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Beer history bristol

William Herapath – Bristol’s crimefighting brewer-chemist

It’s amazing how often an innocent question leads to a brewery. In this case, it was wondering about the origins of the name of Herapath Street, not far from our new house.

It’s from ancient Greek, surely; Hera was the wife of Zeus, queen of heaven; and the suffix ‘path’ we know from telepath, sociopath, psychopath… Whatever it means, why on earth would a backstreet in a Bristol suburb have a name like this?

It turns out to have been named after one William Herapath, a local boy who made a big name for himself as a chemist. But he commenced his career in the family trade – as maltster, brewer and publican.

Before Herapath’s birth in 1796 his father, also called William, was the proprietor of the Horse & Jockey on Marybush Lane in central Bristol.1 In 1800 he took over the Packhorse Inn and its attached brewery. When he died in 1816, young William, at the age of 20, inherited the business.2

The Packhorse, Lawrence Hill.

Though The Packhorse has a fairly modest footprint today, maps from the 19th century show it taking up most of the block with a substantial brewery and/or malthouse behind. (We’ve known to look out for ‘P.H.’ to spot pubs on old maps for a while; we now know that ‘M.H.’ is ‘malthouse’, too.)

This might have provided quite a living for a young man but, according to an obituary notice from 18683, having been encouraged to study chemistry as part of his training as a maltster, he discovered a taste for it and decided to pursue it as a career.

He co-founded the Bristol Medical School, where he was appointed professor of chemistry and toxicology from 1828, and, in 1841, was one of the founders of the Chemical Society of London.

To normal people not obsessed with beer and brewing, the most interesting thing about Herapath’s career is his involvement as an expert witness in criminal cases. His particular speciality was identifying the victims of arsenic poisoning and finding traces of arsenic in foodstuffs and on kitchen implements.4

SOURCE: Know Your Place.

Despite Herapath’s illustrious career in chemistry he seems to have maintained an interest in malting and brewing. He gave lectures on the science of brewing, among other subjects and, in 1829, was a delegate of the Committee for the Protection of the Malt Trade, challenging the terms of an act designed to regulate the industry.5

He also ran a sideline in the chemical analysis of alcoholic drinks and as late as 1874, several years after his death, his name was invoked in a posthumous testimonial for a brewery in Devon.

SOURCE: Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 5 January 1874, via the British Newspaper Archive.

It’s fascinating that someone routinely described as “the most eminent chemical analyst in this country” should be so little known. Barring a plaque on The Packhorse, installed by the local civic society in 2017 and, of course, obscure, unremarkable Herapath Street, there’s very little to remember him by in his own city.

We’re not even sure that street is named after him. His son William Bird Herapath was also a chemist and discovered Herapathite; he also died in 1868. And their cousin, John Herapath, was a noted physicist who – this is getting weird now – died in 1868, too.

When the street came into being (it’s not on maps from the 1870s, but is there by the 1890s) who knows which of them it was named for. That it was across the road from a giant chemical works must surely be a clue, though.

You know what would be a good tribute? If someone were to brew a beer in his honour and get it served at The Packhorse.

UPDATE 10.04.2021: Maybe don’t rush that tribute beer into production just yet… Pete Forster was kind enough to email us with some of the material he found when researching William Herapath – specifically notes of his 1853 court case. He was accused of forcing a kiss on a young woman, Mrs Wildgoose, who came to his office to discuss the sale of some property on behalf of her husband. You can read more in the Bristol Mercury for 2 July 1853, on page 8, if you’re keen to know more.

Main image: we think this is William Herapath – it’s reproduced all over the internet without source information, with his name attached. But it might well be William Bird Herapath, his son. Further information welcome.

  1. Matthews’ New History of Bristol or Complete Guide and Bristol Directory, 1793, via ancestry.co.uk
  2. ‘The Lives of Two Pioneering Medical-Chemists in Bristol’, Brian Vincent, The West of England Medical Journal, Vol. 116 No. 4, 2016.
  3. Western Daily Press, 15 February 1868.
  4. Numerous newspaper reports but notably a piece on the murder of Clara Ann Smith by Mary Ann Burdock, Bristol Mirror, 11 April 1835 – apparently his first criminal case.
  5. Various newspapers from June 1829, via The British Newspaper Archive. It feels as if we should know more about what was going on with malting in 1829 – reading suggestions welcome.
Categories
bristol pubs

Because of lockdown?

