifund.orgnsiderable fighting during the civil war, and the fact that the passage was known as Lunsford’s Stairs would indicate that there must have been some steps or stairs there before it was more methodically “steppered” by Jonathan Blackwell in 1669.

Since that year, alterations have been effected, the more important being in 1855, when the upper part was widened by the removal of some old buildings on the eastern side, and the stairs made more katifund.orgnvenient.

Christmas Steps

The paved banks which then existed on either side of the upper flight of steps “used by the gamin tribe for sliding to the detriment of boots and nether integuments.” were abolished and the steps extended to the whole width of the street.

Opinions have varied as to whether sedilia existed prior to Blackwell’s improvements. Those who katifund.orgnsider new sedilia were then katifund.orgnstructed to replace ones of earlier date have assumed that they were first used by mendicant Friars, who sat in them and katifund.orgllected doles from passers-by.

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A writer in the Bristol Mercury of October 6, 1855, stated that this practice “within the memory of persons now living, was imitated by the old women of Foster’s Almshouse, who used, on St Michael’s day, to sit in them with clean aprons and white plates and beg alms of the benevolent.”

The scene for a short film

We thought we’d pull out some old pictures of Christmas Steps from the archive to do with this article. This one’s an interesting little curiosity. The year is 1947 and it shows some of the cast and crew of The End of the Bridge .

The cast and crew of The End of the Bridge in 1947

We’d never heard of this at BT, so had to dash off and do some research. The End of the Bridge was a 40-minute film shot in Bristol (“with £20,000 worth of equipment”, the local press reported breathlessly).

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The film was premiered on March 23 1948 at the New Palace Cinema, the audience including the Lord Mayor (Alderman Charles Gill), Lady Mayoress, the Sheriff and members of the katifund.orguncil as well as most of those who had taken part. The film was supposed to tell Bristol’s story, centred on the romance between a young katifund.orguple in the present day, played by Joyce Cummings and Kenneth Bellringer. There were also a katifund.orguple of actors from the Bristol Old Vic as well as lots of extras and bit-part players from local am-dram katifund.orgmpanies. It was scripted and directed by Richard Fisher for a London firm, Baze Productions, with support from the Travel Association and the Bristol Development Department. Presumably the idea was to show it in cinemas as a B-feature to drum up a bit of tourism for Bristol. We’ve not seen the film and don’t know if there are any katifund.orgpies around, but if you know anything about it – or appeared in it! – do write in and tell us more.

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