This fascinating quarter of Bristol has been a shopping area for hundreds of years. In medieval times, Bristol's population outgrew the ancient walled city, and overflowed from St. John's Gate up the steep hillside around Christmas Steps ( formerly Queen Street) and onto St. Michael's Hill. At the foot of Christmas Steps Tudor wood-framed shops and adjacent s the stone arched entrance to St. Bartholomew's Hospital founded in 1240. From 1532 it became Bristol Grammar School and then Queen Elizabeth Hospital school (1767-1847).
Christmas Steps is nationally famous for its historic shops that run up either side. Towards the top, a plaque commemorates the gallant royalist Colonel Henry Lunsford who was shot through the heart whilst leading the royalists attack on Bristol in 1643 during the Civil War. A stone plaque at the top above the alms-gatherers' niches states that this ancient street was "Steppered Done and Finished September 1669".
Adjacent to the top of the Steps are the Foster's Almshouses and the Chapel of The Three Kings of Cologne founded in 1490. The Almshouses were superbly rebuilt in Victorian times in Burgundian style, copying 15th Century domestic French architecture.
Lower Park Row(originally Griffin Lane) boasts a Jacobean House adjacent to the old Ship Inn and leads up to Park Row. The Red Lodge Museum (free admission) was built in 1590 and has Bristol's last remaining 16th century interior with its impressive oak paneling, ornate ceilings and fireplace, as well as period furnishings and a Tudor knot garden. Opposite on Park Row is the fine stone- built Jewish Synagogue (c.1870), one of Bristol's only two synagogues. Perry Road is a splendid unspoiled mid- Victorian shopping parade built in 1872.
Colston Street has the Colston Hall at its foot with its Byzantine sandstone columns, and is lined with shops dating from the 1600's to the 1900's (the top end becoming Upper Maudlin Street). Opposite Christmas Steps is Zero Degrees Restaurant and micro-brewery. built on the site of the old Horsedrawn Tramsheds (1875) which stabled sixty horses and Bristol's double-deckered trams. Below Colston Street are narrow lanes of brooding warehouses, a reminder that the docks once reached this area overlooked by the Catholic church of St. Mary Quay.
The sea captains would ascend Christmas Steps and Upper Christmas Steps to their fine Tudor and Georgian town houses on St. Michaels Hill which comands one of the finest views over the entire city. Across from the church is the very fine Colstons Almshouses built in 1691 and just into Horfield is a plaque marking the birthplace of Sir Michael Redgrave.
At the top of Upper Christmas Steps is the church of St. Michael on the Mount Without (i.e. outside the walled city) founded in 1125. In the old coaching road of Lower Church Lane is The Old Rectory (c.1780) with its charming "Strawberry Hill gothic" windows. And above the stone built and mullion windowed St. Michael's School (1895) is the Manor house with its fine shell porch.
Recently, author and owner of Bloom and Curll book shop Jason Beech was moved to write:
"Almost 340 years after the last of the pennant steps were laid , so they say, on the bodies of fallen soldiers, brothel owners, Victorian girls and vagrant slaves, the ghosts of Christmas Steps past are rising again to herald a new beginning.
"On the 25th October 2008 the new Christmas Steps Arts Quarter was named by the Lord Mayor. The area which twists its way through Perry Road, Lower Park Row, Colston Street, St Michael's Hill; the Christmas Steps themselves and the myriad maze of arched alleyways and secret passages is being reborn.
"In each of the various galleries: in the glint of a clarinet, under a dusty stack of books, in the whiff of ale and crackled glaze of teapots and clocks, in the wink of an ancient stamp eye; the past both reflects and interacts with the future to create a truly unique area of independent artisans. A visit to the Christmas Steps Arts Quarter is both an illumination of Bristol history and an excursion into its modern treasures."