Bristol Castle

 

Bristol - 1700 onwards

The Duke and Duchess

By the 1700's Bristol had become the third richest city in England and the greatest port outside of London. In 1701 there were 165 ships, averaging 105 tons each leaving the port, Newcastle the next largest port had 163 ships averaging 73 tons.

English merchants, including those in Bristol wanted to participate in trade to the South Seas, this was the term used for the Pacific coast of America, but there were problems. Spain held the route through the Gulf of Mexico, the East India company had the Cape route and the journey around the Horn was considered too dangerous for regular trade. Spain was very protective of her trade with America, but it was thought that her traders in America would welcome the ships from England - if the masters of those ships were prepared to take the risk of being attacked by Spanish ships.

The War of Spanish Succession started in 1702 and while England was at war with Spain several Bristol merchants took the opportunity to break the Spanish South Seas trade monopoly. The Crown had claimed one fifth of the proceeds of privateering voyages, in 1708 it did away with this claim.

Two ships, the Duke (320 tons, 30 guns and 117 men) and the Duchess (260 tons, 26 guns and 108 men) were fitted out. Captain Woodes Rogers was put in charge of the ships and on 2nd August 1708 they left for a voyage that was to take them round the world.

On 11th September they captured a barque with 45 passengers. Then began the journey round the Horn. One evening at the end of January 1709 they reached the island of Juan Fernandez around 500 west of Valparaiso in Chile, seeing a fire on the little island they decided to wait till daylight before making their approach. Waiting for them on the beach was a scotsman, Alexander Selkirk, who had been left on the island four and a half years earlier and had been alone ever since. Selkirk had sailed with the September 1703 expedition of buccaneer William Dampier. There were two ships in this expedition, the St. George and the Cinque Ports. Cinque Ports was under the command of Captain Stradling with Selkirk as the sailing master. After refitting on the island in October 1704, Selkirk told Stradling that he considered the ship unseaworthy and demanded to be put back ashore. Stradling took him at his word and left him there and so he became the original Robinson Crusoe. Daniel Defoe probably read about his life in Captain Roger's book "A Cruising Voyage Around the World" which was published in 1713 and republished in 1720. Selkirk, a skilled sailor, joined the expedition as mate of the Duke.

By 16th March 1709, the two ships were off the coast of Peru and causing havoc amongst the Spanish ships there. Within a month they had captured five ships, ranging from 16 to 500 tons. After these successes the two ships attacked the town of Guayaquil and forced the townsfolk to pay them 30,000 pieces of eight (each worth four and a half shillings) in ransom.

The battles didn't always go smoothly though, in one battle off of California Woodes Rogers was badly wounded, "I was shot thro' the bullet struck away a great part of my upper jaw, and several of my teeth, part of which dropt down upon the deck where I fell".

By July they had captured several more ships, in August they had another one and on 22nd December yet another. The crew had hoped to get hold of the Begonia, a ship of 900 tones and carrying 60 guns which was in the area, on 26th December they found her but after a hard fight, in which Woodes Rogers was wounded again, they realised they couldn't take her and had to call off the attack. Woodes Rogers had this time been hit by a splinter that had knocked out part of his heel bone.

In October 1710 they reached Texel in Holland, the East India Company tried to make a claim against the ships for infringing their trading rights but after this delay the two ships finally managed to sail up the Thames on 14th October 1711.

The voyage, that at lasted more than two years was over and the profits were enormous, £14,000 had been spent on the expedition, the net profits were over £170,000. John Romsay, the Town Clerk, was so pleased with the return on his investment that he had a pair of silver candlesticks, at a cost of £114, made in London. These he presented to Bristol Cathedral in 1712 where they can still be seen.

Captain Rogers settled for a time in at 19 Queen Square, but he had schemes for the settlement of Madagascar and the Bahamas. The latter had belonged to Great Britain since 1670, but nothing was done with it and it had become a refuge for pirates. In 1717, he was appointed Governor, and on 11th April 1718 he set sail for the Bahamas with a brief to use whatever means necessary to suppress the pirates and a Royal Pardon for any that surrendered before 5th September 1718. He arrived on the Delicia accompanied by HMS Milford, HMS Rose and two sloops, Shark and Buck, at New Providence island on 26th July to find a French ship burning in Nassau harbour. Pirate Charles Vane had set the ship afire hoping to draw out one of the Royal Navy ships, but when they all arrived he fled. On landing he set about the business of repairing the fort that had fallen into neglect and sent Blackbeard's old mentor, Captain Hornigold, who had accepted the King's Pardon, out to catch Vane.

