Complete Guide to Bristol’s Pubs, 1975

Cover of The Complete Guide to Bristol's Pubs.

Fred Pearce wrote a series of paperback pub guides in the 1970s including this 52 page run around the pubs of Bristol.

We first heard of it when we were research­ing Brew Bri­tan­nia and Robin Allen­der (@robinallender) kind­ly sent us a scan of the sec­tion refer­ring to the Roy­al Navy Vol­un­teer. Then, in Jan­u­ary, Gar­van Hick­ey, one of the land­lords of our local, The Drap­er’s Arms, kind­ly let us bor­row his copy.

We’ve now scanned it and took the PDF out for a test dri­ve around Red­cliffe last Fri­day night. It was great to be able to look up the pubs we were in and see how, if at all, they might have changed.

We’re still not 100 per cent sure when it was pub­lished but we know from Andrew Swift that a part­ner vol­ume cov­er­ing Bath came out in 1976 so that seems like a rea­son­able assump­tion and is con­sis­tent with the con­tents. (Update 05/06/2018: Hav­ing acquired our own copy we found inside it a sheet of revi­sions from April 1976 which con­firms the pub­li­ca­tion date of the guide as Sep­tem­ber 1975, per Sue Hart’s sug­ges­tion in the com­ment below.)

Now we want to share a few nuggets that high­light what we’ve lost, and per­haps gained, as pub cul­ture has changed in the past 40-odd years.

Drinkers at a Bristol pub.

1. “There are over 400 pubs in Bris­tol (one for every thou­sand of pop­u­la­tion)”. This line from the intro­duc­tion is inter­est­ing because it rough­ly match­es our esti­mate for the num­ber of pubs in 2018. Mr Pearce and his co-author David Wil­son are talk­ing very specif­i­cal­ly about the city, not the wider urban area, but, still, it’s sug­gests there’s not been such a shock­ing col­lapse in pub num­bers as might be assumed. (Our obser­va­tion: many inter-war sub­ur­ban pubs may have closed but they’ve been replaced by new-builds on near­by retail parks; and large areas of Bris­tol were fair­ly under-pubbed to begin with.)

2. Class dis­tinc­tions. The entry for The Draw­bridge on St Augustine’s Parade next to the Hip­po­drome says it’s a “work­ing class water­ing hole… mid­dle class go to The Bunch of Grapes”; the entry for the Bunch has an F – “more than a rudi­men­ta­ry range of food”. The Amer­i­can Eagle (great name) was a “Work­ing class hus­band and wife” pub with a “cramped spit and saw­dust bar” while up the hill The Portcullis was all “deer­stalk­ers, polo­necks and Oxford voic­es… aging Clifton trendies”. The Cam­bridge Arms on Cold­har­bour Road was for “jack­et and open neck shirt char­ac­ters.… in flash cars”. Then, right across town, there was the Cri­te­ri­on on Ash­ley Road with “a col­lec­tion of  elder­ly, infirm, pissed, and oth­er­wise derelict human­i­ty”. (In 2018 there are all sorts of code words and phras­es for get­ting across the same infor­ma­tion.)

3. Peri­od decor.  The Quay Bar on Broad Quay has “bright­ly-paint­ed pipes ema­nat­ing from seats, bars, the ceil­ing, etc., before mak­ing a cou­ple of U or S bend and dis­ap­pear­ing into any con­ve­nient object” – how very PoMo!  The Shake­speare on Prince Street had “old bits of lino for beer mats”.  Bris­tol Fash­ion (at the base of what is now a Pre­mier Inn) had the SS Great Britain “paint­ed onto the bar itself… In the cen­tre of the room is a mast with red plas­tic seats all the way round and a rope lad­der with four rungs up the mid­dle!” At The Horse & Groom “Cop­per ket­tles hang from the beams – includ­ing an elec­tric one!” The Mid­land in Bar­ton Hill had

Gaudy dec­o­ra­tions: orange and brown wall­pa­per, pur­ple and white cur­tains, yel­low and grey paint­work, red, black and white tiles.… green ceil­ing, neon red and white sign over the bar.

Well, it was the 1970s.

Hand-drawn map of Bristol.

4. Price of a pint. The Naval Vol­un­teer is sin­gled out as expen­sive with Wor­thing­ton E at 26p a pint. The Stan­dard of Eng­land, an estate pub at South­mead, charged “1p or 2p a pint over city cen­tre prices in spite of hav­ing high­er turnover” – a strange inver­sion of what we might expect to find today. (Relat­ed: it was two songs for 5p on the juke­box at The Star Inn, Fish­ponds.)

5. Pub grub. The Bank Tav­ern, a cur­rent cult favourite in Bris­tol, offered chick­en pie, two veg and chips for 50p; the Bridge Inn had Ger­man sausages dan­gling from the ceil­ing; you could get sausage and mash for 20p at the Grey­hound on Broad­mead; steak for 80p a The Bear; and The Sev­en Stars on Thomas Lane had a microwave oven. There were jel­lied eels and cock­les at the Air Bal­loon in Two Mile Hill – some sort of cock­ney ghet­to?

