Category Archives: A Mixed Round

Popping up at the Packhorse

Work and play at the PackhorseIMG_8254The controversy about the dropping of the word Easter from Cadbury’s Egg hunts, despite being exposed as fake news, also showed that Easter is a very ancient tradition which, wherever and in whatever religion it is celebrated, marks a new beginning, a rebirth. So it was very appropriate that it was on Easter Sunday that a pop-up bar opened at the Packhorse at South Stoke to mark the new beginnings of the pub. This is not the first such event, but it’s clear that visible work is now progressing to bring back this pub to its former glory as the centre of the community.

Not all the work involves actual hard graft – besides the craftsmen busy at work with their tools, there is also research work in progress. The secrets the building is giving up as inappropriate alterations are removed are revealing a surprising history. For instance, there’s the splendid fireplace exposed on the ground floor in the south room, now carefully restored and repaired by Nigel Bryant (Master Mason and Conservator) and his talented wife, Becky.

The newly revealed fire surround – now throughly repaired and restored.

The fire surround is certainly seventeenth century and may be older. Dendrochronology has revealed that some of the floorboards are older than the building was initially believed to be. Floorboards and fireplaces could, of course, be recycled – building materials often were because they were expensive while labour was cheap – but there is a real sense of excitement among historians that the building has a longer history than was first believed. So some of the Packhorse team have been delving into the archives and have come up with a new theory. They are asking themselves if it was built as a church house. It is, at present, just a theory but it would increase the importance of the Packhorse both to Somerset historians and to the community. Although there are a lot of church houses in Devon they are much rarer in Somerset, so this would be an exciting discovery if true.

Discussing history at the information desk.

However, history was not on the mind of the many people who turned up to enjoy the chance to have a drink at the Packhorse as they had done in the past. Honey’s cider was one of the tipples on offer, as was Abbey Ales’ Bellringer, but in good old Somerset pub tradition, there was also some cider made from local apples, pressed at the open day at the pub last October. It was, as I was warned, mouth-tinglingly dry, but once I’d recovered from the initial shock, I could see how a good cider could have replaced white wine. It is known that, after the restoration of Charles II, cider moved considerably up-market, competing with fine wines from the mainland of Europe.  The king himself enjoyed drinking it and the price went through the roof.

Chatting about cider at the bar.

There was plenty going on during the day. There was an Easter egg hunt for children, music, a plant stall and a busy cake stall. Given the number of four-legged visitors, it seems clear the pub will have to be dog-friendly. It is certainly on Islay’s list. If the pub can attract this number of visitors by word of mouth and social media for a one-off event, without being able to offer cooked food (beyond homemade cakes baked by local people) it shows how well it could do when it is established.

It was busy in the garden ….
… and it was very busy at the bar!

Events like this are a rebuke to the naysayers who said it closed because it wasn’t supported. This is a building which has been at the heart of the community for centuries, perhaps even more so than was earlier suspected. It was heartening to see it so busy.

A pub is a place for all generations to get together.
Even though it’s a building site at present, Islay the Westie gives the Packhorse her seal of approval.

I hope to return at a later date to investigate the historic features which aren’t, at present, on show to the public – I will put up photos when I’ve been.

Good News and Bad.

Over the Easter weekend we received some good news – an application to convert the Red Lion at Ampney St Peter to housing was turned down. This pub was a real gem, with just two rooms as the pub and no bar counter, but perfectly served beer. It was a Mecca for pub and beer enthusiasts but the death of the landlord had seen it close. Now it looks as though the present owner will have to rethink her refusal to accept offers to run it as a pub.

Sadly, however, while chatting in the garden at the Packhorse, we received the unwelcome but not unexpected news that Tucker’s Grave is on the market. Watch this space for more news.


Forty Years On


In 1976, the slim booklet seen above made its appearance. Its author, Fred Pearce, who appears on the cover, described it as ‘a guide for those adventurous citizens looking for variety in their drinking habits’, and he did not pull any punches. If he thought a pub was great he said so, and if he thought a pub was rubbish he said so too, presumably on the basis that he wouldn’t be making a return trip to discover the landlord’s reaction to his comments.