Hornigold did manage to capture a party of ten pirates on the island of Exuma, 130 southeast of New Providence. Woodes Rogers decided to set an example and eight of them were executed on 12th December. Disease and lack of money meant that he couldn't accomplish all he had set out to do. Soon afterwards the government stopped sending support to Woodes Rogers and even refused to answer his pleas for help. In 1720, he returned to London, but his successor, George Phenney, was a failure and the islanders asked that he return, this he did in 1729 along with his son and daughter. Once again he couldn't accomplish all he wanted to and he died in Nassau on 15th July 1732. Although he couldn't do all he had wanted Woodes Rogers had driven the pirates from their base in the Bahamas and helped break their hold in the Caribbean.

Pirates had abounded along the coasts of Africa, the West Indies, America and the China Seas. In 1719 Edward England rampaged down the west African coast in the Royal James and took more than a dozen ships by force. The largest of these was the Bristol based Bentworth with 12 guns and 30 men. In 1724 the Bristol captain, Roger Stevens, was en route to Jamaica when his ship was attacked by pirates. The ship was burnt and he and  his boatswain were left marooned on the island of Rattan.

Incidentally, as well as the link with Daniel Defoe and Robinson Crusoe, Bristol has a link to Robert Louis Stephensons' Treasure Island. The inn in that story is said to be modeled on two Bristol pubs, the Hole in the Wall near Queen Square and the Llandoger Trow in King Street.

Woodes Rogers

The Slave Trade

Much of Bristol's prosperity depended upon the slave trade. The traffic in human lives had been carried on here for several centuries, but hit a peak between 1720 and 1760. Before this time prisoners had been sent to Ireland as slaves in the 12th Century, and the practice of white slavery became common in the 17th Century, but at the beginning of the 18th Century the colonies and plantations of the West Indies and America demanded free labour and some Bristol merchants were not slow in helping to supply them.

It is thought that at least two million slaves were transported to the British Colonies alone between 1680 and 1783. John Pinney, a Bristol merchant and plantation owner in the West Indies, around 1730 stated that "negroes are the sinews of a plantation" and that it was "as impossible for a man to make sugar without the assistance of negroes as to make bricks without straw".

The trade was triangular. Ships left Bristol with trinkets, cloth, mirrors, spirits and other goods for the African coast. The goods were exchanged for slaves and ivory. The slaves were taken to the West Indies or America and the ships returned home laden with sugar, rum and tobacco.

Most seamen would not serve voluntarily sail in these "black-birders" as the "Middle Passage" often brought about outbreaks of disease that would carry of the slaves and crew alike, and so many were pressed into service. The press gangs would tour the areas where sailors would drink, places like Marsh and King Streets, likely looking men would be carried drunk, drugged or knocked unconscious into the waiting boats. Sometimes the sailors would acquire new "friends" who would lend them money when theirs was gone, later they would demand that the debt be repaid. The debtors prisons at the time were so shocking that some would sign on to the ships rather than be imprisoned in one.

One or two of the slaver captains were mindful of the fact that cruelty to the crew or cargo would result in financial loss for the backers but most ruled by brute force. The Royal African Company held the monopoly of the slave trade since 1672, but soon merchants from Bristol and Liverpool were involved, and by 1750 both cities had outstripped London in the volume of trade they carried. In 1756, Bristol had one third of the trade with Liverpool taking most of the remainder.

The trade declined after 1760, but Bristol, true to form, had such a diversity of trade that when the end came it made very little impact on the city's finances. In 1771, Bristol had 23 slavers, Liverpool had 107. In 1791 the numbers were 22 and 97 respectively, in 1796 it was 1 and 94. Between 1795 and 1804, on average, 3 slavers per year left Bristol, in Liverpool the average was over 100.

One explanation in Bristol's decline in the indulgence in the trade may be the work of John Wesley, who publicly condemned the trade in slaves. In 1787, the Rev. Thomas Clarkson arrived here to see the trade at first hand. He tried to secure the conviction of the captain of the Alfred, who had killed two of his crew on one voyage. The Deputy Town Clerk told Clarkson that he knew of only one Bristol slaver captain "who did not deserve long ago to be hanged". Clarkson's case collapsed, but the point was made, and when the slave trade was abolished by Act of Parliament in 1807 it made very little difference to Bristol.

Other Trades and Industries

As to be expected shipbuilding was always a major industry here, both for the merchant and Royal navies. Amongst the largest were Bailey's in the Marsh and Hillhouses's in Hotwells.

Sugar from the West Indies kept 20 refineries busy, and glass making was carried on by 15 factories. Bristol Blue glass, made by adding Cobalt Oxide to the glass, became world famous and though the secret of making it was lost there are now several small producers of it in the city. In 1724, Daniel Defoe wrote that the number of glass manufacturers in Bristol was greater than that in London and that "vast numbers of bottles are now used for sending the water of St Vincent's Rock not only all over England, but all over the world". The water he was referring to was, of course, the water from the Hotwells. Rebates on glass duty for exported glass in 1695/6 was £2,976 in Bristol, £1,020 in Newcastle and only £840 in London. Pins were made in huge quantities here and the ancient trade of soap making was as strong as ever.

