We're on a road to nowhere: HOTWELL ROAD, BRISTOL

Times change and few things mark the passing of people, fashions and ways of life so eloquently as once thriving city thoroughfares
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The Independent Culture
The reason for Hotwell Road's demise is clear from a glance at the Bristol A-Z. The architectural reality may be piecemeal - stretches of warm Georgian crescents and Victorian terraces, some still bearing their original nameplates, range along the north bank of the river Avon and back up against the overgrown rockface of the Avon Gorge - but cartographically the road bears a uniform label: A4. This is the reason for the constant stream of traffic thundering along the four lanes of tarmac you have to sprint across to get from house to riverbank.

High society and Hotwell Road converged once two centuries ago, during the heyday of the hot spa, which attracted the Duchesses of Kent and Marlborough, the writers Pope and Sheridan and brought a building boom, London theatre productions and packed ballrooms.

Almost nothing remains of this period, which ended in the 1790s amid mismanagement of the pumproom, bankruptcies and the desertion of the wealthy clientele to the fashionable spas of the newly peaceful Europe. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, Bristol's pre-eminence as a port kept Hotwell Road busy, and traces of its bustling downmarket career are still visible: the mouldering wood landing stages on to which steamers full of day-trippers from South Wales disembarked; the bricked-up aperture of the Rocks Railway, whose hydraulic tram cars climbed 45 degrees up to Clifton's Grand Spa Hotel.

The faade of the General Draper pub - last of the stock of bars, shops and bordellos that serviced the sailors and trippers - still stands, now an office; the view from its windows obscured by a walkway across the approach ramps of the great Cumberland Basin flyover.

The creation of the flyover in the early Sixties created a huge no man's land in the centre of Hotwell Road, quadrupled the traffic and put paid to its chances of following the Georgian crescents up the hill to Clifton and gentrification.

"These houses would be worth roughly double up in Clifton," says Brian McCracken, a local estate agent. Number 400 is up for sale. Barbara Salter, who lived there for 62 years, remembers Overton's Tea Room, the little confectioners shops, the greengrocers and "an old darkie musician" who used to entertain the crowds from the paddle steamers.

Denton Brockway, "driver" of the Tower Belle river launch and local council candidate, left the area in 1981, when the road reopened after a lengthy closure to secure the face of the gorge. "It was wonderful for a year, like the country," he says. "You could hear people talking on the opposite bank of the river."

Mrs Salter has already moved out to Portishead. "Funnily enough," she laughs, "the thing I miss is the traffic."

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