Situated on the border between Gloucestershire and Somerset, Bristol was the sixth-largest county borough in 1931, with a population of just under 400,000. It was still by far the most important town of south-west England, but it had earlier been one of the largest provincial urban centres of the country. In the 1730s it was the second city in the land, but it was rapidly to be overtaken by the growing industrial towns of the Midlands and the North. By 1828 a local publication lamented: 'Bristol for centuries ranked as the second city in England in respect of riches, trade and population; but the present extent of its foreign commerce will bear no comparison with that of the port of Liverpool; and it appears to be exceeded in population by the manufacturing town of Manchester.' I

The city's earlier importance was based on the fact that it became the main port serving the rich area of woollen-cloth production of Somerset, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire. In the medieval period the port had established itself on the basis of trade mainly with France, primarily the exporting of wool cloth and the importing of wine. The city also established an industrial base in its cloth-finishing workshops. The French wine-cloth trade went into decline by the end of the fifteenth century, but Bristol's merchants diversified into other areas such as the Iberian peninsula and the wider Atlantic economy. The import of lUXUry goods like port-wine was supplemented by others such as tobacco and sugar, and Bristol became one of the earliest ports to profit from the growing trans-Atlantic slave trade. Local industry was also diversified, with the declining cloth-finishing being supplemented and eventually eclipsed by the processing of imported raw materials and semi-finished goods. The city developed a broadly-based industrial structure, encompassing shipbuilding, engineering and metalworking, leather and ropemaking, glassmaking, soap boiling, sugar refining, chocolate production and tobacco processing amongst others.