Forty years on, it makes entertaining reading. He rated pubs on a star system – 4 stars for a great pub, 1 star for a rubbish one. Among those awarded a single star were the Kings Arms in Monmouth Place, memorable solely for ‘that peculiar pub aroma of loo disinfectant’.

The Oliver - 'a particularly nasty Berni lounge'
The Oliver – ‘a particularly nasty Berni lounge’

Other 1star pubs included the Oliver in Green Street – a ‘particularly nasty Berni lounge’; the Roundhouse in Stall Street (now Pret a Manger), another ‘nasty pub’ with a ‘small selection of expensive lunchtime food served in cardboard plates’; and the Chequers on Rivers Street, guilty of ‘ridiculously inflated beer prices’. And what were these inflated prices, you might ask? Ushers Best at 27p, Watneys Pale at 25p and Worthington E at 30p – ‘for no apparent reason other than profiteering’ according to Fred.

The Roundhouse - another 'nasty pub'
The Roundhouse – another ‘nasty pub’

Although these prices may seem extraordinary today, what is more remarkable is how little choice there was. Fred Pearce was a wholehearted supporter of the fledgling real ale movement, and his booklet was largely aimed at discerning real ale drinkers. So what did they have to choose from?

Of 44 Watneys’ pubs surveyed, only 15 served real ale, mostly Ushers Pale, although a few also served ‘the locally popular Worthington E’. Of the 78 Courage’s pub surveyed – almost half the total – only 37 served real ale, mostly Courage Ordinary, as well as Courage Best and Worthington E. Seven pubs were owned by Wadworths, while Whitbread, Bass Charrington and Allied Breweries each owned a handful of pubs between them. There were also 18 free houses, plus ‘a rare example of Devenish beer (brewed in Weymouth) served on a handpump at the Coeur de Lion’ and Eldridge Pope’s ‘new and excellent Royal Oak’ available at the brewery’s only Bath pub, the Huntsman. One of the highlights of the real ale scene in the city was ‘the availability of the highly regarded Marston’s Pedigree Bitter all the way from Burton on Trent’ at ‘two central Bath outlets’.

Fred's photos of drinkers in the Volly
Fred’s photos of drinkers in the Volly

Many drinkers, myself included, will remember what drinking in the 1970s was like, but it still comes as something of a shock to be reminded just how little choice there was. One of Fred Pearce’s favourite Bath pubs was Broadley’s in the Sawclose (now Gascoyne Place), which he described as ‘a real ale drinker’s paradise. And what was on offer? ‘Marston’s Pedigree Bitter from the wood at 23p a pint, Mitchells & Butlers and E on handpump, plus Brew XI, Tartan, Trophy, Tankard and bottled White Shield’.

Another 4-star pub was the Coeur de Lion, on the strength of its Devenish Bitter and IPA. The Huntsman also scored 4 points, largely because of its premium bitter, Royal Oak, which Fred described as ‘a very strong pint served direct from the barrel (28p in the public, 30p in the other bars)’. ‘Very strong’ actually equated to 5%, and in 1976 it was very much the exception; today, the chances are that you will find produce at least one beer stronger than 5% – sometimes much stronger – in all of the city’s top real or craft ale pubs.

There was also a new pub on St James Parade in 1976 – long since closed – called the Heath Robinson. This, according to Fred, was a ‘brand new real ale bar set up to take advantage of the boom’. Presumably at the cutting edge of the real ale scene, it served Wadworth’s 6X, Worthington E and South Wales Club Best Bitter, all at 26p, and Wadworth’s Old Timer (which weighed in at a hefty 5.8%) in winter at 30p.

The Old Green Tree, where Ushers PA and xx were available
The Old Green Tree, where Ushers Pale and Worthington E were available
The Hat & Feather, awarded 4 stars despite the presence of nasty long haired hippies
The Hat & Feather, awarded 4 stars by Fred despite the presence of ‘nasty long-haired hippies’

Fred’s other top recommendations included the Old Green Tree (Ushers Pale and Worthington E on draught), the Midland (now the Bath Brew House) with ‘well-kept Courage Best and Ordinary on handpump’. Well-kept Courage Best and Ordinary could also be found in the Volunteer Rifleman’s Arms, the Saracen’s Head, and the late-lamented Hat & Feather (which Fred awarded 4 stars despite describing it as ‘tatty’ and filled with ‘nasty long-haired hippies’!). He was also keen on the Star, and his description of it is worth quoting in full:

