Beer delivery vans in Bristol between the wars

The Progress Inn, Sea Mills.

“In 1929 neither estate had a pub or off-licence, and tenants had to resort to vans selling alcoholic drink which plied the area.”

That intriguing line appears in a paper by Madge Dresser called ‘Housing policy in Bristol, 1919-30’, collected in Councillors and tenants: local authority housing in English cities, 1919-1939. The estates Dr Dresser refers to are Horfield and Sea Mills.

As we discovered researching 20th Century Pub, it’s almost impossible to take a serious interest in the development of the public house without also getting into housing and social policy.

Housing estates – a new idea as the 19th century turned into the 20th, even if they’re now taken for granted – were generally dry by default until the 1920s. What was the point of moving people out of slums if the slum behaviour (as it was viewed) carried on as before?

Estates, and especially those with ‘garden city’ pretensions, were about fresh air, healthy pursuits, and the comfort of the home. If people needed to socialise, there were churches, and maybe sports clubs.

But fancying a pint with your mates every now and then isn’t weird – it’s quite normal. As a result, many people living on estates lobbied for the provision of social clubs and pubs, but Bristol’s estates were without pubs until the 1930s.

What about those booze delivery wagons? Well, a 1929 news story covering the application for an off-licence by a Sea Mills shopkeeper Thomas Prestidge (Western Daily Press, 5 March) provides a bit more detail:

There was a large number of residents on the Sea Mills Estate who had asked Mr Prestidge to make the application. The nearest licensed house was the Swan in Stoke Lane, over a mile away, and in the other direction the nearest place was a mile and half away. At present the wants of the inhabitants were supplied by three or four people who came from various districts in and out of Bristol and delivered to residents on the estate in dozen and half-dozen bottles.

So, to be clear, not only were there no pubs – there was nowhere to buy any alcoholic drink at all.

Objections to this application from local doctors and religious types argued that supply by delivery was perfectly adequate and that people who had moved to Sea Mills to get away from ‘hubbub’ would prefer drinking to happen, if it had to happen at all, behind closed doors. Nonetheless, the licence was granted on a provisional basis.

Sea Mills did eventually get a pub, and a very grand one: the Progress Inn (pictured above). It opened in 1936, but closed in 2011, and was then converted into a nursery.

That means if you live at Sea Mills and fancy a beer, delivery trucks, from supermarkets these days, might once again be the best option.

Progress? What progress?

This happens to be Sea Mills’ centenary year and the estate is the subject of a local heritage project, Sea Mills 100. We’ll be watching with interest for information on the estate’s licencing battles.

2 thoughts on “Beer delivery vans in Bristol between the wars”

  1. I lived across Harrow Road from the North end of Ladbroke Grove for a few years. Apparently, the housing was built by Quakers who would not permit licensed premises. Even in the late 80s the whole zone was a desert. No idea what it’s like now. My dad faced the same thing as an undergraduate in student accommodation in Birmingham donated by the Cadburys, another Quaker family

  2. The area in Leytonstone between the Central Line and going up towards Lea Bridge Road is mainly a Quaker estate with pubs generally on the main roads around the periphery. I think the peroperties still have clauses in the legal documents preventing use as licensed premises. The exception in terms of pubs is the Heathcote, but I understand that this is the oldest building in the area and was probably put up before the Quakers moved in.

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