Beer delivery vans in Bristol between the wars

“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.

Bristol, Where Headless Pints are a Feature, not a Bug

A Bass pale ale advertising lantern.
The William the Fourth, Staple Hill.

Here’s a thing: the perfect Bristol pint doesn’t have foam. It comes up to the very brim, and the merest  hint of scum might draw a tut.

At least that’s what we’ve been told by several different people on several different occasions that this is the case, and that Bristol historically likes its pints ‘flat’.

A few months ago we had to negotiate heads on our beers with a member of staff in a pub more often frequented by elderly men who angled the glass and trickled the last inches with great care: “Look, I agree with you, but I’ve been working here for a while and this lot have got me trained to serve it flat.”

At which point, an interruption from a grey-hair with a sad-looking decapitated pint: “Yeah, proper Bristol style, we’re not up north now.”

To Jess, this idea doesn’t seem so alien: she recalls a general preference for completely headless pints in East London before about, say, 2005.

There, it often seemed to be tied to the question of value, and a refusal to be at all influenced by the superficial: foam’s a marketing trick to make mug punters pay for air, innit?

In Bristol, we wonder if it’s a combination of that, plus the influence of scrumpy cider drinkers, whose pints are froth-free by default.

But we can’t say that in practice we’ve encountered many flat pints in Bristol, though, and one of the few handy sources, Fred Pearce’s 1975 guide to the pubs of Bristol, features plenty of shots of white-capped glasses.

Maybe we’re having our legs pulled, or perhaps this is more complex than we’ve realised  – maybe only certain brands or styles get the millpond treatment – but either way, it would be a bit sad if a genuine bit of local beer culture has been lost.

Even if it’s good news for us as drinkers who very much prefer a bit of dressing around the top of the mug.

As you might have guessed, this is really our way of flushing out more information. Do comment below if you can tell us more.

The Distant Gleam of a Backstreet Pub

There’s something Narnia-magical about looking along a silent terraced street at night and seeing a corner pub throwing its light out over wet asphalt.

You know the feeling – walking up the centre of the road because there’s no traffic, TV light flickering behind curtains here and there, and the sound of your boots crunching and echoing in the quiet.

It’s special, too, because by our reckoning, after pubs on housing estates, this is the most endangered species.

Last Saturday we made a concerted effort to ‘tick’ a few pubs for our #EveryPubInBristol mission and so ended up in Totterdown, across the river from Temple Meads, wandering among rows of humble Victorian houses.

Sign: "Booze, food, tables & chairs".

Our first target was The Shakespeare, a pub we gathered from the 1975 guide was once a bit naughty…

The pub that one of us came very close to being beaten up at… [but] pub guide writers can run faster than nice young men with Nazi badges!

It looked mysterious and inviting, like one of those West London mews pubs, hidden from casual punters. To find it, you’ve got to live in the neighbourhood, or be hunting for it, or be a bit of an explorer.

Inside, it’s all scrubbed wood and mild gastro tendencies, but by no means pretentious: “Unfined? We don’t sell that hazy shit here.”

Less than a minute’s walk away, deeper into the maze, there’s the curiously named New Found Out – another corner, another spill of yellow, but also an air of mischief.

It was plain, bright, and lively in that way which makes it hard to quite relax. But, still, there was a bloke reading Brian Aldiss between puffs on his asthma inhaler, and everyone seemed friendly enough, even if we did feel as if we were drawing a few stares.

The Oxford in half darkness.

Our final pub, The Oxford, wasn’t quite on a backstreet, but was hardly on the main road either. We felt like Goldilocks here: if the first pub was too posh, and the second too rough-and-ready, The Oxford was just right.

It sat in the sweet spot between scuzzy and characterful, with a ska band, a lot of Spaniards, and a bloke in a pork pie hat who looked as though he’d been sat in the same seat since 1968.