This is a book which began from my research into the rebuilding of Bristol Bridge. Not the famous one built by I K Brunel, but the city’s namesake in the centre of the city which is so busy with traffic that many people don’t even notice it. It was rebuilt against much local apathy and opposition by the wonderfully aptly named James Bridges who appeared in Bristol with no previous experience in building, who dragged the city’s built environment into the then-modern age. Then as the bridge was nearing completion he suddenly left, quite literally sailing off into the sunset.
James deserved a book and I wrote it, but he claimed he had learnt all he knew from his father Henry Bridges of Waltham Abbey who built The Microcosm, or Little World, a giant musical and astronomical clock which toured the Atlantic world for 40 years, then vanished and part of it was found in Paris and now loiters in a corner of the British Museum.
This book is about Henry and what little is known about his life and family, but it tells us much about the early eighteenth century, the Augustan Age when so many people were becoming architects, poets, writers, engineers, astronomers, chemist and much more. Many famous people seem to be like children let loose in the best adventure playground: their world. Much of their work has been overtaken by later, more spectacular achievements, but it was this early period when we see Britain emerging from centuries of darkness; by focusing on the arts in their widest sense, they helped make their country a better place, and they became better, more rounded and civilised people. There is much we can learn from them as each day seems to bring more evidence that the world we live in has gone completely mad.
If you would like to read this in advance of publication and provide me with some feedback, please give me your email address and I will send you a copy through the magic of modern technology that Henry could not have ever dreamed of.