The Christmas Steps is one of Bristol’s oldest streets. Still beloved by Bristolians and tourists, it’s still as charming today. (The Scottish post-rock group Mogwai even named a song after the street.) Whether grabbing a roast at the eponymous pub at the bottom, competing with mates at Chance & Counters, or stocking up on magazines from Rova. Everyone has a reason to visit the Christmas Steps.
Why is it called the Christmas Steps?
Surprisingly, the name doesn’t really have anything to do with Christmas. It went by many names over the years, including Steep Street and Queene Street. One of the most well-known names was Lunsford’s Stairs, after Colonel Henry Lunsford, a Cavalier officer shot on the Christmas Steps during the English Civil War at the Storming of Bristol.
It later came to be called Knifesmith Street – back when Ks in the words like knife were sounded out. Over time this was corrupted into Christmas Street and, by the time of the first Ordnance Survey maps in the late nineteenth century, had become the Christmas Steps.
What is the history of the Christmas Steps?
While we don’t want to bore you with the long history of the Christmas Steps (you can read that elsewhere) there are fair few cool things about the street’s past we want to share. Originally, the River Frome flowed up to the end of the steep hill where until the 17th Century, barrels were rolled down to be loaded onto ships.
The steep steps weren’t added until 1669, paid for by wealthy wine merchant, Jonathan Blackwell. It was thought back then that most of the surrounding buildings were pubs and brothels. But over the years, the Christmas Steps has boasted all sorts of unique traders, from clockmakers to dress designers, shoemakers and a fish ‘n’ chip shop.
Kingsdown Fried Fish was believed to be one of the first fish ‘n’ chips shops in the country, so it makes sense that Bristol is the chippy capital of the UK. It opened back in 1921 and stuck around just short of 100 years when it sadly closed in 2019. Today the space is filled by Ahh Toots and their outrageously amazing boutique cakes, so it’s not totally bad news.
A statue of the Madonna used to sit outside the chippy too, which some say was beheaded by none other than Oliver Cromwell! (Well, we all know that he hated Christmas after all.) We do find this slightly unlikely, but his soldiers were well known for destroying idols and statues due to his Puritanical beliefs. Today the statue can be seen just inside St Bartholomew’s Court.
What’s on the Christmas Steps today?
But the historic street is far from stuck in the past and today is a Diagon Alley-esque wonder. We’ve talked about our love for Ahh Toots countless times. But The Christmas Steps pub next door (previously called Three Sugar Loaves and Gaiety) dates back to the 16th century; this traditional boozer serves craft beer, real ale and pub classics, with local DJs playing every weekend.
One of the most unique spots on the street, or in Bristol for that matter, has to be 20th Century Flicks. The DVD and VHS rental store is the longest-running video store in the world. It’s also home to the smallest cinemas in the city, with the Kino seating eight people and The Videodrome seats up to 18.
After some unique food? Look no further than The Scrandit. The rotating kitchen host to a different food pop-up each weekend, where you’ll find anything from Mexican tacos to Filipino fusion, seafood surprises and even a fry-up. Also on the Christmas Steps are the board game cafe Chance & Counters, the magazine shop Rova, Trevor Jones’ music shop, embroidery from Studio Flax, and Karen Reilly bridal shop.
Plus there’s plenty more to discover in the surrounding Christmas Steps Arts Quarter. Made up of Perry Road, Lower Park Row, Colston Street, St Michael’s Hill, Upper Maudlin Street and the Christmas Steps themselves. There are so many delights to discover here. Because the Christmas Steps is for life, not just for… well, you know.