“What happened to the ladder?” asks Annabel Smith, pointing out that Bristol is one of the least socially mobile urban areas in the country. Smith is one of thirty-seven contributions to Bristol 650, produced by Bristol Books to mark the 650th anniversary of Bristol becoming an independent county.
The editors, Amy O’Beirne and Andrew Kelly, wanted their chosen essayists to focus on how to build a better Bristol for the future. But some contributors prefer to focus on the here and now and Shawn-Naphtali Sobers rightly stresses that “Bristol Needs to Face Its History to Move Forward.”
Although the price—£20—is off putting, this initiative deserves commendation. It is easy to spot former mayor George Ferguson’s digs at his successor but he writes with wit and imagination and Eugene Byrne makes telling links between past, present and future. Annabel Smith’s essay is sharp and thought-provoking and the essay by Paul Smith, former Bristol City Councillor, on housing in the city is an important contribution to what will surely become an increasingly acrimonious debate. It was good too to see that Cleo Lake was given the opportunity to say “Why Bristol Needs Abolition Shed.”
BRHG members will note some absences amongst those asked to contribute but “the historian Roger Ball and the Radical History Group” do get a mention. Despite the burst of trade union activity in the city, the only time that unions are even referred to is by Emma Green, in an article mainly focussed on disability issues. M. Green and F.H. Pitt stress the need to hear “the voices of working people” and the importance of representing “the needs of workers” but don’t seem to see trade unions as being precisely that.
I learnt a lot from this book and commend the idea of making it a starting point for debate through a “Bristol 650 Zine.” It didn’t diminish the anxiety that I feel about the future of my Bristol granddaughters but did help me to find a channel for hope.