6. Brew­eries and beersThe Bay Horse on Lewins Mead, now a bland chain place, was the only Dav­en­port’s pub in Bris­tol and Messrs Pearce and Wil­son were very impressed by their “gas-free” bit­ter and “con­ti­nen­tal” lager. The Rum­mers had “Mar­ket Gibbs Bit­ter”. The Rose of Den­mark boast­ed George’s Glu­cose Stout, a beer from before the Courage takeover. The Kings Arms, Stokes Croft, had Devenish. The Rail­way Inn, Sta­ple­ton Road, was notable as one of the few hous­es sell­ing mild any­where in Bris­tol. The Bridge Inn was a prop­er free house with beer from Tru­man, among oth­ers, as was the Phoenix with beer from Ansells, Wad­worth, Brick­woods and Cobbs, among oth­ers. Through­out there are men­tions for Colt 45 malt liquor “seen by [Courage] as a long-term rival to lagers”.

The land­lord of The Jol­ly Col­liers, Bed­min­ster.

7. Gay pubs. “Under its old land­lord the Ele­phant was one of the pre­mier folk music pubs in Bris­tol.… But he’s gone now removed under a cloud by Courages who then decid­ed they want­ed anoth­er gay pub in the cen­tre. Cus­tomer is now solid­ly gay – as are most of the bar staff.… And trade is boom­ing. Looks like wily Courages were right.” The oth­er gay pubs were The Rad­nor and The Ship on Upper Maudlin Street.

8. Race rela­tions. It’s quite star­tling to find race dis­cussed so frankly. At The British Queen, St Pauls, Pearce and Wil­son met the “only black land­lord… in all of Bris­tol… a big sharply dressed guy who runs a small but very live­ly house… you can hear the reg­gae music.… from the end of the street.” The Swan, Stokes Croft, was “one of the few which attracts black cus­tomers”, while The Duke of York, Mont­pe­lier, had “a mix­ture of whites, blacks and Asians”. The near­by Glouces­ter House was a “white pub with an imme­di­ate­ly hos­tile atmos­phere”.  The Duke of Cam­bridge on Low­er Ash­ley Road had “young blacks and old whites” while The Prince of Wales on Ash­ley Road was effec­tive­ly seg­re­gat­ed: “Main pub­lic bar is dom­i­nat­ed by whites, black cus­tomers tend to use the cor­ri­dor”. At the Rum­mers there were, Pearce and Wil­son reck­oned, “black guys look­ing for white girls”, which brings us to…

9. Girls and Boys. The Bell on Prewett Street was “a young kids pub” with “lots of groups of girls look­ing for a pick-up”; The Crown & Cush­ion had “lots of 15-year-old girls sit­ting in pairs look­ing at 17-year-old boys”. At the East­field, Hen­leaze, “for misog­y­nists the pri­vate bar is for gen­tle­man only”, but on the oth­er hand The St Nicholas House in St Pauls was “a friend­ly mid­dle aged old ladies pub”. The music of Bar­ry White is men­tioned three times in the guide as an indi­ca­tor that the pubs in ques­tion were for trendy, amorous young peo­ple, and there­fore best avoid­ed. And brace your­self for this bit of peri­od sex­ism: The Bull in Two Mile Hill had “the biggest bust­ed bar­maids in Bris­tol”.

10. Real ale. In gen­er­al, there was lots of bad beer – “they nev­er clean their pipes” – but also some good. The Port of Call had fake casks con­ceal­ing pres­sure pumps, a big prob­lem for CAMRA in the 1970s. The real ale at The Phoenix was so good that it was begin­ning to attract “stu­dent and trendies” – appar­ent­ly very bad news. The Old Fox, of course, gets a chunky entry: “[CAMRA] man­aged to buy it because nobody else want­ed it.… a bizarre mix­ture of locals and real beer pil­grims.” Our favourite bit in the whole book though might be this from the entry for The Port­wall:

We’re in the CAMRA guide through pres­sure of cir­cum­stance,” quipped the bar­maid. “The cel­lar’s com­plete­ly unus­able so we can’t put keg bar­rels in.”

12. Ani­mals. The Cor­nu­bia had “a very fat cat” while at the Grey­hound on Princess Vic­to­ria Street there was “a cat that sits on the one-armed ban­dit”.  The Coach & Hors­es on Old Mar­ket not only had a “big alsa­t­ian called Toots” but also “a stuffed mon­key shav­ing a stuffed cat in a dis­play cab­i­net on the wall”. The White Horse, Low­er Ash­ley Road, had a mynah bird, “and a talk­er as well”, but The Essex Arms and King’s Head across the road from each oth­er in Two Mile Hill both had chat­ty par­rots – what rival­ry did that rep­re­sent? The mynah bird at The Black Horse would­n’t talk and the bird cage at The Bell in Bed­min­ster was emp­ty. The Post Office Tav­ern, West­bury Hill, had “fish (1) in tank”.