When the lights are off inside you’d be forgiven for passing the Star by thinking it long abandoned. But thankfully it lives on. Entirely panelled in wood the 3 small old bars (including one called the Glass Room) have a unique atmosphere. Real Bass and E are served direct from the barrel – the array of six handpumps that occupy the entire length of the main bar are disused. There’s no music or games but beer for CAMRA men to rave over, a thigh-high communal trough in the men’s loo, old Punch-type cartoons in the Glass Room and some photos of the pub’s exterior in the heady days of 1917 and a ‘Guinness Time’ clock in the main bar. A star pub indeed.

The Star - an unchanged classic, but with its long tradition of Bass from the barrel in abeyance, at least for the moment
The Star – an unchanged classic, but with its long tradition of Bass from the barrel in abeyance, at least for the moment

Although the handpumps at the Star have long been reinstated, the tradition of serving Bass straight from the barrel was kept up until a few weeks ago. It has now sadly been discontinued due to a decision by InBev (who now brew Bass) to stop supplying it in kilderkins but instead to use 10 gallon barrels, which are incompatible with the Star’s racking system (see previous post). Elsewhere the availability of Marston’s Pedigree served from the wood is but a distant memory. But, while the range of beers on offer in many of Bath’s pubs is as predictable as it was 40 years ago – even though the brews may be different from those back then – in the city’s top real ale and craft beer pubs, the choice – and the rapidity with which guest beers succeed each other – is one that would have seemed unimaginable in 1976. Whether Fred would have approved or not is another matter.


Welcome to Eli’s


One of the reasons this blog went into abeyance was that one of your bloggers was suffering mysterious and somewhat drastic symptoms. With the problems finally sorted out one of the joys of recuperation has been revisiting old haunts. High on our list has been the Rose and Crown at Huish Episcopi – better known to all its aficionados as Eli’s.

Pub enthusiasts come with many different requirements. It might be good beer – to others the food is more important. History lovers enjoy old buildings – preferably picturesque – and finding a freehouse which has been in the same family for generations is a bonus. Eli’s ticks all these boxes. If there were a competition for the perfect English country pub, Eli’s would be a strong contender.

We first visited this pub several years ago, so when we were putting together our book Somerset Pubs we were delighted to discover an old postcard from around 1907. We received much useful family information from the then landlady, the much-loved Eileen Pittard.


The photo shows that the landlord in 1907 was William Slade, and a young lad we believe to be one of his sons stands outside the door. Presumably the plan was that one of these boys would have become landlord, but the First World War put paid to that. Both sons were killed, and the pub passed instead to William’s daughter and her husband Eli, Eileen’s father, from whom the pub acquired its popular name.

The pub looks now much as it looked over a century ago. There is no bar counter – you get your beer from the tap room, served from an old beer engine and occasionally straight from the barrel. They only acquired an electronic till in 2007.


The menu is short and rarely changes, but the home cooked (and homely) food is excellent. It’s not gastro but it’s not the usual pub grub with chips/jacket/new potatoes/salad that turns up at so many hostelries either. It’s genuinely home cooking. The pork and cider cobbler is a particular favourite of ours, and the desserts are well worth investigating too.


Dining in the room off the bar is a bit like sitting in the family home, with cherished pictures on the wall, an upright piano, and an old clock gently measuring away the hours. Faded photographs of the Slade brothers in their army uniforms gaze down on customers who now enjoy food and drink where the brothers once lived and worked for most of their all too brief lives.


Sadly, Eileen was taken ill and passed away not long after our book came out but the next generation has taken over. Steve Pittard is often found behind the bar, while his sisters Maureen Pittard and Patricia O’Malley are usually in the kitchen or serving. Maureen has also taken on the role of family historian, and has arranged a series of three photographs showing the pub through the ages.


The pub is popular with families – it has a large beer garden much enjoyed by parents and children in summer. Classic car enthusiasts are regular visitors and you will often see some interesting motors in the car park. A bridge leads over the stream from the car park to the pub – a stream that caused problems in December 2009 when it burst its banks in a flash flood. The pub had to close for a few months but the loyal regulars soon came back. It is, after all, a real community pub, with quizzes, bands, and other events.


