We’ve shared some stunning images of Bristol in the past. A prominent feature that keeps popping up, however, is its beautifully painted, colourful houses. From the rainbow rows of Clifton’s terraced houses to the street art murals of Bedminster, Bristol must be the most vibrant city in the UK. But it got us thinking, why is that? Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to this. That’s why this article doesn’t just end here. Theories abound. But we’ve tried to unpick the answer as best we can.
How did it all start?
Our first, and least substantial, theory is that sailors would paint their houses bright colours to help chart their way home through fog. But it doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny. A more popular theory involves Bristol’s former mayor, George Ferguson, who claims to be the first in Cliftonwood to paint his house back in the 1970s. He and his student friends had just bought a house together, but developers were threatening to knock through the area and build tower blocks. In defiance, he painted the house terracotta red. Someone down painted their house blue shortly after, before the whole street followed. The house was saved and kickstarted Cliftonwood’s iconic look.
South of the river, there is another story that explains Totterdown’s equally colourful houses. Apparently, a local decorator had come into some free paint and offered house paintings on the cheap. None of these stories can be confirmed, unfortunately, nor explain why the phenomena is so widespread. It also only half an explanation to Bristol’s kaleidoscopic streets.
What’s with all the graffiti?
Beyond the block-coloured terraces, murals are another way many Bristolians express themselves through their homes. Bristol’s street art scene stems back to the 1980s with Barton Hill Youth Centre. At the time a youth worker, John Nation gave teenagers a safe place to practice graffiti without retribution, with his Aerosol Art Project. It was here where the likes of Banksy, Inkie and Cheo all got started. And a hunger for street art was born.
Since then, many have utilised local talent to turn their once drab houses into modern art spectacles. It’s impossible to say who took the plunge first, however, or if they had any say in the matter. But these days, houses as distant as Easton to Southville have had a makeover. The more recent UPfest, Europe’s largest street art festival, has only solidified the tradition. In 2021, 75 murals went up in 75 days – many on people’s houses – including the Six Sisters series on North Street. While it was hard to convince people when the festival began in 2008, Bedminster locals now queue up for the chance to have their homes reimagined.
What is happening now?
In modern times, there have been a number of schemes to brighten Bristol. In 2016, the Bristol Colour Capital initiative was launched, while Vibrant Bristol was announced in September 2020, both aiming to encourage more Bristolians to paint their houses. As of today, both of these projects have gone quiet. But what’s stopping you from doing it anyway? Crack open a tin of paint and get brushing.