Strange stories from Bristol’s past

September 29 2017

Bristol journalist and author Maurice Fells has been delving into the city’s old newspapers going back more than 100 years for his latest local history book, Bristol From The Post and Press.

Bristol journalist and author Maurice Fells has been delving into the city’s old newspapers going back more than 100 years for his latest local history book, Bristol From The Post and Press.

“The original idea was to find the events and the people that over the last century have helped to make Bristol the great city that it is today. But as I was turning the pages of the old papers I could see that there were many fascinating and unusual events too, so I’ve included some of those,” said Maurice.

The book begins with the granting of a knighthood to Bristol’s first Lord Mayor. 

“Investitures are normally carried out in a royal palace but Queen Victoria came to Bristol to knight Councillor Herbert Ashman in 1899,” said Maurice.  

A report of the event says that the Queen didn’t even leave her open carriage to knight Mr. Ashman who was kneeling on the pavement in Corn Street where the Council House was then. After borrowing a sword the Queen just leant over and commanded the civic leader to “arise Sir Herbert Ashman”.

One of Victoria’s successors, Queen Elizabeth II, has made many visits to Bristol. The first was three years after she was crowned, to officially open the new Council House on College Green. 

“One of her most unusual visits must be the day she called in at a pub on the edge of Bristol completely unexpectedly. Apparently, she was delivering Christmas presents to members of her family in Gloucestershire in 1981 when she got caught up in a blizzard and sought refuge from the snow in the Cross Hands Hotel at Old Sodbury. She stayed there for several hours and had dinner in the landlord’s private quarters.  It seems that customers in the bar were totally unaware of their closeness to the Queen,” explained Maurice.

Bristol’s aircraft industry has helped to make the city great from the building of planes from the Bristol Box kite to Concorde but not without setbacks.   

“One newspaper report tells us that thousands of people turned out one Sunday in 1949 to witness the maiden flight of what was then the world’s biggest aircraft. The Brabazon, built at Filton, was designed to fly 100 passengers in luxury from London to New York, non-stop,” said Maurice. 

It was so big that Filton’s neighbouring village of Charlton, home to some 30 families, an infant school, village hall, farmhouses and a pub all fell into the mouth of the bulldozer so that an extra-long runway could be built. But it was all for nothing. Four years after the maiden flight the government scrapped Brabazon. 

Just three years after a Bristol Britannia aircraft crash landed on the mud flats of the Severn Estuary, another Britannia crashed at Downend killing all 15 on board.  

Maurice said: “Finding these and many more stories for the book involved spending hours in the newspaper archives of the Central Library at College Green. But it was a labour of love for someone who had started his journalistic career on the Western Daily Press, later worked for the Evening Post, and later in the newsrooms of the BBC and HTV (now ITV West).” 

 

Bristol From The Post and Press is published by Amberley Publishing.