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Brandon Hill


Brandon Hill is Bristol's earliest public park, granted to the council in 1174 by Robert Earl of Gloucester. It became a public open space in 1625.


Steep hill

Brandon Hill is s steep conical hill in the centre of Bristol. It is surrounded by buildings on all sides, but commands excellent views, particularly over the docks and to the south of the city. The park is mostly made up of open grassland, but the summit of the hill is occupied by the Cabot Tower and a water garden. This area is surrounded by mixed trees and shrubs. Earthworks dating from the time of the Civil War can be found in several places on Brandon Hill. There are entrances to the park on all sides of the hill.

Brandon Hill is maintained by the Parks Department of Bristol City Council. The grass is cut regularly and the water gardens are well cared for.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

Access contact details

This is a municipal open space for public use.


Bristol City Council

College Green, BS1 5TR

Brandon Hill is undoubtedly the oldest public park in Bristol. It was granted to the Corporation of Bristol by Robert, Earl of Gloucester, in 1174, with the exception of four acres on the summit of the hill. It has remained in the city's ownership since that time, although it was leased to various people between 1543 and 1625. The four acres on the summit of the hill were granted to the Abbey of Tewkesbury in 1174, and a small chapel was built there some time in the early Middle Ages. This chapel was dedicated to St. Brendan and was traditionally visited by sailors about to leave on a long journey.

After the Dissolution of the monasteries the chapel fell into decay. For some reason, the Corporation of Bristol did not acquire the four acres at the summit of the hill until 1581, when £30 was paid to the Crown for the land.

Before this time the traditional right of people to dry their clothes on Brandon Hill was well-established. This right was preserved throughout the period from 1543-1625, when the hill was leased to various individual citizens. Residents have also traditionally exercised the right to beat out rugs and carpets on Brandon Hill between the hours of 6 a.m. and 9 p.m.. This right is still maintained and large signs display the times when rugs may be beaten.

During the Civil War (1642-6), Brandon Hill was a key point in the defence of Bristol. A fort was positioned there and substantial earthworks were built in 1643 to defend the city from advancing Royalist forces. On the 23rd of July, 1643, the Royalists attacked. Although the forts on Brandon Hill and St. Michaels Hill held firm, Colonel Washington's men broke the Parliamentarian line between the two forts and the city was rapidly over-run. Some of the fortifications in Brandon Hill have been destroyed, but substantial mounds and banks remain at different places on the hill.

Various proposals were advanced at various times to build different structures on Brandon Hill, notably an idea to site an observatory there in the 18th century. However, nothing came of the plans. Residential developments around the hill began to encroach increasingly on the open land and in 1845 a subscription fund was started to make walks and walls on the hill and to ensure its preservation as an open space. £800 was raised for this purpose.

In 1857 some captured Russian 36-pounder guns were hauled up onto Brandon Hill amid great public rejoicing. The hill finally acquired its distinctive monument in 1897-8, when the Cabot Tower was built to the design of W.V. Gough. The 105 foot high tower commemorates the 400th anniversary of the discovery of North America by John Cabot. It has become a distinctive landmark, visible from many parts of the city.

In 1936-7, the area around the tower was landscaped and water gardens with pools and cascades were formed. Shrubs and trees have also been planted around the summit and to flank some of the paths through the park. In 1949-50, a heather garden was made at the base of the Cabot Tower.

Brandon Hill is still of great importance as an attractive public park in the centre of a crowded city.

Associated People
Features & Designations


  • Conservation Area

  • Reference: Park Street and Brandon Hill
  • The National Heritage List for England: Listed Building

  • Reference: Cabot Tower
  • Grade: II
  • Scheduled Ancient Monument

  • Reference: remains of Civil War defensive earthworks


  • Tower
  • Description: This feature is the Cabot Tower. It is a tall, square, Tudor Gothic tower. It is built of red sandstone rubble with freestone dressings with diagonal buttresses and lantern. It stands 105 feet high. There are semi-circular canopied balconies at lantern level. The highest level is open with a balustrade. There is a conical roof with pinnacles and a winged figure as a finial. It was built to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the discovery of North America by John Cabot of Bristol.
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  • Water Feature
  • Description: This feature is the water garden. It has a central cascade from the base of the Cabot Tower. The water falls through channels into a small irregular pond. The feature is surrounded with varied trees and shrubs planted amongst rocks. There is a smaller irregular pond to the east.
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  • Earthwork
  • Description: These are the remains of fortifications erected in 1643. They are easily distinguished as irregularly shaped mounds to the west and south of the Cabot Tower.
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  • Parkland
Key Information





Principal Building

Parks, Gardens And Urban Spaces





Open to the public