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The 5 Best Old Pubs in Bristol


A Very Brief History of Bristol

Bristol was settled thousands of years ago, but it only 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 since mutated to Bristol. The city built its wealth on trade and 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 and historic pubs.

1. The Llandoger Trow: An Old Pub in the Centre of Bristol

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 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.

2. The Scotchman and His Pack: A 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.

3. 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 thought 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 would have frequented the pub with their hatchets in hand.

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.

4. The Rummer: An Old Coaching Inn

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 centering 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.

5. 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.

Find Bristol's Unusual Pubs


Judi Brown (author) from UK on January 25, 2013:

Hi BristolBoy - glad you approve! Haven't been home for a few years now - miss it lots sometimes.

Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, much appreciated.

BristolBoy from Bristol on January 24, 2013:

Some excellent choices here!

Judi Brown (author) from UK on October 26, 2012:

Hi Simey - Wales and Bristol always seem to go together to me. A few branches of my family have moved between the two, as have others I know. Love the Llandoger Trow and have fond memories of The Rummer too.

Thanks for taking the time to comment, I appreciate it.

Simon Cook from NJ, USA on October 26, 2012:

Wow - there's a blast from the past! I've been to Bristol many times; visited the Llandoger Trow once or twice too - think I nearly got thrown out of there once during an England v Wales Rugby match!!!

Great hub - and some other pubs I must visit when I visit Britain again! Shame that these type of pubs don' exist over in New Jersey!

Judi Brown (author) from UK on October 26, 2012:

Hi GoodLady - hope you enjoy Bristol, I'm biased, but it's my favourite city. I was very interested to find out the new meaning for scotch too - my Dad knew the pub, but hadn't thought about the name!

Hi Susan - I don't know about rooms at The Hatchet - not sure I would want to stay overnight, I'd have nightmares about the door!

Thanks for your comments, appreciated as always.

Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on October 26, 2012:

I always think that because my house is one of the oldest in the city where I live that it's unique. Of course it doesn't hold a candle to all the places in the UK. I would love to be able to come to the UK and see all of these pubs and more. Can one rent a room at The Hatchet?

Penelope Hart from Rome, Italy on October 26, 2012:

Thanks for the map! I'll be visiting Bristol shortly and now long to visit several of these beautiful pubs, thank you so much. Nice to learn today what a scotch is, among other useful historical tid bits.

Judi Brown (author) from UK on September 22, 2012:

Thanks Geoff - I always attribute photos and provide a link to the source - the notice was an early, vain attempt to keep my stuff protected. It doesn't work, so I no longer do it.

Geoff Burns on September 22, 2012:

Thanks Judi,

I'm fairly easy-going on use of my photos, but a lot of people can get a bit heated about it.

Hopefully you can get things rephrased to ensure they don't start complaining :)


Judi Brown (author) from UK on September 22, 2012:

You're absolutely right Geoff - I was only thinking of my writing, but it could be interpreted otherwise - although the link to your Flickr page should give the licence. I shall remove the notice immediately (I don't bother with it any more - my articles are nicked anyway). Very sorry to have caused offence - it wasn't my intention, thought I had fully credited you.

Geoff Burns on September 22, 2012:

Nice to see you have one of my photos on your page - but that does make me question your statement that "All content is copyright of Judi Bee – © Judi Bee 2011. All rights reserved".

Perhaps that needs to be reviewed?

Judi Brown (author) from UK on February 20, 2012:

Hi Keri - stick around HubPages for a while and you realise that the world is a very small place!

Very pleased that you enjoyed this hub, lucky you to have been at the Llandoger Trow. I really, really must get back to Bristol soon, I miss it very much.

Thanks for taking the time to comment, I appreciate it :-)

Keri Summers from West of England on February 20, 2012:

These comments are oddly in tune with my past. I lived in Bristol for seven years, have worked in both Dallas and Wotton-under-Edge, and have relatives in Nottingham. I've never been to Jerusalem, but I have sung about it.

Anyway, regarding your Hub Judi, fascinating. I have of course been to most of them, most recently a wedding reception in the LT. I had no idea of the origins of the name though, which I was mesmerised by. It really brings the history to life, doesn't it, imagining those "trows" coming in. Great hub. I'd press "interesting" twice if it would let me!

Judi Brown (author) from UK on December 10, 2011:

Hi Daisy - never been to Nottingham, but I love the sound of Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem. What a disaster, not open to midnight on New Year's Eve!