The Bristol Post has produced a rundown of local food and hospitality businesses “that didn’t survive a year of lockdowns” – but is that a fair way to describe what’s going on?

For starters, there are several businesses on the list that haven’t actually ceased trading, as the article itself acknowledges.

The excellent Gopal’s Curry Shack, for example, has closed its retail unit, but is still operating as a delivery business, and will be attending markets and events when those start up again later this year.

Of course what particularly interests us is the fate of bars and pubs, and there are a few on the list. Again, though, we’re going to quibble – not least because lazily blaming lockdown means ignoring the long-term causes of pub closures:

  • Economics – you need a reasonable amount of disposable income to go to the pub regularly, and fewer people have this. 
  • Demographics and shifting trends – where are those that do have money going? Are new generations of pub goers coming through?
  • The ongoing persistence of the leasehold model for pub ownership, which makes it hard for publicans to make a living.
  • The value of pubs and the land on which they sit to developers.

To start with, one, Alchemy 198 on Gloucester Road, isn’t a closure but something of an upgrade, at least as far as beer lovers are concerned, because it became the Sidney & Eden craft beer bar last autumn.

The Windmill in Bedminster was actually put up for sale by its owners in the spring of 2019 and when we visited for our #EveryPubInBristol project in the autumn of that year was already the subject of a sadly unsuccessful local preservation campaign.

Another pub on the Post’s list is The Swan, not far from where we now live in Barton Hill, which closed for good in May 2020 and has now been bought for conversion by the community group next door. We never got to visit or, rather, chickened out of visiting because as we approached the door a very drunk bloke blocked it and made it clear we weren’t welcome. Now, perhaps we’re reading this incorrectly, but it looked like a pub on its last legs every time we walked past and even if lockdown was the final trigger, it’s hard to imagine it would have lasted much longer under any other circumstances.

The Three Blackbirds, one of the last pubs we visited before lockdown kicked in, is also on the list of supposed lockdown victims listed by the Post. But even their piece includes a statement from the landlady suggesting that the pub was in trouble before lockdown – and that’s certainly how it felt when we dropped in, and whenever we passed.

To be clear, we don’t doubt that there will be casualties from the last year once government support dries up completely – along with publicans’ savings and credit lines.

The Downend Tavern, also on the Post’s list, is perhaps one example. Famous as a pub rock venue and home of the Bristol Blues Club it always struck us as a lively local and seemed in passable health before 2020 came along. But that’s hard to package as a takeaway experience, especially if your clientele skews older and has less disposable income.

One pub not mentioned by the Post is another Barton Hill local, The Rhubarb, which may or may not reopen and is currently without tenants.

We’re still optimistic that people will be so hungry to go to pubs post-lockdown that there might be something of a renaissance. Closed pubs might reopen. Pubs that were limping along and scraping by under an old business model and veteran publicans might come alive with a new approach and new owners.

But the point is, really, that it’s too soon to tell how COVID-19 will affect the overall number of pubs. Let’s just wait and see – and, in the meantime, do what we can to support the pubs we love, either by ordering beer for delivery or donating to crowdfunders.

Categories
bristol pubs

Your friendly neighbourhood craft beer bar

Somewhat against the odds, a new bar opened on Gloucester Road over the summer.

Sidney and Eden is the latest development from the team behind Bottles & Books, which had previously evolved from a comic book and bottle shop into a teeny-tiny tap room.

Technically S&E isn’t an additional bar on the scene as it takes the place of something vaguely bar-like that existed in those premises before. But this is very much a New Venture, with a clear idea of what it wants to be – a neighbourhood craft beer bar that can compete with city centre destinations.

It has 20+ taps and, from our observations, makes a point of covering a range of styles within that. It’s weighted towards the IPAs and exotic stouts but there’s also room for local standards such as Lost and Grounded Kellerpils and Belgian classics such as Saison Dupont.

Prior to Lockdown 2 it seemed consistently busy, at least by the standards of interregnum levels of activity. We saw a number of people we know from the Drapers in there, suggesting that, like Bottles & Books before it, it provides a complementary offer.

Pastry stout.

We managed a couple of sessions there before lockdown, under the awning in our woollens, including a truly delightful evening trying a succession of silly pastry stouts and enjoying them immensely.

We hadn’t really thought about the neighbourhood craft beer bar as a concept before. Our assumption has been that this sort of specialist tasting venue is still sufficiently niche that it only really makes sense as a city centre destination.