One opportunity that the usually astute Bristol merchants missed out on was porcelain manufacture. In 1750 the first porcelain manufactured from Cornish clay in England was made here. Perhaps clay is the wrong word, the travel writer Dr Pococke, described it as the "calcified flint and soapy rock rock at Lizard Point." The proper name for it is steatite and Dr Pococke said that it was used to make "white sauce boats adorned with reliefs of festoons." In 1768, Richard Champion set up the Bristol China Clay Manufactory on Castle Green and what it produced was of such beauty and quality that many said it could not be distinguished from Dresden Ware. Dinner services made of Bristol Porcelain were presented to many people including Lord Nelson and MP Edmund Burke. Due to competition from Wedgwood the works was closed in 1782, but like Bristol Blue glass, small potteries can be found producing high quality products.

In 1731, Walter Churchman took out a patent for an "engine" to make chocolate. Churchman died in 1761 and Joseph Fry, an apothecary, took over the mills. Union Street was built in 1777 and Fry built a factory there. The tobacco industry became huge, and the Wills family began their connection with it between 1786 and 1788.

Other prominent industries were the manufacture of rope and twine, tanning and brass and iron founding. With such a diversity Bristol has always managed to ride out the worst of the countries economic depressions and has remained a prosperous city.

Social Conditions

The City and many of its merchants may have been making money hand over fist, but what was life like in the City in the eighteenth century?

Funnily enough, carts were not allowed with the city walls so the goods being landed at the docks had to be dragged away on sledges, it is just as well that cobbles were used to pave the roads as these are very smooth. Lighter goods were moved using horses or mules.

The roads were on average less than twenty feet wide with the houses overhanging them. There were no sewers, open channels in the centre of the road leading straight down to the rivers Avon and Frome (pronounced Froom) doing service instead. Pigs roamed the streets, using the channel for a trough, even though someone was employed to cut off the tails of pigs found doing this. The water supply, which during the Middle Ages was one of the best in the country, had been allowed to deteriorate and many of the wells were polluted. As a result of this it was inevitable that Bristol was visited by the plague and suffered various other epidemics more than once.

In 1753 the population was estimated to be 46,692, of which, 36,500 lived inside the old city walls. Most of the new houses were built on the slope leading to Kingsdown and in the Marsh or Queen Square district. Queen Square was begun in 1702, St. James Square was built between 1707 and 1716, Orchard Street in 1716, Dowry Square in 1732 and King Square in 1755. These new houses had large, high rooms, sash windows, decorated entranceways, roofs of red tile and had wrought iron railings surrounding them. Many, many examples of this type of house can still be found all over the city.

Although food lacked variety the well to do managed to eat very well. Parson Woodford of Norfolk writes that he was entertained with fish and oyster sauce, boiled beef, roast neck of pork with apple sauce, hashed turkey, mutton steaks, salad, roast duck, fried rabbit, plum pudding, tartlets, olives, almonds, raisins and apples. For drink, port, spirits, beer, cider, perry, tea and coffee were available.

They managed to eat at least three times a day, at 7am, around noon and at 6pm.

It must be said that until around 1730, when Townsend introduced root crops for cattle there wasn't much fresh meat available during the winter, and the meat then would be, by today's standards, be considered scraggy.

The working family, on the other hand, fared pretty badly. Labourers would earn between 7 and 35 shillings though the average seems to have been 10/- to 15/-.

For those of you who can't remember the old British currency this would be written as 7/- to 35/- remember this was in the days when LSD meant Pounds, Shillings and Pence not d-lysergic acid diethylamide. More information of the old coinage system and the slang used for old coins can be found at the Chard Jewelers or Paul Lewis sites. The old volume / capacity measures can be found at the Footrule site. Other good sites are English Weights and Measures and Jaques Proots pages.

Common labourers earned around 1/6 per day, children earned around 1/6 to 3/- per week.

At the time typical prices for food and fuel was :-

Beef, 4 1/2d. to 5d. per lb
Bacon, 9d. to 10d. per lb
Mutton, 5d. to 6d. per lb
Butter, 11d. to 1/- per lb
Oats, 3/- to 3/6 a bushel
Bread 1/- for a 4lb loaf
Potatoes, 6d. per peck
Wheat, 12/- a bushel
Barley, 4/2 a bushel
Milk, 6d per gallon
Cheese 6d. per lb
Beer, 2d per pint
Veal, 6d. per lb
Coal, 3 1/2d. a bushel

A bushel is 8 gallons in volume; a peck is 2 gallons.

