If you ever find yourself wandering around New York (lucky you) stuck for things to do (as if), why not head to Bristol? No, we’re not talking about our city’s namesake in Connecticut. Because there’s an area of Manhatten that’s built from bricks of our Bristol. That’s correct, there’s literally a bit of Bristol in New York!
The Bristol Basin juts out into the East River facing Brooklyn and houses the architectural landmark Waterside Plaza. But the land beneath it was actually built from the rubble of Bristol homes bombed during World War 2. There’s even a rather ominous-sounding plaque, unveiled in 1974, that reads:
Beneath this East River drive of the city of New York lies stones, bricks and rubble from the bombed out city of Bristol in England… Brought here in ballast from overseas, these fragments that once were homes shall testify while men love freedom to the resolution and fortitude to the people of Britain they saw their homes stuck down without warning… It was not their walls but their valor that kept them free.
You don’t have to New York to read it yourself though. If you head down to Bristol City Centre, partway between the war memorial and the fountains, you’ll find its twin… At the plaque unveiling in New York, the Bristol-born Hollywood actor Cary Grant even spoke about the sad loss of his family members when their house was struck in November 1940.
How did these blown-up houses of Bristol end up in New York?
It is believed that thousands of people were killed or injured in the bombings of Bristol during WWII. Afterwards, our allies the USA sent hundreds of supplies to aid those devastated by its effects. Clothing, medical supplies and other comforts. But the streets were still filled with rubble that was difficult to clear.
That’s when someone had an inspired idea: send the rubble back on the boats (which would make the ships safer to sail) and they can return with more aid. But the Bristol wasn’t just used as ballast i.e. extra weight added to a ship to keep it balanced in the water. At the other end, the ships then dumped the bricks off the side of 23rd to 34th Street, along Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive. Becoming this extra bit of Manhatten.
The housing development on the Waterside Plaza even has a Bristol-ish architectural vibe, because they were actually built at the same time! So next time you’re in New York feeling homesick, head to the Bristol Basin for a small reminder of home.