Teignworthy Reel Ale is always on and there is a changing choice of other, usually West Country, beers as well as cider. All the usual drinks are available but with such well kept beer on tap, why bother? Dogs are welcome and healthy treats can be bought for them in the tap room.


Opening hours are lunchtimes and evenings Mondays to Thursdays and all day from 11.30 over the weekend, closing at 23.30 on Friday and Saturday, and 22.30 on Sunday. The pub is on the main Wincanton road from Langport – the A372 – and is a few hundred yards from Huish Episcopi church – look out for the impressive church tower.

Somerset Pubs is available from at £8.50.

Bill Smarme’s Piss Up in a Brewery

It had to happen – the wonder is that it took so long. If there were ever any doubts that Bill Smarme, international entertainer, ladies’ man and founder of Twerton-based building company, Smarmerection (slogan ‘No Erection too Small – or too Large’), could run a piss-up in a brewery, they were laid to rest last Thursday (13 October). Mind you, while a well-oiled time was had by all, it soon became apparent that Bill’s idea of the perfect brewery was Watney’s circa 1966 rather than Electric Bear in 2016.the-band

The bar at Electric Bear
The bar at Electric Bear

Electric Bear Brewery was established in August 2015 on the Maltings Trading Estate at Locksbrook in Bath. It stands on the site of the old Bath Brewery, which closed in 1923 after being acquired by George’s in Bristol and was converted to maltings. The old building has long gone, but the return of a brewery with a 15-barrel plant on this historic site marks a significant milestone in the revival of brewing in the city. Set up by local entrepreneur Chris Lewis, the head brewer is Guillermo Alvarez, previously of St Austell Brewery and Rebel Brewing Company. The brewery shop is open from Monday to Saturday, and the tap room is open from noon to 9pm on Fridays and from 2pm to 6pm on Saturdays. There is also enough space, once barrels and equipment have been moved out of the way, to stage events, and Bill Smarme’s takeover of the venue was the latest in a series of popular events.

Bring back Watney's Red Barrel
Bring back Watney’s Red Barrel
Cocktails for One
Cocktails for One
The attempt to get Bill to switch to soft drinks was a dismal failure
The attempt to get Bill to try a soft drink was a dismal failure
The man in the gold lame cape
The man in the gold lame cape

Proceedings got underway in grand style with the legend that is Bill Smarme making a dramatic entrance from the gents, adjusting his dress and launching into his iconic Space Cowboy routine. Pausing for breath before launching into a more intimate number, and sipping on a pint of Electric Bear, ‘bring back Red Barrel’ he was heard to mutter. There followed a paean to the aphrodisiac qualities of keg beer, harking back to the heady days of Younger’s Tartan, Double Diamond, Party Sevens, and, of course, Red Barrel.

And so it went on. At one point, a waitress appeared, offering Bill a tray on which several of Electric Bear’s brews were displayed – but, mistaking her for a cocktail waitress, he proceeded to mix them up, with predictable results. But, as the beer continued to flow, he seemed to mellow somewhat – and, making a dramatic entrance clad in a gold lamé cloak down a long staircase to kick off the second half of the show, he chose to take it gently – backwards and clutching the handrail.

By any reckoning, a memorable evening – proof that you can run a piss-up in a brewery if you get the right man to organise it.

Craft Beer in Bath: Summer 2014

Craft beer continues to make inroads into Bath. When I last reported on the craft beer scene in the city, back in November, there were three bars serving craft beer, all relative newcomers – the Bath Brew House, the Porter and Graze. Since then the Greene King owned Westgate in Westgate Street has had the latest in what seems like a never-ending series of makeovers, acquiring five craft beer taps in the process. One or two of them serve craft beer from Greene King, Brewdog Punk IPA is a regular fixture on another, but local breweries such as Glastonbury and the Wild Beer Company also feature.

Another brewery making its presence felt in the city is Fullers, who have taken and refurbished the Crystal Palace, the Huntsman and the Boater – all traditional pubs in prime sites, with high tourist footfall. The Boater – the latest to reopen – was serving Beerd from Bath Ales on a recent visit, and also had a good range of bottled beers – although being served a bottle from Kernel in a half-pint mug, with sediment poured out (against the advice on the label) suggests that presentation needs a little tweaking.

