By Jenna Ram, PhD Atmospheric Chemistry
Stokes Croft, now a staple of the Bristol student experience has a history as multifaceted as the area today. Take a journey from the original Bristol farmland to it's current iteration as an artistic hub in two centuries worth of development.
If you made your way around the Bearpit following the road past Full Moon Backpackers, you would find yourself immersed in an exciting and diverse area of Bristol, differing in every way possible to the dreary City Centre that you’ve just come from. This area is, unofficially, called Stokes Croft, which extends halfway up Cheltenham Road and includes Jamaica Street. It is the cultural quarter of Bristol; as you walk further through it, it will charm you with its abundance of colourful street art, diverse friendly people, local live music, cute cafes and restaurants, countless independent shops, and alternative pubs and bars.
Day or night Stokes Croft is buzzing with residents and non-residents; at night you can see street drinkers gathering on Turbo Island, some at bars like the Canteen and Crofters Rights, and others partying in legendary clubs like Lakota and Blue Mountain. Also regularly found in the croft are the homeless, people from other areas of Bristol identify this as a sign that the neighbourhood is anti-social and dangerous. However, could it just be a reflection of the area’s inclusive nature?
The area’s character has given rise to a community enterprise called The People’s Republic of Stokes Croft (PRSC), a group who believe that social change is possible through art and activism. They use their art to address socio-political issues and encourage community engagement to bring about social change - some of these works can be spotted on Jamaica Street and the Bearpit.
Today, it is recognised as lively, artistic, independent, anti-profit, community-driven and home to some of the friendliest people in the city. But how did it evolve into this?
Up until the mid-1800s, Stokes Croft was mostly open fields, Gloucester Road and beyond was just rural land for farmers. Around this time, it started to develop some economic and social character, as some shops opened up. A big tram route was established through Stokes Croft, and its importance grew. It provided jobs in the Stokes Croft Brewery, Perry’s Carriageworks and the factories in Backfields and nearby St Paul’s.
It was badly damaged during World War II air raids with many buildings destroyed and others abandoned. The postwar redevelopment was slow, and with little money being pumped into the area, the abandoned buildings became ideal sites for street artists. The lack of new developments kept property value affordable. Cheap rent gave the opportunity for the small businesses and artists to move in, and so Bristol’s cultural area was forged.
The small businesses and artists thrived and still thrive today, which allures outsiders to come and live there. Inevitably it also attracts property developers to sweep in on the community’s developments, with their plans to replace well-known, beloved buildings with flats and commercial spaces. In Stokes Croft, gentrification is emphatically underway.
The process of gentrification is highly visible by Westmoreland House and Carriageworks. Since May of this year, assertive scaffolding surrounds what used to be a pair of beautiful but derelict buildings, representing Stokes Croft’s anarchic and anti-commercialist attitudes. Before renovations, the abandoned buildings were used as an outdoor gallery and were occupied by squatters.
Featured Image: Epigram/Natalie Beddows
What has your experience of Stokes Croft been? Let us know!