The Mystery of the Rock House Tavern

We spotted the above post one one of our favourite Instagram accounts the other day and thought it ought to be a doddle to track down the history of the Rock House Tavern. Well, it wasn’t, but we think we’ve got there, and the solution offers an intriguing glimpse into the past.

First, yes, Liz is right– there is no use­ful infor­ma­tion online, or in our copy of the 1975 pub guide, or in news­pa­pers archives. Search­ing for men­tion of pubs around that loca­tion in more gen­er­al terms, though, did point us to a 1986 book called City Pit: Mem­oirs of a Speed­well Min­er by Fred Moss. It might sur­prise some peo­ple to dis­cov­er that Bris­tol had coal mines but it did. Fred Moss was born in 1906 and start­ed work as a min­er in 1921. Here’s what he has to say about drink­ing, on p.37:

[Let] me tell you about “The Long Bar”. This con­sist­ed of a lane run­ning from Deep Pit Road to Hol­ly Lodge Road. There were just a few hous­es in Hol­ly Lodge, only a cou­ple of min­ers lived there. Now about half way up this lane there was a pond called the “Lil­ly Pond”. It was a pool con­sist­ing of water pumped from the near­by pit. In this lane there was also a sin­gle rail­way track, which was used to car­ry trucks of coal from Speed­well Pit to the main Great West­ern Rail­way line and of course the Mid­land Rail­way line. The track was also used to take trucks of small coal to the coke ovens and wash­ing plant.

Now, near this lane there was an off-licence beer house. The after­noon shift min­ers would buy beer at this off-licence and on a nice sun­ny day would to to this lane and have a chat and a drink before descend­ing the pit.… There would be twen­ty or thir­ty men either sit­ting on a grass bank of lean­ing against a wood­en fence drink­ing and chat­ting before work­ing and when the morn­ing shift came up from work, some of them would buy a drink and stand or sit in the lane before going home. Yes! I would say that was the longest bar in the world.

We find this fas­ci­nat­ing – anoth­er reminder that peo­ple enjoyed beer in all kinds of ways in the past, not only in what we would now recog­nise as pubs, and fol­low­ing all kinds of pat­terns dic­tat­ed by their work.

Fred’s mem­oir gives us some hard infor­ma­tion to work with and we are blessed in 2018 with easy access to his­toric maps, satel­lite imagery and Google Street View which means it’s quite easy to pin all this down.

Here’s the lane we think Fred is describ­ing as pic­tured in an OS map from the imme­di­ate post-WWII peri­od, via Know Your Place:

Map showing the lane, 'Brook Road'.

The Rock House is at the very bot­tom left cor­ner, marked “BH” for beer­house; the lane is Brook Road which runs off imme­di­ate­ly oppo­site pass­ing a reser­voir (the pond Fred men­tions?) and cross­ing a small rail­way line on the way to Hol­ly Lodge Road, which also fits with Fred’s descrip­tion. One small wrin­kle: there is anoth­er beer­house marked on the map, also near the point where the lane spits out, so maybe he didn’t have The Rock House in mind. But we still reck­on all this, espe­cial­ly the BH des­ig­na­tion on the map, explains why The Rock House is so obscure: though it may have start­ed as a prop­er drink-in beer­house c.1830, it prob­a­bly became a pure­ly take-out premis­es in the wake of the 1869 Licens­ing Act.

But that’s just some­what informed guess­work. If you know oth­er­wise, drop us a line or com­ment below. We’ll keep an eye out in books and archives as we go and, as Google Maps satel­lite imagery sug­gests the lane is still there and now a pub­lic foot­path, we’ll also go explor­ing and see what we can see.

Main image, top: Bris­tol min­ers c.1906 via City Pit.

One thought on “The Mystery of the Rock House Tavern”

  1. In the Al and Max book, I made ref­er­ence to a set­ting in Tess of the d’Urbervilles that had a hedge bar on a side­walk in one scene.

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