A History of the Raj & King Street

Old PAinting of King Street in Bristol

Number 35 King Street is an architectural jewel of a building in a street that is a necklace of gems, all most quite different in their styles.

The building is built in the unique local style known as Bristol Byzantine. It was built in its present form in 1870 as a cork warehouse used by the Portuguese company Benito Remus which was a part of the famous Harveys sherry group. Initially the corks were for sherry, port and wine but later in its existence they branched out into cork tiling for walls and floors. There is little doubt that this is a re-working of an older building since its back wall is made out of the mediaeval City Wall. The ornate brick front over three arcaded storeys features chamfered brick pillars and is possibly the work of Henry Marks or W B Gingell.

To see the variety of architecture: number 34 was built in the early 18th century and 36 was built in 1905.

Old Photograph of King Street in the centre of Bristol

King Street was first laid out in 1660 and was one of the widest in the city. It was named in honour of Charles II and is one of 16 streets of that name in Bristol, but is the earliest.

One of the most unspoiled historic streets in Bristol, is King Street. As you approach the cobbled street you pass 17 th century alms houses built by wealthy merchants for sailors who had fallen on hard times. The next building one encounters on the left is one that was built in the early days of the street, a fine piece of Georgian architecture housing the first provincial library. It was dusty and little used until 1772 when the Bristol Library Society was formed to run it and it prospered numbering the poets Coleridge and Chatterton among its clientele.

The most significant building in the street is Britain's oldest continuously working theatre the Theatre Royal which was opened in 1766 having been built for £5,000 and, in 1943, became the country's first subsidised theatre. It was designed by Christopher Wren and modelled on his Drury Lane masterpiece and was the finest outside London.

Famous historic pub - the Landogger Trow

At the far end of the street are the timbered gables of the historic Landogger Trow one of the oldest inns in the city and believed to have links to the origins of Robinson Crusoe. Today it boasts three gables but originally there were five. Opposite is another historic watering place the Naval Volunteer. The name is ironic since, dockside inns were a haunt of the infamous press gangs who kidnapped sailors for the Royal Navy. One remarkable fact about 18 th century Bristol is that many of the wealthy merchants chose to live above their businesses and there were so many cellars that wheeled transport in the older narrow streets was banned and goods were moved about on horse-drawn sledges, a fact noted by Samuel Pepys.

That the old buildings survive is a combination of the bravery of a few and some good luck. In 1831, ostensibly in protest against the lack of universal suffrage for men, a mob attacked the Mansion House looted its wine cellars and set the place alight. Emboldened by their success, and the wine, they burned down the Customs House, a number of other buildings in Queen Square and warehouses in Prince Street. The Bishop's Palace was also a casualty in a three day orgy of looting, drinking and burning.

Old Image of King Street in Bristol in years gone by

Palmerston's diary records: “There has been a tremendous row in Bristol. All the public buildings of the town have been burnt, besides many private houses, and three hundred of the mob killed or wounded by the sabres of the cavalry.

The company of the Theatre Royal surrounded their building and a band of sailors denied access to the mob to King Street which was spared the horrors of the riots. Maybe they were looking after the Naval Volunteer.

Apart from its historic past the contemporary King Street is a mecca for those in search of excellence in food and drink. The street is lined with pubs and restaurants whose reputation has spread far beyond these shores.

The Raj restaurant on King Street, Bristol depicted in water colour

International cuisine is one of its claims to fame and the Raj Tandoori is one of a number of up market dining establishments that have brought honour to the centre of the city.

Tony Ferrand