Finally comes Culture & Cure. This, until recently, was the Grappa bar, a pizza, wine and cocktail joint which opened in 2002 in the former Beehive pub on Belvedere. The new name reflects the food on offer – high-quality cheese and charcuterie, primarily sourced from local producers. It also has an excellent wine list, a tempting range of gins – and ten craft beer taps serving brews from the likes of Wiper & True, Moor, Kernel, Bristol Beer Factory, Thornbridge and the Wild Beer Company. There is also an excellent selection of bottle beers and a refreshing refusal to play it safe, with some challenging beers featuring alongside the more popular beer styles. It is open from 5pm Tuesday to Saturday, is closed Sunday and Monday, and, although out of the city centre, is only about five minutes walk up Lansdown Road from the top of George Street, and about three minutes walk up Guinea Lane from the Star. Well worth a visit.

Culture & Cure
Culture & Cure
The Beehive as it looked a century ago
The Beehive as it looked a century ago

Can it be June already?

We return after long absence, due (almost) entirely due to other commitments, such as working on a couple of books (of which more anon) and of course visits to some outstanding pubs. We also ran a one-off Georgian pub crawl in the Bath Literature Festival, starting off in authentically early Georgian setting of the cellar of the splendid Independent Spirit, and kicking off with tastings of Bliss, a traditional saison-style brew from the Wild Beer Company. Numbers were strictly limited on the Georgian Pub Crawl, so, for all those who did not get to find out how they liked to get hammered in the eighteenth century, a version of it will shortly be appearing on the blog. We have also discovered some excellent new pubs, especially in Gloucestershire, but also in Cornwall, and we have made return trips to some Somerset pub s we hadn’t visited for a long while. Needless to say, they were all dog friendly, and Islay gave them all the thumbs – or at least the paws – up.

Local news is sadly that planners gave the go ahead for the Farmhouse to be converted from a pub to a ‘health hub’ – so much for safeguarding local amenities. Two other Bath pubs have had a complete makeover and change of name. The Grappa Bar on Lansdown Road (still remembered by many as Bath’s last true cider house) has been reinvented as Comfort & Cure, featuring charcuterie, cheese and craft ale, while the Piccadilly on the London Road, unchanged since who knows when, has become the Hive, a community-based enterprise run as a cafe during the day and a bar with live music, etc, in the evening. All this is purely hearsay, as neither has yet been visited, an omission which will be put right asap. One that has been visited is the Westgate pub in Westgate Street, which since its latest makeover has around five craft beers on keg, including Brewdog Punk IPA and offerings from the likes of the Wild Beer Co, along with a good selection of cask ales and ciders.

Over in Bristol, things are finally happening at the Lamplighters, which after having got into an appalling state closing several years ago, is set to be refurbed for an opening later in the year.

The Lamplighters a few months ago ...
The Lamplighters a few months ago …
... and as it looked when it was a George's pub.
… and as it looked when it was a George’s pub.

Over in St Werburghs, meanwhile, one of Bristol’s most striking pubs, the Duke of York, has been given a facelift in the form of a new mural.

The Chelsea gets a new look
The Duke of York gets a new look

Independent Spirit in Bath (see above) goes from strength to strength – and we are not just talking ABV here. Chris and Christian continue to source superb beers from around the UK – and the world – that have simply not cropped up on the radar before, so many in fact that it is impossible to keep up with them. We also managed to get to a terrific rum tasting evening there as well as a ‘meet the brewer’ session with Shane O’Beirne from Beerd. This was something of a revelation, for, although I was familiar with Shane’s keynote ‘new wave’ style brews using American, Australian and New Zealand hops, his Scottish 80 shilling and a mild – Mildy Cyrus – brewed in collaboration with the Bristol Beer Factory were superb examples of more traditional beer styles. My favourite of the seven beers of the evening, however, was Convict, a cheekily-monikered offering using Australian hops – mainly Galaxy, but with a sprinkling of Ella. This should be appearing in selected Bath Ales pubs and other outlets soon.                

