bristol pubs

The lost pubs of Bristol’s central ghost town

One of Bristol’s weirdest features is its central ghost town where, on inter-war maps, seven pubs were marked.

The ghost town in question is otherwise known as Castle Park and it was once the core of the central shopping district.

It was badly damaged during World War II and the decision was made after the war to clear it rather than rebuild.

Now, it’s a pleasant (if sometimes spicy) green space containing the bombed ruins of two churches and some hints of the old street patterns.

A map showing modern day Castle Park with the old streets roughly marked and the locations of the seven pubs.
BASE MAP SOURCE: Open Street Map.

Let’s start our pub crawl on Bristol Bridge, heading into town along High Street, and pause to think about The Posada, AKA The Posada Wine Vaults.

It stood exactly where you can now find a weird little concrete obelisk with a door, leading down to tunnels beneath the park.

The edge of Castle Park with concrete buildings and street furniture.
The obelisk (left), the old Norwich Union building (1962) and the remains of St Mary-le-Port Church.

It was a 19th century building, erected when the road was widened in the 1860s, we think. In 1877 it was known as The Posada Espanola.

It survived a massive bombing of central Bristol in November 1940 before being finished off in another raid in 1941.

Next, let’s turn left onto Mary-le-Port Street. Except it’s not there any more, so we can’t, really, but we can cut through the park to look at the ruins of St Mary-le-Port Church hidden behind the brutalist Lloyds Bank and modernist Norwich Union building.

A tatty path through the park with a church tower in the distance.
Looking along Mary-le-Port to St Peter’s Church.

Then follow the path that tracks the old street pattern towards the site of The Raven. C.F. Deming, author of Old Inns of Bristol, published in 1943, reckoned The Raven dated back to the 17th century and was “mentioned in 1643”.

Interviewed for an oral history project in 2005 Dorothy Bullimore and Emily ‘Emmy’ Taylor recalled drinking there:

Dorothy: They used to have pigs’ feet up Hodders on a Saturday night and there was a little pub next door to it and after you’d finish shopping you’d sit in there with all your carrier bags at your feet. We used to go in the pub with my husband’s brother- he worked for Hodders, the butchers. 

Emmy: It was a tiny little pub in Mary Le Port Street.

It had already gone when Old Inns of Bristol was published, destroyed by bombing.

Old buildings overhanging a narrow shopping street.
Mary-le-Port in the 1930s via Know Your Place Bristol. An entrance to The Swan Hotel is to the right.

A little further along we find the site of The Swan, just about where the diagonal path down the river meets the terrace in front of the ruin of St Peter’s Church.

Deming calls The Swan “one of Bristol’s most picturesque buildings” but adds:

Like many other notable Houses, The Swan had been neglected for many years, and its decayed timbers had fallen into such a sad state that, in conjunction with other circumstances and in spite of many requests to retain the building, its preservation was found to be impossible.

The Swan was demolished in 1936, after someone bought the whole corner site for redevelopment. The building that replaced The Swan was then so badly damaged by bombing that it had to be pulled down.

A stone structure in the park.
The site of The Bank Hotel. The path to the right roughly marks the line of the rear of the building.

Rounding the corner of Mary-le-Port onto what was Dolphin Street we next find the site of The Bank Hotel, on the waterside. There used to be two urinals here, hanging over the river, which we guess were for customers of the pub.

An 1884 guidebook says this pub got its name because it was built on the site of a branch of the Bank of England which was opened there in 1827, but later moved.

Now let’s walk back along what would have been Dolphin Street to Newgate – that is, across the park to the junction with Union Street where the falafel stand is now.

Newgate was originally Narrow Wine Street and about here stood The George Inn.

The Galleries Shopping Centre beyond a line of trees and hedges.
From the site of The George looking across Newgate (Narrow Wine Street) to The Galleries Shopping Centre.

The George Inn was certainly old and there was a brewery on the premises in the 1810s.

A Popular History of Bristol (not a hugely reliable source) dates it to the 17th century and suggests it was named in reference to St George, rather than any monarch of that name.

By the 1930s it was one of six Fussell’s pubs in Bristol.

In 1940 a 24-year-old soldier, Corporal Ernest Newman, robbed the landlord of The George at gunpoint, before being chased and captured by police. That’s an interesting glimpse into what Bristol was like during wartime.

