28 April 2013

Post 1) Welcome!

This ambitious long term project aims to reconstruct a fully explorable and immersive 3D Virtual City of Bristol as it appeared around 1825, with YOUR help!


      At around the age of ten I discovered Victorian and Edwardian Bristol through a small Reece Winstone Bristol black and white photographic book collection Grandad had been bought as retirement presents in 1981 and have collected most of the 43 volumes containing some 10,000 photos over the last decade. There is no comparible photographic record for any other English City. http://www.reecewinstone.co.uk/booklist.htm    

     In 2001 Redcliffe Press published Sheena Stoddard's magnificent book, Bristol Before The Camera - The City in 1820-30, which introduced the wider public to late Regency Bristol for the first time, going back a whole generation before Fox Talbot, Hugh Owen, Calvert Jones and friends. As Curator of Fine Art at Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery, her book transformed the seemingly distant city of Reece Winstone’s black and white photographs into a more personal and indentifiable world of colour and depicted romantic impressions of a medieval city in transition without trams and early motor cars. It replaced the great polite Victorian public edifices with the creaking vernacular half timbered, wattle and daub world that Braikenridge had his Bristol School of Artists depict in their own different ways.

     In March 2009 I discovered the great Google Sketchup, now owned by Trimble, http://www.sketchup.com/ as a powerful, much under-rated 3d modelling tool for the masses.

The Buildup

     In December 2010 Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery had their core 1,500 Braikenridge Collection drawings and watercolours photographed and digitised following a major grant. http://museums.bristol.gov.uk/index.php

That, along with the launch in March 2011 of the Bristol City Council Know-Your-Place Map overlay Website http://www.bristol.gov.uk/page/planning-and-building-regulations/know-your-place  was the catalyst for me to attempt something grand, appealing and very worthwhile. Nearly all my spare time, over three years of research, 3d CAD model learning and practice is now bearing fruition and I’m at a stage where things have snowballed and allowed proper construction of the 3D world of 1820s Bristol to commence.

Tools for the Job

      Computer Graphics have come on leaps and bounds in the last dozen years or so, and with programs such as Trimble Sketchup 8.0 and Unity3D 4.0, http://unity3d.com/ constructing your own buildings and importing them into an immersive virtual gaming world has never been so easy or appealing.

     Game series such as Medal Of Honour, Call Of Duty, Far Cry and Elder Scrolls have brought us big interactive gaming worlds, from WW2 to fantasy realms but the Assassins Creed series tops them all, drawing you in with massive immersive cities lovingly recreated such as 15th Century Rome, Florence and Venice.

Above and below, in game screenshots from Assassins Creed 3 (2012) - recreations of 1776 New York and Boston (pictured) have raised the bar of immersive virtual historic cities to an entirely new level, populated with fully interactive Artificial Intelligence (AI) townsfolk going about their daily lives and now with livestock, poultry, horses and carts in the filthy cobbled streets, docksides, markets and alleyways. A stunningly beautiful and immersive example is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jEdCBIsJQ0o

Turn up the volume, enable full screen 720 dpi and enjoy. This clip is simply the best example of virtual time travel i've ever seen. 
Above, Boston Docks 1770s. Imagine this hustle and bustle transposed to Bristol and multiplied ten fold. Cross the Avon on the Temple Back, Redcliffe, Grove or Green's Slip ferries or take a rowing boat up the Frome to the weir under Philadelphia St bridge. Mingle amongst the merchants on the Quays. Take a hackney carriage from St Augustine's place to the Hotwell House and take the waters to cure your consumption. In a 3D virtual city, anything is possible.

The Evidence

      Why attempt to recreate the 1820s? As summarised below, no other period of Bristol’s past or arguably, any other city in England is there a greater concentration of pre-photography visual evidence than the Regency period, (broadly interpreted for the proposes of this project as 1809-1837)

1) The Braikenridge collection of stunningly romantic watercolours, oils and drawings of the city and floating harbour totalling some 1200 building, street and landscape views, drawn mainly 1821-1828, including 4 great 1830 panoramas from Clifton, Pylle Hill, Kindsdown and Montpelier; the earlier panoramas of the brothers Buck and Kip and Samuel H Grimm’s drawings of 1786-1790

2) The 1:2400 scale Ashmead map of 1828, covering the city as then existing, West to East, from the Rownham Ferry to Eastville and North to South, from Redland (without) down to St Johns Church Bedminster, around 6 square miles of map. Donne, Rocque and Millerd also offer great cartographic evidence.