Shane O'Beirne of Beerd and Chris Scullion of Independent Spirit
Shane O’Beirne of Beerd and Chris Scullion of Independent Spirit


Beer & pub related literary events in Bristol: No 1 Marks Steeds and the Seven Stars

Last Saturday, 7 December, as part of a local book fair at the Create Centre in Bristol, publican, publisher and local historian Mark Steeds gave a talk on slavery, focusing on two characters – St Wulfstan, who brought the slave trade between Bristol and Ireland in the eleventh century to an end, and Thomas Clarkson. Wulfstan once lived at Hawkesbury Upton in South Gloucestershire, where Mark is the landlord of the excellent Beaufort Arms, while Clarkson was closely associated with a pub in Bristol – the Seven Stars.

1 SEVEN STARSThe Seven Stars is one of Bristol’s oldest inns. It is also – for those who don’t know the city – one of the most difficult to find. Its location, tucked away down an alley well away from the city centre and not too near the docks, was, in the bad old days, something of an advantage. Not only could it escape the prying eyes of the city fathers; it was at a safe distance from all the nefarious goings-on at the dockside.

The most nefarious goings-on, of course, were those connected with the slave trade. Far from being outlawed, however, those who dabbled in this evil trade were honoured by the city. Some, like Edward Colston, still are. Despite official assurances that the slave trade was a well-run business, with the slaves well looked-after, many people harboured grave doubts, fuelled by tales of what really went on.   


In 1787, a national association for the abolition of the slave trade was established. One of its founders was Thomas Clarkson, a 27-year Cambridge-educated clergyman who had determined to devote his life to the abolition of slavery. As he wanted to gather as much evidence as possible to use against the slave traders, it was natural that one of the first places he should visit was Bristol.

Abolitionists in Bristol were in an invidious position. Bristol had grown rich on the slave trade; to attack it was to attack the basis of the city’s prosperity. Clarkson and his co-conspirators – as they were undoubtedly seen by the authorities – had to operate by stealth if they were to get the information they needed.

Clarkson’s initial reaction to Bristol was not favourable. On seeing the city for the first time, he wrote that ‘it filled me, almost directly, with a melancholy for which I could not account. I began now to tremble, for the first time, at the arduous task I had undertaken, of attempting to subvert one of the branches of the commerce of the great place which was now before me.’

He found most doors closed against him. ‘The owners of vessels employed in the Trade there,’ he wrote, ‘forbad all intercourse with me. The old captains, who had made their fortunes in it, would not see me. The young, who were making them, could not be supposed to espouse my cause to the detriment of their own interest.’

Clarkson had been told, however, that sailors had ‘an aversion to enter and were inveigled, if not forced, into this hateful employment’. Disgruntled sailors would, he figured, be the best source of information about the slave trade. The problem was finding them. He was a middle-class clergyman; the men he wanted to interview would be found in the roughest parts of one of the most dangerous cities in the land. Not only that: he was, as far as the slave traders were concerned, a marked man. He was almost killed in Liverpool, England’s other main slave-trading port, by a bunch of roughs hired to assassinate him, and he was obviously keen to avoid a similar confrontation in Bristol. 

Fortunately, not all of those who wanted the slave trade abolished were middle class. Clarkson was introduced to a man called Thompson (we don’t know his first name), the landlord of the Seven Stars. Clarkson described him as a very intelligent man who received sailors discharged at the end of their voyages and helped them find places on other ships. He refused to have any dealings with the slave trade, aware that his reputation – and the reputation of his inn – would be ruined if he sent those who entrusted themselves to his care onto slave ships.

With Thompson as his guide, Clarkson made 19 visits to various public houses in Marsh Street used by masters of slavers to pick up hands. They generally set out around midnight and returned two or three hours later. From his own observations and from information given him by Thompson, Clarkson gathered ample evidence to confirm his suspicions that sailors were inveigled onto slave ships by lies and fraud. Getting them blind drunk or cracking them over the head in a dark alley were also regarded as legitimate means of recruitment. 

Clarkson was also able to prove, using information from muster rolls, that, far from being a ‘nursery for British seamen’, as anti-abolitionists claimed, slave ships were floating graves for sailors and slaves alike, with far more sailors dying on slave ships than on all the other vessels sailing out of Bristol put together.