A scrappy corner of the park with fences and paths.
The site of The Cat & Wheel near an exit from the park.

At this point, follow the path back to the ruin of St Peter’s Church and go through the water garden. At the end of the garden a path curves down. Near the bottom is where Little Peter Street used to run and where two pubs stood side by side.

The Cat & Wheel and The Bear & Rugged Staff were both 17th century pubs but the former was rebuilt in the early 20th century.

An Edwardian pub with signs advertising George's Pale Ales.
The Cat & Wheel. SOURCE: Know Your Place.

Both, amazingly, survived the Blitz and were trading until the late 1960s. They were demolished in 1969 as part of the creation of Castle Park.

The Bear & Rugged Staff then donated its name to The Welcome Inn, an interwar pub at Southmead.

This was the final stage in the clearance of the area, which the city planners had decided to do as far back as 1943.

Shopkeepers and local wanted to restore the shopping district to how it had been but the planners were keen to do away with what had been a mess of narrow streets.

Some people are still annoyed about this decision today.

And that’s the end of the tour. If you want to continue hanging out in Bristol’s pre-war shopping district, fire up one of these two sites to layer old maps with new ones:

And if all that walking around pubs that aren’t there has you feeling thirsty check out our guide to the best pubs in Bristol, updated for 2023.

This has been an interesting exercise and has given us a partial answer to our question about why Bristol doesn’t have a central pub equivalent to Whitelocks in Leeds. It would probably have been one of those described above, if they’d survived.

Main image adapted from ‘Ruins of the Church of St. Mary-le-Port with St. Peter’s in the background’ by Beryl Thornborough for Bristol Siren Nights, 1943.

20th Century Pub pubs

The Monckton, Portsmouth: a pub built under fire

Something unusual happened in 1942: a new pub came into being. That’s right – not an inter-war pub, or post-war, but one built right in the thick of it.

When we wrote 20th Century Pub back in 2015-17, we included a chapter on the wartime pub because it felt important. Other chapters were about new developments and new types of pub coming into being; this was about recording a void, or pause.

Pubs weren’t built or opened during World War II, they were destroyed. Even if there had been a will to build, there was a shortage of manpower and building materials.

Of course there were odd exceptions: pubs whose construction was underway before the war, completed just over the line; and temporary pubs in shacks, sheds and stables which appeared later on.

But the Monckton in Portsmouth is, we think, the first example we’ve come across of a somewhat substantial, somewhat solid pub actually being built during World War II.

We say ‘somewhat’ because, well, look at it. A single storey, raw brick, no embellishments and windows like those of a pillbox. If you told us it was converted from an air-raid shelter, we wouldn’t doubt it.

Here’s what Philip Eley and R.C. Riley have to say in their excellent 1991 monograph on the Portsmouth pubs between 1900 and 1950:

[It employed] a beerhouse licence transferred from the Dockyard Tavern, Marlborough Row (which had been enveloped by the Dockyard extension)… The site had been bought by United Breweries in 1911, and remarkably, in the light of the ersatz nature of the ultimate construction, the first application for a licence in 1928 was backed by a design from [important local architect A.E.] Cogswell himself. Four subsequent unsuccessful applications between 1929 and 1939 can hardly have presaged what was arguably Portsmouth’s most distinctive drinking house until its closure in 1982.

The picture above, sourced from the same booklet, was taken in 1946 so this was clearly the pub in its finished state, not under construction as suggested here.

That page at includes another picture of the pub, though, prettied up in the post-war period, with rendering, whitewash and some cute external adornments.

Copnor Road in 1972

Copnor Road in 1972 with The Monckton in the background, via The News, Portsmouth.

Like many make-do-and-mend pubs of the 1940s and early 1950s, The Monckton survived longer than might have been expected, still trading into the 1980s.

What isn’t immediately obvious is why construction of this pub was authorised during a time of restrictions.