3) Plan books A to E in the city records office, other City Parish church records, Corporation plans and surveys and the great Jessop floating harbour plans and soundings.

4) The great historical literary works of Barrett, Seyer, Evans, Britton, Latimer and others, usefully noting the great Georgian topographical changes and documenting the Norman city walls, watercourses and churches in great detail.

5) The street directories and city guides by Sketchley, Matthews, Pigot and Chilcott

This core evidence is backed up by

Lavar’s stunning 1887 lithograph of the City taken from plate glass camera photos from a tethered balloon 2000 feet above modern Hartcliffe Way retail park.

Surviving pre Victorian buildings in 2013

The detailed City Council conservation area character appraisals  http://www.bristol.gov.uk/page/planning-and-building-regulations/conservation-area-character-appraisals

Over 500 immediate city area beautiful line drawings of Samuel Loxton from 1883-1909 and later, FG Lewin of 1922

Above, The 1813 Donne map covers the old city and Clifton, around 4 square miles, not long after the new cut had been dug through the fields of Bedminster, from Totterdown to Rownham Meadows.
The Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucester Archaeological society (BGAS) splendidly recording Tudor and Stuart building changes and earlier excavations over 4 decades by the great John Pritchard. http://www.bgas.org.uk/publications/transactions.html

The great work, The Georgian Buildings of Bristol by Walter Ison 1952 and his elevation drawings.

The massively detailed 1:500 scale 1880s Ordnance Survey plans, many streets and buildings little changed from 1828 and dead accurate when overlaid with 2013 maps.

With such a wealth of visual evidence at ones disposal, it would be an appalling injustice not to attempt virtual time travel back two centuries to the lost mercantile city of our ancestors.

The Ambition

     With your help,  it is my goal to allow you to dive into this lost virtual world of tall ships, merchants and horse sleds; walk the city streets and climb the hills, go anywhere with the realms of the 1828 Ashmead map survey and experience a medieval city in transition as it actually was, nearly 200 years ago in first person perspective including the insides of selected public buildings and up the spiral stone stairs to the roof tops of all the 19 City Church towers and Cathedral. 
     Invisible force-fields will stop you walking off into the un-modelled areas of this virtual world but beyond this no-go zone the distant hills, hedgerows and landmark trees will all be drawn in; extending to the visible horizon, with data taken from the watercolours, 1840s Tithe Maps and 1880s 1:2500 county series maps. Even when viewed from the Clifton Observatory, Cotham Tower, St Michaels Church Tower, Somerset Street, Kingsdown or One Tree Hill (Pylle Hill) everything will be in its rightful place.

      So follow this blog as I take you back 200 years and use TRIMBLE SKETCHUP, TWILIGHT RENDER, LIGHTUP and UNITY3D to virtually rebuild that lost Venice of the West.     I will be using Sketchup as a modelling tool with Twilight Render and Lightup to produce a photo real quality of a lost Medieval to Early Modern city not seen for nearly 200 years.

Beginnings of 5m interval Contour mapping (2km x 2km city centre section, centred on Mary Le Port Church near Bristol Bridge. Raster data has been turned into vector contours for about 15 square miles so far.
     The 3D world will be imported into a game engine (Unity3D) so you will eventually be able to move about within a fully immersive city from your web browser (a virtual world for historians, but without the violence of the Assassins Creed series) which I hope to interest other people not only to help model, but also to populate with animated 3rd party people, ships, sleds, carts, hackneys, animals, sounds and a storyline. Smoke will issue from glass cones and chimney pots. The Avon and Frome will have animated water. Birds will fly in the sky. This will bring to life the world of Bristol as imagined by the text based multiple choice game as per the Myers/Insole Local Learning website:- http://www.locallearning.org.uk/tudors/merchant1.html

     By intimately studying the 2000+ Braikenridge and Loxton drawings and watercolours, each building will come back to glorious 3d life, complemented by buildings that survived to be photographed from 1839 onwards, as collected by Reece Winstone in his 43 volumes of Bristol and buildings that survive in 2013.

