Bristol and Rammohun Roy

Leaving Dorchester by the Heart of Wessex railway, through central Dorset and into Somerset passing my old school at Bruton and then on to Bristol. It’s a fine route although less loved and romantic than the old Somerset and Dorset with its frontal assault on the Mendips. But unlike the Somerset and Dorset, it survived Dr Beeching’s over-vigorous network pruning and is still with us (perhaps the cutters didn’t notice it). For some years, it led a tenuous existence and when I used it just after rail privatisation, I travelled on a curious assembly of carriages, which felt more like a heritage railway than the real thing.

This time, however, all was different with table and power socket. Somewhat mixed feelings about this as I wouldn’t have minded lazily watching the familiar countryside glide by at an ancient pace but I was grateful for the work time.

I didn’t really visit Bristol but passed through the city three times, once to meet Gunilla arriving from Paris, once to see Gunilla off to Stockholm and see myself off to Paris and a final time returning from Paris to retrieve my coat, which I’d become separated from the second time.

On the first trip, I simply passed through the city and stayed the night at Nailsea close to the airport.

A comfortable room at a completely empty hotel, no other guests and no staff after I’d been welcomed. Learning a couple of hours later that the local hotelier was also the town’s undertaker and of the probable use of the little shed behind the hotel, I wondered whether I had blundered into a horror story…..

I survived the night, however (even without clutching a crucifix) and spent a very pleasant morning with an old schoolfriend from my early days in Sussex, whom I hadn’t seen for over 50 years if not 60.

The other trips to Bristol also brought back old memories – Temple Meads station where the exotic world outside Somerset began on my early teen trips to look at steam locomotives at places with strange-sounding Welsh names and late teen trips on my first solo trip to the north to see a friend in Southport and on my way to Durham and Newcastle for university interviews when I learnt that telling a 1960s University philosophy don that you were interested in Hegel wasn’t a great idea.

On my return to Sweden reading a book about the Brahmo Samaj and the shaping of the modern Indian mind, I find that Rammohun Roy, one of the key figures of the Bengali renaissance died in Bristol (of meningitis) in 1833 and is buried at Arnos Vale cemetery there. His grave has an imposing monument and it looks better tended than Prince Dwarakanath Tagore’s grave at Kensal Green in London, which while not overgrown looks forlorn.

There were many non-conformists (non-catholics outside the Anglican church) in the West Country and unitarianism was strong, believers in a single godhead who didn’t accept the somewhat convoluted mainstream trinitarianism. The contacts between the Bengali renaissance, wanting, among other things, to reform Hinduism and unitarians in England and the US (especially Massachusetts) interest me. In fact, the two groups were headed in different directions but for a while their trajectories seemed to run parallel. There were many unitarians with a social conscience who were appalled at the misery created by the industrial revolution and active in attempts at alleviation (at home and abroad). They perhaps seemed sympathetic to modernising Indian intellectuals, although the unitarians’ fundamental drive was more towards some kind of unitary religion rather than a free India. But the swirl of ideologies is fascinating and I want to learn more.

I’d like to return to Bristol to see Rammohun Roy’s grave. And, as I have a nephew and his wife just north of the city who have just had twins that demand to be inspected and approved and there is a fine Anglo-Saxon church at Bradford on Avon, which has been on my list for a very long time and Easyjet have now introduced a Stockholm-Bristol route, giving us much easier access to the West Country (assuming that I use Google Maps to guide us to the final destination), a trip to Bristol in the not too distant can hardly be avoided.


2 thoughts on “Bristol and Rammohun Roy”

  1. I didn’t know you had a Bristol connection. The only memory I have of you which is related to Bristol is when your Dad drove us up past Shepton to the fork between the Bristol and Bath roads when we were on our way to Ardlui and Crianlarich. But I seem to remember that we quickly got a lift up to the South Midlands so we presumably flashed through Bristol. Very much looking forward to another trip west with you – we had some fine days there in the brewer’s store!

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