More specifically, I've found an example of a Bristol labourer, 50 years old, married with two children, one five years old and the other aged nine months. He worked at an inn as a horse keeper and porter, earning 9/- per week. His wife earned the odd shilling (bob in slang) by taking in washing. This family spent the following in a typical week :-

Bread, 4/6; meat, 6d.; butter, 5 1/2d.; cheese, 3d.; tea, 3d.; potatoes, 1/-; milk, 3d.; beer 3d.; candles, soap etc. 5d.; onions, salt etc. 3d.; rent 1/-; coal 1/-.

Roads were, in most cases, mere tracks, most of the English population never lost sight of their own town more than half a dozen times in their entire lives.

For entertainment and the odd copper (slang for a couple of pennies) there was duck hunting, fishing and cock fighting. The Durdham Down Races were very popular, these involved both running and horse racing. Bull Baiting and Cock Throwing (the same as Goose Quailing, where the object was to maim the bird as much as possible without killing it), were both very popular. Wrestling and bare fist boxing also drew large crowds, there was an annual 'bout' at Lawrence Hill where the city corporation provided the prize money.

For a fun filled day out there were the public hangings and whippings, or you could always go and see the prisoners in the stocks and pillories. In the early part of the eighteenth century there were occasional "duckings" at Broad Weir.

For those who could afford it the Theatre Royal in King Street was opened on 30th May 1766. Things did not go smoothly though as many of the religious fractions within the city threatened to invoke an Act of 1757 which made actors liable to the same penalties as rogues and vagabonds. The theatre is now one of the oldest in England.

Most people went to bed as soon as it got dark, good candles were very expensive and the poor had to make do with rushes dipped in fat, which were smelly, produced lots of smoke, and didn't give out much light anyway. If you did have to be out and about at night, the 'well to do' would employ the services of link-boys who carried burning torches and a bludgeon of some sort to protect them from the criminals who would attack almost anyone they found out at night. The poor took their chances.

After all the persecution and suppression of the previous century, religion was at a low ebb. Any religious enthusiasm was frowned on and few clerics had their flock's interests at heart. The poor were regarded as little more than beasts of burden and any effort or money spent on their needs was seemed to be largely wasted.

Prisons

Prisons at this time were full of vice and disease. There was no segregation of any prisoners, old lags, petty criminals, men, women, children, it didn't matter, they were all put together. There was no attempt at all at the rehabilitation of the prisoners, no exercise and no cleanliness. Things would get so bad that sometimes diseases would spread out from the prison into the surrounding neighbourhoods. Prisoners had to pay for their own food, those with money to spare could order what food and drink they wanted from outside.

As the population increased new laws were introduced, this led to an increase in the prison population. The prisons became very overcrowded and so transportation, which reached its peak around 1787, was introduced. There were several benefits to transportation, it decreased the overcrowding and it got rid of the criminal element.

The Bridewell prison originally stood where the Central Fire Station now stands. Bridewell was already old, it had undergone a renovation in 1577. In 1664, 55 women were imprisoned here, with beds for only five. That year two of them died. In 1771 it was demolished and rebuilt. In the riots of 1831 it was burnt down, it was rebuilt again, but when the Prisons Act was made law in 1865 the prison was still found not to be up to the required standards and it was finally demolished for good.

There was another prison near Lawford's Gate, this was the Gloucestershire prison for the western division. This too was destroyed in 1831 and rebuilt. It ceased to be used as a prison in 1860.

The most famous of Bristol prisons, Newgate, stood between Narrow Wine Street and Castle Mill Street. It was built in 1148. In 1691, it was rebuilt with householders paying a special rate of sixpence. In 1720, there was an outbreak of disease that decimated the prison population. In 1728 there was another serious outbreak, there was no doctor to tend the sick, but an apothecary who was imprisoned there did service instead. He was eventually paid £10 for his help.

In 1730, there was a rash of letters sent to the wealthy citizens of the city saying that their houses and shops would be burnt down unless they paid a ransom. When payment was not forthcoming several people had their premises destroyed by fire. A visitor to the town, Mr Power, was arrested on the evidence of three children of starting one of these fires and was thrown into the "night room" at Newgate to await trial. The "night room" was a 9ft deep pit, 17ft in diameter, one small window for ventilation and no bedding, not even straw. Mr Power was kept here for 14 weeks and 3 days in the dark and cold, it was the middle of winter, before he was sent to the prison proper. It was nearly a year before he was finally bought up for trial, where the case was dismissed for lack of evidence. Mr Power was still not a free man, he wasn't finally released until he had paid the jailers fees.

John Howard, the great prison reformer, came to inspect Newgate on 22nd February 1774, he returned in 1775 and 1787. He found it "white without and foul within". Prisoners had to pay the gaoler, who had no salary of his own, 10 1/2 d. a week for their "lodgings". The food allowance for the prisoners was around 3/4 lb of bread before trial and 1 1/2 lbs after conviction. The prison held 38 criminals and 58 debtors.

