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The Best Old Pubs in Bristol
A Very Brief History of Bristol
Bristol was settled thousands of years ago, but began to be a significant settlement in Anglo Saxon times. Located between the Rivers Frome and Avon it became known as Brigstowe (the place by the bridge), which has mutated to Bristol. The City built its wealth on trade and it grew to be Britain's second largest city during the eighteenth century. The fortunes of the port declined during the nineteenth century, but Bristol remains the largest city in the South West.
Many old buildings remain in Bristol, despite the extensive damage inflicted by the Luftwaffe during World War II. Two types of buildings seem to dominate; churches and pubs. Here are the stories behind a few of Bristol's most unusual historic pubs.
Llandoger Trow, Bristol
An Old Pub in the Centre of Bristol: The Llandoger Trow
The Llandoger Trow is one of my favourite pubs; this is the genuine article, an instantly recognisable piece of history. Built in 1664, the pub is set next to Welsh Back, part of the City's floating harbour complex. Welsh Back was the area of the docks that dealt with the coastal trade from Wales. Cargoes were brought into Bristol from Wales on flat bottomed barges called "trows" and unloaded at Welsh Back. The village in Wales in which many trows were built was called Llandogo, hence the tavern at got its name.
Rumour has it that it was in the Llandoger Trow that Daniel Dafoe met Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish sailor who had been marooned on a desert island for several years. Selkirk's tale was allegedly the inspiration for Dafoe's novel Robinson Crusoe. The pub is also said to have been the model for Robert Louis Stevenson's Admiral Benbow Inn, the home of Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island.
The pub used to be bigger, but was partially destroyed by a bomb during the Blitz. Originally there were five gables, now there are only three. Opposite the pub is the Theatre Royal, which has guaranteed the pub a steady stream of actors and musicians over the years.
The Scotchman and His Pack, Nineteenth Century Pub
This intriguingly named nineteenth century pub is at the bottom of St Michael's Hill, which provides the clue to the name. The name has nothing to do with a man from Scotland. It is all to do with the very steep hill.
In the days when goods were delivered by cart and horse, hills presented a challenge for drivers. When you stopped to unload the cart, how could you stop the cart from sliding down the hill and pulling the horses down with it? The answer came in the form of scotches, wedges of wood slipped beneath the back wheels of the cart. The man who carried the scotches was a scotchman and he carried his scotches on his back, in a pack. On a steep hill like St Michael's, the scotchmen must have been a familiar sight, thus providing the inspiration for the pub name.
The Hatchet, Bristol's Oldest Pub?
The Hatchet is another of Bristol's oldest pubs, if not the oldest, and shares the same black timbers as the Llandoger Trow. The origin of the name is not recorded, but it is though that it must be connected to the woodland of Clifton village, which in earlier times would have stretched down nearly as far as Bristol. Presumably plenty of woodsmen, with their hatchets, would have frequented the pub.
Originally the pub was simply a small house alongside a quiet country lane leading into the village of Clifton. Nowadays the city has engulfed it. Mercifully it was spared during the redevelopments of the 1960s.
The lane on which the Hatchet stood (Frog Lane, now Frogmore Street) was busy with people travelling to and from Bristol and the inn was surrounded by stables and yards. A small area of cobblestones, the last remnants of the old stable yard, still remain at the back of the pub. At one time there was a cockpit or ratpit for the patrons' entertainment. The inn also attracted sportsmen of a different variety; pugilists. Although the inn did not host any prize fights, it is claimed that many of the leading bare-knuckle fighters of the eighteenth century would train at the Hatchet.
One of the more gruesome claims about the Hatchet is that underneath the tar and paint of the front door lies human skin.
An Old Coaching Inn: The Rummer
The Rummer has operated under that name for around 200 years, but its history stretches back far further. The first inn on the site in All Saints Lane' is recorded in 1241 and was then called the Green Lattis. The inn was rebuilt a couple of centuries later and carried on in business until the mid eighteenth century. A large development centring about the new Exchange was built around 1740 and the inn was rebuilt once more and took the name the Rummer Tavern.
Some 40 years later the Rummer welcomed the first stagecoach from London at 11.00pm on 8 August 1784 after a fifteen hour run. Thus, the Rummer became Bristol's first coaching inn.
The pub was abandoned for a few years at the beginning of this century, but was refurbished and reopened by the present owner in 2005, operating as a bar and hotel.
The Coronation Tap, An Old Cider Pub
The Coronation Tap is one of, if not the most, famous cider houses in the world. It is located in Clifton, near the Suspension Bridge, and has been for the past few centuries. Originally a farm, it became a cider house sometime around the late eighteenth century and has been trading as such, with the same name, ever since. Now a Bristol institution with a global reputation, the Cori Tap deserves to be on every cider lover's itinerary.
Although the Coronation Tap has a long history, it might be argued that its finest hour was in more recent times. Around 40 years ago the pub's then landlord, Dick Bradstock, waged a one man war against the Permissive Sixties. Mr Bradstock's rules stated that there were to be no public displays of affection, not even between married couples. Scruffy hair and clothes were not permitted. Ladies were not served pints, only half-pints. Patrons were not allowed to refer to the cider as "scrumpy". Requests for spirits were frowned upon, only cider and beer were served. The furniture was not allowed to be moved, even moving a stool from an empty table earned a stern rebuke. What happened if someone brought down the wrath of Mr Bradstock? My parents were in the pub one evening when a young man requested some "scrumpy". The landlord turned off all the pub lights until the young man realised the error of his ways and left in a cloud of embarrassment.