The evidence Clarkson collected provided the abolitionists with an unanswerable case for reform. Hard facts, rather than opinion and hearsay, could be used to counter the anti-abolitionists’ claims that the slave trade was well-run and well-regulated. It took 20 years from the time Clarkson stepped over the threshold of the Seven Stars for the slave trade to be abolished, but his work in Bristol created a momentum that was unstoppable.

The scope of Clarkson’s work in Bristol would almost certainly have been far less comprehensive and have had far less impact if it had not been for the courage of the landlord of the Seven Stars. It was Thompson who provided him with an entrée to places he would not have dared go and to people who would not otherwise have trusted him.

Given the importance of the Seven Stars not only to Bristol’s heritage, but also to national and international history, it is astonishing it is so little known. Admittedly, the Civic Society put a blue plaque above the door a few years ago, but that was about it until Mark Steeds decided that something more was needed.

He came up with the idea of a large plaque commemorating Clarkson, and highlighting the role played by the landlord of the Seven Stars in the abolition movement. Bristol Radical History Group took up the idea and Mike Baker was commissioned to produce a plaque. The aluminium casting was unveiled at lunchtime on 1 May 2009, the 202nd anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in Bristol and other British ports.

Mark Steeds at the unveiling ceremony
Mark Steeds at the unveiling ceremony

A prestigious line-up of speakers included Mark Steeds, who introduced the Seven Stars as ‘the pub that changed the world’, Roger Bell, from the Bristol Radical History Group, who gave a stirring resumé of Clarkson’s life and influence, Madge Dresser from the University of the West of England, who has written extensively on the slave trade, and Mike Baker, who described Clarkson one of the ‘greatest Britons’.

This sentiment was echoed by Paul Stephenson, the well-known local civil rights campaigner, who first came to prominence in 1963 when he organised a boycott of Bristol’s buses after the company refused to employ blacks or Asians. The 60-day protest, supported by thousands of local people, ended with the company backing down. Later, his refusal to leave a Bristol pub that had a colour-bar led to a court appearance and national media coverage. His campaigning on these and other issues influenced the framing of the government’s first anti-discrimination laws in 1965, so he is well placed to appreciate the difficulties Clarkson and other abolitionists faced and the convictions that sustained them. In a short but powerful speech, he emphasised not only the centrality of Clarkson to Bristol’s history, but also his role in the ongoing struggle for civil rights. He also called for Clarkson’s name to be taken up by the city council in recognition of his achievement instead of that of the now discredited Colston.

The plaque was unveiled by Richard Hart, a civil rights lawyer from Jamaica who played a key role in the transition from colonial rule to independence in the Caribbean and was Attorney General of Grenada before the American invasion of 1983, since when he has lived in Bristol.


Clarkson’s and Thompson’s story is still an inspiration today, demonstrating not only that if you believe something strongly enough you can change the world, but also that it doesn’t matter who you are – be it a Cambridge-educated clergyman or a pub landlord. The plaque on the Seven Stars is a first step towards raising the profile of one of the greatest Britons in a city that has so far paid him scant recognition. That it will also help raise the profile of one of Bristol’s best – and most elusive – pubs is another bonus.

If you haven’t yet discovered the Seven Stars, you’ll find it if you cross Bristol Bridge, head towards Temple Meads station along Victoria Street, take the second right into St Thomas Street and then turn right (between the Fleece & Firkin and St Thomas’s Church) into Thomas Lane. There really is no better place to toast Clarkson’s memory.



New Beer Book Launched in Bath

andy hamilton bookAt 8pm next Thursday (5 December) in Toppings Bookshop on the Paragon in Bath, Andy Hamilton will be launching Brewing Britain: The Quest for the Perfect Pint, a compendious and entertaining guide to beer styles, breweries, home brewing, and a good deal more. Priced at £12.99 – a bargain for a 400+ page hardback – it is eminently readable and suitable both for those new to the subject as well as more as more seasoned – or indeed saisoned – readers. The chapters on the basic ingredients of beer – hops, malt, yeast and water – are packed with interesting information, and the chapters on beer styles include detailed tasting notes on a range of different beers, some familiar, some tantalisingly unfamiliar.

This is bound to be a great night, and you’re advised to book early. Tickets are redeemable against purchase of the book, and beer will be supplied by Bath Ales. Details of the event can be found at Toppings website and more information on the book can be found at Andy Hamilton’s website.