“Bet this was controversial,” we said to ourselves and it didn’t take long to find evidence that, yes, it was, in the form of a letter to the Portsmouth Evening News published on 13 February 1942:

Sir – On Sunday night I listened to Sir Stafford Cripps giving his very interesting and informative talk on Russia’s mighty effort to win the war. During this talk every listener was more or less asked, by Sir Stafford, to search his or her conscience as to whether they were engaged on or doing 100 per cent, work and thought, to bring about the same conclusion… I always feel that it is not fair to judge a nation’s effort by one own city or locality. There would, however, appear to something wrong in Portsmouth when I notice this afternoon a new public-house being built on Copnor Road. Surely the men engaged in this contract, and the materials being used, could be put to our war effort, at this critical time? I know the answer will be “a licence was granted,” but what right had that particular public servant to grant such a licence? He was given his present position to control the building industry and direct its use to the war effort, not to evade the Government Order (Restricting New Buildings) by issuing permits. It appears to that we want quite a number of men in key positions who can say and definitely mean it.

Our guess, pending further research, is that it was a question of morale.

Portsmouth lost 73 pubs to enemy action during 1940-41 and Eley and Riley reckon more than a hundred had been destroyed by February 1942.

Perhaps sparing a few bricks for the construction of a basic two-room pub felt worth it.

Beer history

Beer in ‘Victory’ magazine, September 1945

Victory was the magazine for armed services in India during World War II. We found a solitary tatty copy in a bargain bin in a bookshop – the September 1945 edition – and of course noticed references to beer throughout.

First, there are the adverts: one in the front for lager and one at the back for pale ale and stout. (Here’s Murree today; and here’s Mohan Meakin.)

Advert for lion pilsener beer.
Advert for Solan pale ale and XXX stout.

Then there are illustrations for articles and stories which include beer when they don’t need to – the first accompanies a comic tall tale of the adventures of an RAF officer, and the second a soupy tale of a soldier falling in love remotely with a comrade’s sister.

RAF officer with pint.
Photo and pints of beer.

Finally, though it has no illustration of note, there’s a fantastic piece called ‘The Man in the Corner on… Rationing’. The Man in the Corner is a hectoring bore who argues in favour of continuing rationing even after the war because he thinks it’s good for people, good for society, and inconveniences people he doesn’t like. The punchline is:

There’s only one thing I’m all against rationing – and that’s beer. It’s fair tired me out this war running from pub to pub – first it’s fetch your own glass, then it’s only half-a-pint served at any one time, then it’s regular customers only… there’s half-a-dozen kinds of what you might call rationing. And I hate the lot of them.

All of this ties into a theory we’ve had brewing for a while: that the reason beer and pubs suddenly became respectable topics to write about, and acceptable as hobbies, was because of the general breakdown of class distinctions brought about by the war. We’re going to explore that thought a little more in another blog post soon.

Beer history pubs videos

VIDEO: Advice for Americans on English Pubs, 1943

We were alerted to the presence of this film on YouTube by Anthony Harper (@anthonymharper) and it’s a corker.

It was made as a joint production of the US and UK governments and was intended, in short, to prevent American soldiers acting like dickheads in Britain. The host is Burgess Meredith (BatmanRocky) and he spends the first third of the film — about ten minutes — in an English country pub:

We’re not trying to show you the perfect way to behave in a pub. We’re only trying to point out that some of these people are a little more reserved than some of us. If you take it easy a little bit, just at the beginning… you’ll make some damn good friends.

It’s staged with the interior filmed on a studio set but, as it’s intended to be educational rather than propaganda, we can probably assume it’s a fairly accurate portrayal. In fact, the advice is still good, on the whole:

What’s that? What’s the difference between bitter and mild? I don’t know. One’s bitter and one’s mild. You’d better find out for yourself…

Beer history pubs quotes

QUOTE: Something Will Turn Up, 1940

Dominoes in the pub, 1940.
Men playing dominoes in the pub, LIFE magazine, 1940.

This is the text of an anonymous advertisement (probably placed by the Brewers’ Society) that ran in The Times on 10 January 1940:

Disraeli once said that the real motto of the English people is — “something will turn up.”

It is certainly true that not even the advent of a European war, nor the threats of raids, nor the frustration of the black-out have dimmed our cheerful faith and philosophy among us.

It is in the pub where one sees it best. Around the glasses of beer the people of all classes have found a warm, bright, kindly atmosphere in which cheerfulness supplants alarm. The pub gives relaxation. It promotes our national democratic feeling.

And beer too has played its traditional part in keeping us friendly, buoyant and good tempered. Good barley malt and country hops brewed in the manner handed down to us through the centuries has been John Bull’s drink in many a hard day — giving him the health to withstand and courage to endure!

(Exeunt. Alarum, and chambers go off.)