Investigating Our Institutional Origins

The Bristol Institution was active on Park Street since from 1823 to 1871.

A few months later, the National Gallery opened its doors to the public for the first time, albeit in temporary accommodation at 100 Pall Mall.

The Late Georgian Period (1800-1840) is thought of as a time when access to culture was being widened. Partially due to the industrial revolution, the middle class was growing. Urbanisation and the subsequent mass movement of people from the country to the city, resulted in the rapid growth of cities at this time.

These trends gave rise to an emerging consumer society; there were more people to pay for entertainment and leisurely pursuits than ever before. These leisurely activities included attractions like lectures and exhibitions.

The need for a cultural society in Bristol had already been identified. In 1801, the Monthly Magazine reported of Bristol that “perhaps there is no place in England … where public and social amusement are so little attended to as here.”

Members of Bristol’s affluent mercantile and professional classes became keen to rectify this deficiency and promote the visual arts and artistic education among the local public.

Many of the key players in the Bristol Institution were Merchant Venturers as well as collecting patrons and these activities provided sociability, contracts, and contacts, for the upper echelons of Bristol society.