Howard did not live long enough to see any great change in the prison system, but his work brought the plight of England's prisoners to the attention of many people, including the Quakers and the other great prison reformer, Elizabeth Fry. A new Criminal Code was written between 1823 and 1827 and in 1829 the Police force was reorganised by Sir Robert Peel. 1835 saw the appointment of two Government prison inspectors. Their report outraged the public and the colonies would no longer accept convicts which meant a lot more prisons had to be built, but it wasn't until 1887 that the prisons were bought under the control of the Home Office.

So, what did you need to do in order to be sent to these dreadfull places? Well, in the 19th century the answer was not too much. The following excerpts are local crimes reported in the Bristol Gazette and Public Advertiser dated Thursday, 29th July 1841.

Three boys, for being found sleeping under the hay mow of Mr Bennet and destroying the hay, were sent to Bridewell for three days each.

Charles Coombs, being found sleeping in the stable of Mr Burgess, Duck Lane, and damaging the hay, was sent to Bridewell for seven days.

Tristam Burridge, the notorious drunkard, was brought up for about the thousandth time, and ordered to find two sureties in £10 each for his future good behaviour, and in default, was committed to gaol.

The next was reported in the issue for Thursday, 12th August 1841.

Robert Manning, for stealing apples, was sent to gaol for fourteen days.

Bristol's Horfield prison was one of the first to be built under the control of the Home Office and the last of the old prisons, the Old gaol, on the New Cut was finally closed. The Gaol was designed by H. H. Seward and opened in 1820 but was burned down during the riots in Bristol in 1831. It was rebuilt and stayed in use until its closure in 1883 when the prison at Horfield was built. The water supply came from a well which was contaminated by river water during summer and the treadmill worked a pump which distributed water around the prison. The treadmill ended up in the New Cut during the 1831 riots. It was at this prison, in 1849, that the last public hanging of a woman took place.

Bristol's Horfield prison opened in 1882 as a local gaol with two four-storey cell blocks of a galleried design, one of which was originally a prison for women. During the 1960s two more cell blocks were constructed in a T-shaped design.

The remains of the Old gaol

The front portico is all that is left of the Old gaol on the New Cut

In June 2000, I received an email from someone who was interested in Bristol's prisons asking if it was true that the old gallows was still kept at Horfield jail. Seeing no other way of finding this information out, I telephoned the prison and was told that no, the gallows was no longer there, and that they didn't have any records as to when it was removed.

Relief for the Poor

Despite the fact the poor were largely forgotten some people gave a great deal of thought and material help to the poor of Bristol. In 1735, "some well disposed persons, reflecting upon the miseries and hardships to which the poor and labouring men of this city were exposed in case of accidents or diseases, and that no public institution was established for their relief," set up a subscription fund for an Infirmary. This was the first attempt, outside of London, to set up such a scheme. The Bristol Infirmary was opened in December 1737. In 1850 it became, on the wishes of Queen Victoria, the Bristol Royal Infirmary. The BRI as it known throughout the area is still going strong, in fact, this year (2000) should see the end of the major redevelopment of the hospital. The building of the Infirmary led the way and over the years many more hospitals were built for the care of the poor. Bristol Dispensary was founded in 1775, the Eye Hospital in 1810, the Eye Dispensary in 1812, the General Hospital in 1832 and the Children's Hospital in 1865.

There were reasons for this generosity. In 1745, Dr Tucker, the Rector of St. Stephen's gave a sermon to the contributors to the Infirmary. He maintained that "through the abuse of the blessing of Liberty, which the common people of this nation enjoy above all other people on earth, they are become debauched, licentious and immoral to an alarming degree, and that infirmaries, among other good uses, ought to be applied as Correctives and Reformatories, to stem the torrent of vice, lewdness, and immorality which is breaking in upon us."

For the edification of the patients, virtuous impressions were to be made by insisting on strict observance of rules, regular and "sober" diet and careful instruction in the things of grace. Only books and tracts of a spiritual nature were allowed. No attempt was made to improve the social conditions of the patients, the feeling was that life, for them, was already too luxurious.

Dr Tucker continued ... "With regard to the Morals of the poor, at present, far from exaggerating the matter, it must be acknowledged that times were never worse . . . The poor seemed to make it a point of honour to out-brave punishment . . . Nothing is left of discipline in our places of chastisement and confinement but their names. For our Houses of Correction, as they are called, are so far from answering the original ends of their institution, that they corrupt more than correct, and harden rather than reform, so as to make the young offender, if sent there, to be threefold the child of Hell than he was before . . . And would you know, my poor brethren, once for all, what is the cause, that you often find such a stop to business and trade? Why, it is really this, that you do not labour as cheap, and are not content to live and fare as hard, as the manufacturers (work people) in other countries . . . Too many there are who will not accept work one part of the week but on such terms only as may enable them to live in vice and idleness the rest."

