Brandon Hill, Great George St, Bristol, BS1 5RR
William Venn Gough
Although Victorian it is reminiscent of Tudor design under Henry VII
Built of red sandstone with Bath stone decoration
Open from 8am Monday to Sunday. Closes half an hour before dusk. The tower can be viewed externally from Brandon Hill nature reserve.
Visitors climbing Cabot Tower’s spiral staircase are rewarded with breathtaking views of Bristol. The tower was built in 1897 and officially opened in 1898. It commemorated the 400th anniversary of John Cabot sailing from Bristol in 1497 aboard the Matthew to become the first European (after the Vikings) to reach North American shores. Perching on top of Brandon Hill, Cabot Tower is 30 metres tall and its upper balcony 102 metres above sea level. The style is Victorian with late Gothic features, which help to echo the late 1400s.
Cabot’s explorations were backed by the English king Henry VII. His original plan was to find a new trade route to Asia – international commerce was flourishing in the late 1400s and naval exploration was gaining importance. This is reflected by the statue at the top – a winged figure of Commerce standing on a globe. Before the tower closed for renovation (2007-11) a beacon traditionally flashed ‘B-r-i-s-t-o-l’ in Morse Code at night. At the time of writing there are plans to bring this back again.
The tower was designed by Bristol architect William Venn Gough. The decorative features include a plaque outlining Cabot’s achievement, the coats of arms of Henry VII and the city of Bristol and the Roman numerals CCCC (400). By the 21st century it was in great need of repair and was becoming potentially unsafe. A major programme of repairs was completed in 2011.
Its location, Brandon Hill, is a hilly park in a central part of Bristol. This area has claims to being England’s oldest open public space – an undeveloped area in the heart of the city since 1174. A second Cabot Tower was built across the Atlantic to celebrate the 400-year Cabot anniversary. It stands on Signal Hill overlooking St Johns in Newfoundland, where many believe Cabot landed in 1497.