Old Council House, Corn Street, Bristol

In February 2005 an archaeological evaluation was carried out in the courtyard to the rear of The Old Council House, Corn Street, Bristol. Three trenches were excavated by hand and revealed stone walls, brick floors and mortar surfaces belonging to the properties which stood here before the Council House, as well as older mixed deposits forming a significant build-up of material. Pottery recovered from these deposits has suggested an unbroken sequence of occupation from the 12th to the 20th centuries. Extensive cellaring, however, may have destroyed medieval occupation layers.

The present Old Council House building dates from 1824, with an extension on its west side added in 1828. Prior to this the site was occupied by a number of notable buildings. The church of St Ewen (built c. 1138–1147) occupied the corner of Corn Street and Broad Street opposite Christ Church. On the south side of the church was the guild chapel of the Fraternity of St John the Baptist, later known as the Tolzey, and the Council House. The remainder of the properties fronting onto Corn Street were erected in c.1675.

In 1699 a resolution was passed to enlarge and improve the Council House. This involved the demolition of the Tolzey. The new Council House was built in the classical style on the south side of St Ewen’s church in 1704. By 1787, St Ewen’s had ceased to function as church and was being used as an archive store. It was demolished in 1791. In 1823 Robert Smirke submitted a design to build a new, larger Council House and widen Broad Street by demolishing the old Council House and two adjoining properties and utilising the site of St Ewen’s.

The new building was built in the Greek Revival style. An extension was built onto its west side in 1828, involving the demolition of two further properties on Corn Street. It was designed by Pope and Dymond following Smirke’s Classical style and appears to have been built on top of its predecessor’s cellar walls. These were subsequently used as holding cells for criminals. A further extension to the building, a new Chamber, was added to the north-west corner of the Council House in 1898–1899.

corn st frontage

The 1828 Council House extension (centre) with the 1824 building on the right of the picture, and Lloyds TSB bank on the left.

vertical trench view

Three excavated trenches in the courtyard of the old council house.

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