Funnily enough, over two hundred and fifty years later the same sentiments were shown by the directors of the company I work for during our last pay review.

Education

For those that could afford it there were plenty of day and boarding schools, though the quality of the education given at these schools varied greatly. Robert Southey, the poet, wrote in 1823 of a Bristol school he attended in 1782 :-

"I had a Latin lesson every day. But my lessons were solitary ones, so few boys were there in my station, and, indeed, in the station in life next to mine, who received a classical education in those days, compared with what is the case now. Writing and arithmetic, with at most a little French, were thought sufficient at that time for the sons of opulent Bristol merchants. One lesson in the morning was all. The rest of the time was given to what was deemed there of more importance, writing. We did copies of capital letters there, and were encouraged to aspire at the ornamental parts of penmanship."

Girls who received an education were usually sent to boarding schools, here they were taught a little reading and writing but dancing, singing, music and needlework filled most of their days.

Forty poor girls were taught to read, but not to write at the Red Maids School. There were two mistresses here at the time, one of whom could not write her own name. Needlework played an important part of the education here, mainly because the sale of the girls' work furnished a large part of the schools income. In 1773, the Master of the Queen Elizabeth's Hospital, a school that is still in existence today, was allowed £10 per head for the feeding, clothing and education of his boys, whereas the mistress of the Red Maid' School was allowed £7 and the proceeds from the sale of the needlework.

One of the first bequests outside of London, for the establishment of a parish church was made in 1699 by Miss Mary Gray, of Temple parish, who was left £50 for the purchase of land, the proceeds of which were to be used for the education of seven poor orphans.

Edward Colston was born in Temple Street in 1636. Like his father he became a merchant. He went to London to make his fortune, and having made it, returned to Bristol. After founding an almshouse on St Michaels Hill for 12 men and 12 women, he enlarged the seamen's almshouse in King Street, which was first erected by the Merchant Venturers. After this he turned his attention to the education of the poor and in 1702 offered to give £500 towards a subscription of £1,400 to be raised by the city merchants for the rebuilding of the Queen Elizabeth's Hospital so that it could raise its intake from the 36 boys in 1700 to 120. The City Corporation refused the offer. One source of the time is quoted as saying "gifts of that nature were only a nursery for beggars and sloths, and rather a burden than a benefit to the place they are bestowed." This gave rise to the rumour that the Corporation was against the education of the poor, but two things give the lie to this rumour. For one thing many of the Corporation members subscribed to the fund themselves, another thing is that Colston was an intolerant man and probably had strings attached to his offer.

He was a Tory and a supporter of the High Church. When he founded his own school the children of Dissenters were barred as were books that favoured the political doctrines of the Whigs.

In 1709, the parishioners of Temple subscribed £35 annually for the education of the areas poor children. Colston added £10 per annum and a school for 30 boys was opened in August 1709. Shortly after he made another annuity of £80 "for the clothing and education of 40 poor boys forever." He offered a site for the school and it was opened in 1711.

In 1710, he asked the Merchant Venturers to accept a trust for a new school on St. Augustines Back for 100 boys. He purchased the Great House here for £1,300 and converted the house into a school. Altogether Colston spent around £40,000 on the project.

The conditions attached to this foundation are interesting. The poor boys were to "rise before six in the morning, and having dressed themselves shall attend prayers in the Schoolroom or some other convenient place in the house, and after reading some portion of the Scriptures and singing of psalms their breakfast shall be given them and they shall enter into school by seven. From thence at eleven to dinner, returning to school at one and continuing there till five, on Thursdays till three." On Saturdays there was Catechism after dinner, and then the boys were free until seven. On Sundays there was Matins at the Cathedral and Evening Prayer in the Schoolroom. For breakfast there was bread and butter, bread and broth, or bread and gruel, for dinner the boys had bread and beef, hot bread and butter, pease pudding with butter, bread and boiled mutton or milk pottage. For supper there was bread and cheese. Tough luck, then, if you didn't like bread.

The conditions that Edward Colston imposed on his boys may have seemed harsh but was not so bad as those that John Wesley specified. In 1748 Wesley founded a school at Kingswood for the sons of Methodist ministers. Here the boys "rose at four o'clock, winter and summer, and excepting short periods allowed for breakfast, dinner and supper, they prayed, learnt lessons and worked in the garden or the house until eight o'clock at night. There were no holidays throughout the year, and on every day, except Sunday, a full day's work was to be done". The food, as in Colstons school was basic, and consisted of "milk porridge and water porridge alternatively for breakfast; bread and butter, and cheese and milk by turns for supper; and meat with apple puddings for dinner, except on Fridays, when the fare was vegetables and dumplings".