Sidney and Eden is a good 40 minutes walk from the centre, or 15 minutes on the bus. It’s well connected on public transport if you’re coming from the centre or from Filton but not if you’re in any other part of the city. With that in mind, it really has to appeal to sufficient numbers of local people to be a success.

But if you’re going to do it in any neighbourhood, this one is a really good choice.

It’s directly on Gloucester Road and thus benefits from (a) the presence of other good pubs nearby and (b) the general independent spirit and commitment to shopping local.

We suspect there was plenty of pent up demand in the nearby residential streets. If house prices are a measure of wealth then it’s a pretty prosperous area (we rent and, in fact, are having to move away from the area to somewhere cheaper) and yet, despite the large numbers of drinking establishments nearby, none had a serious craft offer (definition 2) until now.

Sidney and Eden certainly improved the quality of our lives in the couple of months it was open, and we really hope it survives the winter and thrives beyond. It’s currently open for pre-ordered takeaway beer.

Categories
bristol pubs

Notes on pubs in Tier 1+

Humans are terrible at risk assessment, aren’t they?

People who were not going out when new cases were at around 20-30 a day and were stable or falling, are now happily visiting pubs with cases at 250 a day and rising. Great British Common Sense in action.

Graph of cases in Bristol showing steep rise.

Daily cases in Bristol as of 30 October 2020 via Public Health England.

At the time of writing, Bristol is in something the local authorities are calling ‘Tier 1+’ and is, we think, the biggest English city not to be facing higher-level restrictions.

We’re not really sure why – the rate of infection is actually higher than in some Tier 3 locations.

It’s possibly because hospital admissions remain low (although we know how that goes) or perhaps we just haven’t flashed up on the superforecasting spreadsheet yet.

Tier 1 isn’t completely unrestricted. It still requires pubs and restaurants to be closed by 10, seated table service and masks to be worn when not seated. As for who’s allowed to meet where… Well, this is part of the issue.

We seem to have moved completely away from principles – try to minimise your social contacts – and into a series of overlapping and confusing rules that give the impression that all is well and that you have permission to socialise.

This, plus limited support for pubs, along with a sense that it might all be taken away any day now, creates this weird moral pressure for consumers like us who love pubs and desperately want them to survive.

We’re not the only people we know who have upped our pub-going in the last month, despite the fact that it’s almost certainly more dangerous now in Bristol than it’s ever been.

Even in the comparative luxury of Tier 1, things certainly don’t feel normal.

We spent an hour in a pub in a student area on Saturday afternoon, sitting outside near the entrance, and saw some perhaps understandably bizarre behaviour.

“How many are you?” asks the bouncer.
“Er… two groups of four.”
(The limit is six.)

Then there was this:

“Please put a mask on if you’re standing up and moving about the pub.”
“I can’t. I’m only going for a fag. Uh, I’ve lost it.”
“Have a disposable one.”
“Ugh, fine, whatever.”
The mask is crammed into a pocket.

The staff were working so hard, and doing their utmost to stay cheerful, but it must be utterly soul destroying dealing with this lack of consideration, day in, day out, while knowing you’re still probably not making enough with reduced opening hours to pay the necessary army of greeters and serving staff.

Having said that, a few times lately, we’ve gone out with the intention of supporting our favourite pubs only to find them too busy to accommodate us.

It’s good news for them, maybe, but also worrying.

When you see a pub full to (reduced) capacity with condensation running down the windows you can’t help but think… What the hell are we doing?

This was inspired by Rowan Molyneux’s excellent piece about moving into Tier 2.

Categories
bristol pubs

Another advantage of ordering via app

We’ve been to Small Bar, the best of Bristol’s full-on craft beer bars, a couple of times in recent weeks and it’s in places like this that ordering by app works especially well.

How it used to work most of the time:

  • Shuffle around in a disorderly queue squinting at the blackboards trying to work out what’s on offer.
  • Get to the front; harried member of staff asks, “What would you like?”
  • Panic; choose something you’ve had before for convenience; scurry off to a table.

Now, though, the app allows you to browse the extensive beer list at leisure and, best of all, to filter it by beer style.

You’ve even got the option to nose around online to see what your fellow beer geeks have to say about a particular beer, reducing the risk of spending too much on something disappointing.

And, in fact, there’s another advantage: no more conversations about whether this bar or that does third-pints, or surprise that (as in the case of Small Bar) the largest measure on offer is two-thirds.

Of course there’s a downside: when there are lots of beers on offer you’ve never heard of, tasters are the traditional approach to narrowing the field, and making that work via app would be quite a challenge.