Thanks for your comments, appreciated very much :-)

Judi Brown (author) from UK on December 10, 2011:

Hi Molometer - oh dear, doesn't say much for fish and chips, does it!

I don't know Wooten Under Edge, although through my family history research I have found that one branch of the family are from that area of Gloucestershire, so hope to visit one day.

Thanks for your comments, good to hear from you :-)

Daisy Mariposa from Orange County (Southern California) on December 09, 2011:

Great pub crawl, Judi Bee! You bring back memories of my many trips to the UK.

Have you been to Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem in Nottingham? It was built in 1189AD and is purported to be the oldest inn in England. I was there on New Year's Eve many years ago, and they didn't apply for a special license to stay open until Midnight!

Micheal from United Kingdom on December 09, 2011:

The Luftwaffe never bombed the pubs in case the crashed and wanted a beer. lol They did bomb our chip shop. lol Great hub to a great city. My brother lives down that way. Wooten Under Edge?

I like the half timber pub the best quintessentially olde English.

Judi Brown (author) from UK on December 09, 2011:

Hi Emma - Bristol is a great city, but I am rather biased. Totally agree that modern pubs can't hope to compete with the older ones for atmosphere. Congratulations on your upcoming wedding - hope you have a beautiful day :-)

Emma Kisby from Berkshire, UK on December 09, 2011:

Hi Judi, a fellow Brit :) I am ashamed to say I haven't yet visited Bristol though. These pubs look full of character with loads of history - something I like in a pub. Modern pubs just haven't got the same atmosphere - I love old pubs so much, I am holding my wedding reception in one. Great hub.

Judi Brown (author) from UK on November 22, 2011:

Hi Sannel - I am very lucky because the Llandoger Trow has a restaurant and children were allowed in, so I was quite young when I made my first visit. I loved all the old stories about the place and used to imagine that I was a pirate! Hope you get to visit one day.

Thanks for your comments :-)

SanneL from Sweden on November 22, 2011:

Oh, I would love to visit Bristol and definitely visit some of those old and historical pubs! Just imagine to sit in a pub as old as The Hatchet or The Llandoger Trow, Wow!

Great hub, Judi Bee!

Voted up and awesome!

Judi Brown (author) from UK on November 21, 2011:

Hi Carcro - it is a great City, lots to see and do. Glad you enjoyed reading and many thanks for your comments :-)

Paul Cronin from Winnipeg on November 21, 2011:

Sounds like a great place to visit one day, I love those old style buildings, great pics. Thanks for the info Judi Bee!

Brian L. Powell from Dallas, Texas (Oak Cliff) on November 19, 2011:

Every town has it's own character. Bristol looks interesting to me. It is so different from my hometown.

Judi Brown (author) from UK on November 19, 2011:

It may have old, but Bristol doesn't have anything the size of the Cowboys Stadium!

Brian L. Powell from Dallas, Texas (Oak Cliff) on November 19, 2011:

Thanks. I will be digging into my history books now and look some things up. We don't have any building with that lifespan around Dallas.

Judi Brown (author) from UK on November 19, 2011:

Hi Leroy - yes, it is the original building (as is the Llandoger Trow). The Hatchet has the date 1606 over the door, this may refer to the date it was first licensed, the buildng may be older. The timber work was plastered over for many years and was only revealed again in recent years.

Brian L. Powell from Dallas, Texas (Oak Cliff) on November 19, 2011:

I am curious about the Hatchet. The style looks Tudor; but, it is hard to tell if the building is original from the photograph.

Judi Brown (author) from UK on November 19, 2011:

Hi Leroy - thanks for your visit! I hope you make it across the Atlantic, we have SO much history to show off (and more than a few pubs too!)

Thanks for your comments, much appreciated :-)

Judi Brown (author) from UK on November 19, 2011:

Hello Happyboomernurse - thanks for your comments. Isn't there a saying about writing about what you know? It's not that I spend all of my time in the pub, but I have whiled away a few happy hours ...

Brian L. Powell from Dallas, Texas (Oak Cliff) on November 19, 2011:

Nice capture of the sense of history of these pubs. If I ever make it across the Atlantic, I will visit Bristol.

Gail Sobotkin from South Carolina on November 19, 2011:

Very interesting hub with nice photos of the pubs and well mapped out. Voted up, useful and interesting.

I like that you're doing several hubs around the topic of pubs.

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