News

I've already said that most people didn't often leave their home towns, as a result news of what was happening in the rest of the country was hard to come by. In the beginning of the 18th century, the only regular newspapers were printed in London. The news contained in these was limited and in any case they were hard to obtain. London residents took to sending "News Letters" that often gave eyewitness accounts of what was happening in the capital. In return the recipients of these News Letters would write about what was happening in their area.

In the coffee houses that started to appear at the end of the 17th century, items that were newsworthy were read aloud to the patrons. The establishment looked down on this practice and it was recommended "that no newspaper or pamphlet should be suffered to be read in them unless it had first received approval of the Mayor or Aldermen of the wards in which the houses were situated".

In 1681 there were several in Bristol, by 1743 there were many, the London Coffee House in All Saints Lane, Will's in College Green, Little John's in Temple Street, the West Indian near the Corn Exchange, the Hot Well near the spring, and the Castle in Castle Street were all very popular. By the end of the century though, largely due to the greater availability of newspapers, most had closed.

In 1702, the first newspaper outside of London, the Bristol Post Boy was printed by William Bonny in Corn Street. It was a simple affair, being printed on both sides of a single sheet of paper. The Bristol Postman succeeded it in 1712. This consisted of 12 quarto pages and cost 1 1/2d. in the city or 2d. delivered to the country. This gave way to Farley's Bristol Journal. In 1858 the Western Daily Press was published, Bristol's first local daily newspaper. This is still being printed today. The Mercury started in 1860, the Times and Mirror in 1865 and the Bristol Evening News at 1/2d. in 1877. There is something wrong with the dates for the Bristol Mercury and the Bristol Mirror given above as I have read issues of both papers printed in 1841. These dates may refer to the years in which they became daily instead of weekly newspapers. In 1932 two evening papers, the Evening Times and Echo and the Evening World were amalgamated as were the Bristol Times and Mirror and the Western Daily Press. Many people thought that these papers were not local enough and so a new paper was started, the Bristol Evening Post. Bristol has the longest history of local journalism than any other place in the country.

Mr Mike Bird emailed me in December 2000, and asked if I knew anything about the Bristol Evening World. This newspaper was first issued on 1st October 1929 by Lord Rothermere. He apparently wanted to start a nationwide network of local evening newspapers. The Evening News was last published on 27th March 1930 and the last issue of the Evening Times and Echo appeared on 29th January 1932. Three months later, on 18th April 1932, the first issue of the Bristol Evening Post was printed. Rivallry between the evening newspapers was intense. A holding company (Bristol United Press?) bought both the World and Post and the last issue of the Bristol Evening World appeared on 27th January 1962.

The Fishponds Local History site has a couple of excellent articles by John Penny on the early Bristol newspapers.

Britannica entry for Lord Rothermere

Sparticus entry for Lord Rothermere

Evening Post building in Old Market

The Evening Post building in Old Market

George Whitefield,the Wesleys and Methodism

The page about the Social Conditions in the 18th century presented a bleak picture for the ordinary people of the city, a hundred years late the outlook was very much different. No individual played a more important part in this change than John Wesley, the Methodist minister.

George Whitefield was born at the Bell Inn, Gloucester in 1715. His parents were both Bristolians, his father being a merchant here before he took over the Bell Inn. Whilst at Oxford University George, he heard tell of a poor woman inmate of the workhouse who had tried to commit suicide. Knowing the Methodists interests in the welfare of the poor, he sent a message concerning the woman, via an old apple-woman, to the Wesleys. He gave the apple-woman instructions not to reveal his identity, which instructions she disobeyed and subsequently Whitefield was induced to become a member of the Methodists.

He soon became a very powerful preacher. In 1737, Whitefield before he sailed for Georgia in America, gave a farewell sermon at St Mary Redcliffe. A great crowd gathered to hear this sermon and he was later to say of it :- "But when I came to tell them that it might be that they would see my face no more, high and low, young and old, burst into such a flood of tears as I had never seen before; drops fell from their eyes like rain, or rather gushed out like water. Multitudes followed me home weeping."

On his return from America he decided to carry his message to the Kingswood miners and on a Saturday in February 1739, he preached to around 100 on Hanham Mount. The next time he preached it was to 2,000 and 4,000 the time after that. His message to the miners was getting across and Whitefield tells of the sight of "white gutters made by their tears, which plentifully fell down their black cheeks as they came out of the coal pits."

Whitefield had to return to Georgia, and so needed someone to continue his work in Bristol. Wesley was still a churchman at this time, but Whitefield contacted him anyway. Wesley decided to leave the matter with God, and after offering prayers and casting lots he entered Bristol on 31st March 1739. He stayed the night at the house of Whitefields sister in wine Street, and the next day, which was Whit Sunday, attended his first open-air sermon at Rose Green. The same evening he spoke to a small gathering of Methodists in Nicholas Street. A while later he spoke to around 3,000 people at a site near the city and the day after to 1,500 at Baptist Mills.

