University of the West of England: Working Paper, December (2013)
With a population of almost 10,000, Bristol was later medieval England’s second or third biggest urban place, and the realm’s second port after London. While not particularly large or wealthy in comparison with the great cities of northern Italy, Flanders or the Rhineland, it was a metropolis in the context of the British Isles. As a port, it was the hub of a trading network that began with England, Wales and Ireland and extended as far as the Iberian Peninsula and Iceland, and for medieval Europeans, it sat on the edge of the known world; as a strategic strongpoint it commanded routes from Ireland, Wales and the West Midlands to London and the South; as an industrial centre, it was a major participant in English textile production. By the eve of the fifteenth century Bristol had already enjoyed a position among England’s leading towns and cities for several centuries. In fact, it had probably achieved this position within two centuries of its foundation.
Bristol appears to have originated as a late-Saxon (probably ninth to tenth century) burgh built on a promontory at the lowest secure bridging-point of the Avon: its site is reflected in its name, which means “the place by the bridge”. Bristol’s situation, on the borders of the late-Saxon kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia, would have a significant influence on the town’s later history. Before 1542 Bristol stood between two dioceses, Worcester north of the Avon and Bath and Wells to its south, the diocesan borders respecting those of the two kingdoms: its liminal position meant that it did not become a cathedral city until the creation of the Diocese of Bristol in 1542.