The Artists

     As each 3D Multi-Jettied Tudor and Pargetted building rises between the ships masts, pubs, chapels, sugar refineries, glass cones, churches and later Georgian buildings, it will add to the pinpointing of the lesser known locations by helping to confirm the angle of shadow, background detail, chimney, gable orientation, angle and composition of the street etc as portrayed by the competent artists in Braikenridge’s charge; Rowbotham, Cashin, Jackson, Delamotte, Johnson and the Great Hugh O’Neill, to name the top 6 out of over 40 contributors to this visual feast of material, a whole generation before the invention of photography.

A View On The Floating Dock Looking S.W. after W H Bartlett. The great harbour of 1239-47 diverted the wide, shallow meandering post ice age Frome from its Broad Quay / King Street course into a new straight trench 2400 feet long by 80-120 feet wide and its bed 25 feet below ground. This view from Stone Bridge of 1755 shows the second drawbridge, also of 1755 in its widened state of 1796. Left are the Tontine Warehouses with St Stephens. Right, the Butts (medieval archery range) with Georgian Trinity Street and St Augustine the Less church, St Augustine’s Parade and the great railed-in  stone whaleback retaining wall of Under-The-Bank, built 1794. The single 127 foot tower of the Cathedral rises behind. This 600 x 80 foot upper harbour was culverted into a 22 foot brick barrel and the sides filled in during 1892/3. A great opportunity to open this back up for the recent millenium was lost.
     Each of the Bristol Artists had their own style and each of the watercolours, oils, pencil and pen and wash images portrays a different message to the viewer, not just visually but subliminally. Some chose to exaggerate the height of church spires, the widths of the rivers and missed out certain buildings or detail and went for an idea whilst others painted the same viewpoint exactly as they saw it to the best of their artist's or architectural draughtsmam’s abilities. Some just drew the buildings whilst others populated the streets with donkeys and panniers, horse sleds, washerwomen, children playing with hoops and gentlemen on horseback. Only by sifting through all sources at ones disposal and cross referencing maps, drawings, plans and photos is it possible to recreate this lost city. Only then do some of the visual quirks mentioned about the artists above become apparent.

      With all this material, we are very fortunate that nearly every building that existed in the main city thoroughfares around 1825 was either drawn in elevation view, painted in a street scene, drawn by Samuel Loxton 80 years later or recorded on camera from 1839 onwards. There will of course be many back alleys, side streets, courts and hovels whose identity will forever remain a mystery and these will, for now remain as generic 3D representations of buildings of the style of the period that they were built, taking into account the architectural fads of the Regency era. However, enough information will be collated to be able to give uninterrupted truthful walkthroughs of the more well recorded areas; mostly now so vastly different from the late medieval / early industrial world of 2 centuries ago.

The Setting 

      First we must set the scene because there are precious few buildings left standing from the Regency Era and before in the heart of the old city area, which had never been consumed by fire or destroyed by Vikings or any other attacker for its 1000 year existence. Here is why………..

     Between 630pm and 11pm on Sunday 24th November 1940, 135 German bombers laid waste to the medieval heart of Bristol which had developed over 1000 years, flying back and forth in small waves adding to the conflagration of the initial drop. Incendiary’s, Explosives and new Explosive Incendiary’s destroyed treasured half timbered buildings such as the Dutch House, St Peter’s Hospital and hundreds of others. Grandad was on incendiary watch on the roof of the GPO building in Telephone Avenue that night. His GPO trailer parked on Back of Bridge St just off Bristol Bridge was blown into the floating harbour. The next morning he remembers having to negotiate piles of rubble over 20 feet high in Wine Street.

Above, The burnt out shells of St Mary Le Port and St Peters are all that remain of the core of a shopping area that was once second only in rateable value to Oxford Street, London. Luckily, desk based or on-site archaeology has to be performed before new buildings are erected these days and so the jigsaw of the past continues to come together slowly.
The bustling core that had sprung up in place of the demolished Norman Castle (which contained the largest stone keep in England), along with large swathes of Welsh Back, Broadmead, Redcliffe and Temple were left in smouldering ruins.
     Following lesser air raids, what remained was largely and ruthlessly swept away by the city planners of the 1950s 60s and 70s who continue today, to pay maximum homage to speculative developers and the “infernal” combustion engine in one of the most polluted and congested conurbations in Britain. It is not untrue to say, that these Philistines destroyed far more than the Luftwaffe ever did with their appaling angular concrete and glass blight.