* * *

It’s hard not to plough through that lot and think that things are bet­ter now than then, on the whole. There was bor­ing keg Wat­neys and Courage, or vine­gary cask Courage and Bass, but not much beer that real­ly seemed to excite them. Sub­ur­ban and estate pubs seem to have been busier than they often are today but city cen­tre pubs sound almost uni­form­ly dread­ful – either pla­s­ticky or dread­ful­ly tat­ty. There’s the odd excep­tion, of course, but it does­n’t read like a gold­en age. But per­haps Fred Pearce was just jad­ed after vis­it­ing 400 pubs.

4 thoughts on “Complete Guide to Bristol’s Pubs, 1975”

  1. My late hus­band ‘Arry was a Bris­to­lian and I have just writ­ten a short resume of his col­lec­tion of books on Bris­tol’s pubs (exclud­ing the Cam­ra guides). I still have his records of all the pubs in he vis­it­ed (and my own much more lim­it­ed ones). Inter­est­ing­ly all the books claim there to be around 400 pubs in total and Den­ing states that even in 1775 there were 358 Hostel­ries, Inns and Vict­uallers in exis­tence.

    Bib­li­og­ra­phy of guides to Bris­tol Pubs from the col­lec­tion of the late ‘Arry Hart.

    Old Inns of Bris­tol by C.F.W.Dening
    This is the clas­sic tome of pubs of Bris­tol, pub­lished in 1943. It is a love­ly cloth bound book with many pen­cil(?) draw­ings by the author. As a Fel­low of R.I.B.A clear­ly his inter­est also cov­ered the build­ings and var­i­ous arte­facts which caught his eye such as street rail­ings at the Stag and Hounds (Old Mar­ket Street), the stone man­tel­piece at The Rhubarb (Bar­ton Hill). There are lots of his­tor­i­cal ref­er­ences, one of which men­tions The Old Arm Chair (cor­ner of Guinea Street and Alfred Place) from the 18th cen­tu­ry which was still there with added off licence and gro­cers shop in Denning’s day. Long gone I sus­pect now. I get the feel­ing that Den­ing was not an imbiber as it is the archi­tec­tur­al aspects of the old inns that are fea­tured, not the social aspect let alone the bev­er­ages on sale.

    The Com­plete Guide to Bristol’s Pubs by Fred Pearce & David Wil­son
    In his copy ‘Arry wrote 1975 on the fron­tispiece so I assume that is when it was pub­lished.

    The Bris­tol Pub Guide by John Mack­in­tosh, Mark Wyler and Nick Fox
    First pub­lished Decem­ber 1980
    Cred­it is giv­en to Fred Pearce for his help in this guide. It fea­tures a star rat­ing sys­tem sim­i­lar to Fred’s in the book above but with a wider range. From the five stars to the top 25 Bris­tol pubs which must be vis­it­ed to the two stars (noth­ing spe­cial) to the lone­some star (Licensed premis­es). There are 450 pubs list­ed with a short descrip­tion of the pub and its facil­i­ties.

    Bris­tol Pub Guide by John Mack­in­tosh, Mark Wyler, Nick Fox and Audrey Creed 1982
    This is the updat­ed, com­plete­ly revised guide to the one above and has the same five star rat­ing.

    Bristol’s His­toric Inns by Helen Eason 1982
    This is described as the most com­pre­hen­sive study of the sub­ject since Dening’s long out-of-print Old Inns of Bris­tol. It strikes me as an excel­lent com­pan­ion to Dening’s book as it describes the social and his­tor­i­cal details of the pub as well as the inter­nal lay­out. It would be inter­est­ing to com­pare the two books with respect to the pubs cov­ered. There are many ref­er­ences to the brew­eries and some excel­lent pho­tographs too.

    Best of Bris­tol Pub Guide by David Innes Wilkin and Bob Mack­ey
    Pub­lished 1994
    This guide has a curi­ous lay­out. The first sec­tion devotes a page to each of thir­ty pubs. Not sure on what basis they were cho­sen. (pay­ment springs to mind). Then there are list­ings for pop­u­lar pubs and bars in par­tic­u­lar areas giv­ing just the name, address and tel no. Then four sim­i­lar list­ings for pubs with char­ac­ter, good food, good drink­ing and odd­ly, spe­cial attrac­tions. The last sec­tion is the full index to all the pubs. Not a guide in my view, more a direc­to­ry.

    Sue Hart Feb­ru­ary 2018

    1. Hel­lo I have just seen this post can you please tell me who the 3 gen­tle­men are at the top of the page the one with the cap bares a resem­blance to my late father I would appre­ci­ate any infor­ma­tion you can give me
      Regards sue

      1. Sue, I had a look in the book too and won­dered if the entry for the Sur­rey Wine Vaults (where the pic­ture of the three drinkers was tak­en) might help iden­ti­fy him more.
        “ A cider pub with lots of cus­tom from the Sal­va­tion Army Hos­tel round the cor­ner on Port­land Square. An amaz­ing selec­tion of sin­gle old men (most­ly sea­men) resplen­dent in white beards, sip­ping cider and watch­ing the TV. “ So if you knew your father was a cider drinker or a sea­man.….….?
        Sor­ry not to be of more help.

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