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During the days of the Bristol slave trade, St Paul's was the location of choice for the wealthy slave-trading merchants. This is reflected in the Georgian architecture.

In the 1870s, Brooks Dye Works opened on the edge of St Paul's and became a major local employer, leading to the construction of terraced houses. Together with migration to Bristol, both from overseas and within Britain, this led to St Paul's becoming a densely populated suburb by the Victorian era. The area was bomb damaged during World War II. Rebuilding and investment were focused on new housing estates such as Hartcliffe and Southmead rather than St Paul's, and this contributed to a decline in the quality of the area. During the large-scale immigration of the 1950s, many people moved from Jamaica and settled in St Paul's.