Imagine if you will and come back with me into this virtual world……..

     First we must remove every modern building, gleefully tearing away the brutal, faceless concrete and glass jungle returning command of the skyline to the 19 City Churches. We must restore the Sugar Houses, chimneys and 13 glass cones, including Redcliffe, the largest ever built at 120 feet high. Every car, lorry and bus must go; even the trams were not around. There is no electricity and gas lighting in the streets has only just begun. All tarmac must go; most roads are just dirt, with only the main important streets being cobbled in stone sets, with side or central gutters. Neither is there any police force, with just three dozen watchmen’s boxes scattered across the embryonic city for protection of citizens during the night.

     We must rip open the quarter mile city centre and uncover Rupert Street and Fairfax Street, all the way back to Wade Street, revealing the stinking, meandering river Frome's three courses. The Back Ditch, The Mill Leat and Castle Moat, flowing around three sides of the Castle Precincts.

     We replace the city centre traffic and empty Welsh Back and Redcliffe quays with 200 plus sailing ships of all sizes and rig, up to 600 tons each, plying trade between the Caribbean, Canada and coastal Britain.

     There is no Suspension Bridge and No Colston Hall. There is no Cabot tower and Brunel is still in London helping his Father, so no railways yet and no aircraft for sure! There is no Great Western or Great Britain, and no tugs. Small packet paddle steamers have just begun to ply the Cork and Dublin routes. The oarsmen of Pill still bring the Indiamen up and down the Avon on the tides, with up to a dozen tow boats of up to 100 oarsmen!

Testing the Twilight render engine with a very rough St Augustines Parade. Distance, Scale and Lighting. As seen from the churchyard of St Augustine The Less.

     The city of the 1820s exists only as two square miles centred on Bristol Bridge, having barely expanded in 500 years except for ribbon development out from Old Market and Redcliffe Hill. It has a population less than 21st century Bath. The little villages of Clifton and Bedminster and a few cottages scattered amongst the surrounding fields are all there are in 1825 of the rest of the now built up 100 square mile conurbation,

       The only “modern” thing is the new cut (which most Bristolian’s would not realise is man made!) and the floating harbour (the old tidal Avon) Up until only a decade before (1809) the river level between Bristol Bridge and Rownham Meadows would drop between 20 and 33 feet respectively, twice every 24 hours and any of the unsecured 200 plus  tall ships would roll all ways on the mud banks in a frenzied tangle of masts and rigging!

     They had to be built shipshape and Bristol Fashion for sure to withstand the strains! The Diverted lower river Frome of 1239-1247 up the great flat bottomed canal, the St Augustine's trench, would also empty right out to a trickle, right back to St James’ corn mill at Bridewell Weir at low tide; All river traffic ceasing!

     This then is Britain’s second City port to London, a City of Tall Ships between rows of Tudor multi-jettied houses, many recently rebuilt or refronted in Georgian and Regency Facades. A city that has yet to experience the great era of warehousing, public buildings, suburbs and westward dock expansion fostered by the coming of the GWR, where the tall ship and stagecoach are the staple means of sea and land travel and communication. This sets the scene of the Bristol of the 1820's.


Test plotting buildings at the Saxon city heart with the 1:500 scale 1882 map layer. The New Christ Church at 160 feet to the weather cock. This map layer is 99% accurate when overlaid with the 2013 map data. A testiment to the great manual triangulation and surveying skills of the 18th and 19th centuries.

      We must applaud Mayor George Ferguson and Nigel Howe from the Oak Frame Training Forum http://oftf.org.uk/The_Oak_Frame_Training_Forum/Home.html for their vision to rebuild the lost Dutch House, St Peter’s Hospital, re-roof St Peters Church, reinvigorate the Redcliffe quarter and create traffic free Sundays. Video here:- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHKJb0JWBNs 

     Whether they can punch through the red tape and beat off the vested interests of speculative developers and pull off what Warsaw and St Malo accomplished, albeit 50 years late remains to be seen, but I hope to be able to take you back virtually, with help from new friends, back to experience the glory of Braikenridge's Bristol, the Venice of the West!

Please get in touch if you have 3D drawing, scripting, animating or storyboard skills, especially with Sketchup and Unity3D.


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