Off-handedly described as an affluent, leafy inner-suburb of Bristol, Cotham is much more than that. It is a city ward that is drenched in history, dotted with stunning examples of Regency architecture, populated by a cosmopolitan mixture of young and old, and blessed with some of the best views, bars and restaurants found anywhere in Bristol.
The most recognisable portion of Cotham has to be St Michael’s Hill. This steep, winding road runs from the top of Christmas Steps in the city centre, to the brow of a hill it shares with Hampton Road and Cotham Hill.
Today, this junction is marked by a small roundabout and the gothic splendour of the Bristol Homeopathic Hospital, but centuries ago it was the northern city boundary of Bristol. The spot has a more macabre history than that, though – it was also the traditional locations for hangings. Convicted criminals were escorted up the hill from the Newgate Gaol (the site of the current Galleries shopping centre in Broadmead…plus ca change, and all that) and invited to poke their neck through the noose. The lucky ones had a last meal at what is now the Highbury Vaults pub.
Head west from St Michael’s Hill and you enter University of Bristol territory. Throughout the year, the pleasant streets around here teem with youthful zest, but with an added air of academia, lending the area a hint of Oxbridge elegance. Cotham Hill, on the other hand, heads down towards Whiteladies Road, becoming steadily more commercial with each step. There are some excellent cafes, independent stores and bars along here, making it a firm favourite with students and young professionals.
To the east of St Michael’s Hill lies the bulk of Cotham’s suburbia: an undulating tangle of proud terraces, smart gardens, cobbled alleyways and snatches of panoramic views across the city centre below. Again, the population is a measured mixture of mature students and professionals, many working in the nearby Bristol Royal Infirmary and St Michael’s Hospital.
The high concentration of highly educated professionals furnishes Cotham with a settled, responsible outlook, which is reflected in the types of property available to buy or rent. Most homes are either tall townhouses or converted flats, and prices are among the steepest in the city.
The northern boundary of Cotham is roughly marked by the railway line that cuts a deep, straight path from Redland Station in the east to Clifton Down station in the west. However, parts of Redland immediately north of this line could be considered as Cotham, and are well-worth checking out. Chandos Road is a vibrant part-residential, part-commercial strip of stores, fine restaurants and wine bars, and the excellent Kensington Arms gastro pub is also nearby.
Accessibility, attractive housing, high brows (both academically and geographically) and an understated but impressive variety of bars, restaurants, pubs and shops are what make Cotham such a great place to live. You will pay more here than in most places, but if you’re a lover of the finer things in life, there are few areas as pleasant as this one.