Many were honestly disturbed at the picture of eternal damnation he presented to people who refused the offer of salvation. Others were against him because of his puritanical opposition of any form of amusement.

With the churches closed against him, Wesley needed a permanent meeting place, in his journal of 9th May 1739 he wrote "We took possession of a piece of ground near St James Churchyard, in the Horsefair, where it was designed to build a room, large enough to contain both the societies of Nicholas and Baldwin Streets, and such of their acquaintances as might desire to be present with them, at such time as the Scripture was expounded; and on Saturday, 12th, the first stone as laid, with the voice of prayer and thanksgiving."

This was the New Room, which was opened on 3rd June, the first Methodist Chapel in the world. It was soon found to be too small and was enlarged.

The New Room

The New Room

John Wesley travelled thousands of miles in the fifty years of his ministry. Lay preachers were appointed who travelled many, many miles on horseback, spreading the gospel wherever they went. These people relied on the people for their food and clothing on their journeys around the circuits. The Bristol circuit included the counties of Somerset, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire. After each tour the preachers would return to the New Room for rest, recuperation and training. From a window overlooking the pupit in the New Room John Wesley would watch the preachers at work and afterwards help them with suggestions about their delivery. A few days later they would be back on the road. There are now around forty million Methodists around the world.

John Wesley of whom Augustine Birrell said "No man lived nearer the centre than John Wesley, neither Clive, nor Pitt, nor Johnson. You can't cut him out of our national life. No single figure influenced so many minds, no single voice touched so many hearts. No other man did such a life's work for England." was born in 1703. He was to travel an estimated 200,000 miles, delivering 40,000 sermons over the 50 years of his active life. He died in 1791.

By 1771 the Methodists in America appealled for a minister to come to them. Francis Asbury answered that call and with a new set of clothes and £10 in his pocket set sail from Pill. The first Methodist Church in New York was soon established and the Bristol Methodists sent them a clock, which was a replica of the one in the New Room. In 1784 John Wesley sent Francis Coke to be the superintendant of the growing church. He and Asbury became the first Methodists Bishops in America.

Wesleys stance against slavery certainly didn't win him any friends with many of the merchants of Bristol who were making their fortunes in the trade. On 6th March 1788 there was a riot while he was preaching and the hall was wrecked. Ten days later he preached at the Lord Mayor's Chapel, he was also invited to use Temple Church on his visits to the city.

Charles Wesley was John's brother lived for twenty years in Charles Street, St James' Barton. It was here he wrote 6,500 hymns, around 500 of which are still in use today.One of his sons, named Samuel, was born in 1766. He could read music by the time he was five, and when he was six wrote the air that he was to use in the oratorio "Ruth". This he did when he was eight. Samuel was probably the greatest organist of his age and a stained glass window in Bristol Cathedral celebrates the gifted boy.

Prisoners of War and Manor Park Hospital

Stapleton was originally a village in Gloucestershire. It is now part of North Bristol. Britain was already at war with the American colonies when France declared war in 1778, Spain declared in 1779 followed by Holland in 1780. The Admiralty needed a prison near a port and they chose Stapleton for it. As well as a prison they also built a hospital. When the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1783 this prison had held over 2,000 prisoners of war. The Admiralty used agents to supply the prisoners' food, what they got depended on those agents honesty.

The prison remained empty but the hospital became a Marine School for "poor boys, young vagrants and criminals". They were accepted at 10 years old, stayed for three years then sent to sea. The master was allowed £10 per boy per annum, and from this he had to feed and clothe them as well as pay the salaries of two assistant masters. When people complained about the food the boys were given the Merchant Venturers said the complaints were unfounded as the meat had only stunk three times in the last year.

War broke out again in 1793 and thousands of French prisoners of war arrived. Once again the agents supplying the food were found to be lining their pockets. The hospital prisoners were found to getting short rations and to be receiving less than attentive care from the doctors. Tuberculosis was rife and outbreaks of scurvy, cholera, typhus, dysentry and pneumonia were common. The dead were buried either inside the prison grounds or in unconsecrated ground, when things got out of hand mass graves were dug. A severed head was once found in the sewers and students from Bristol Royal Infirmary were accused of grave robbing.

Some prisoners did manage to escape, with smugglers on both sides of the English Channel helping them. One smuggler was caught but aquitted as he claimed that he thought the prisoners were Channel Islanders. In 1814 peace was restored and the prisoners released. The prison and hospital became an ordnance store and then a workshouse. Rebuilding took place in the 1860's and again in 1918. Manor Park Hospital was opened in its present form in 1948.

The Industrial Revolution

Bristol, although a manufacturing city managed to escape the worst affects of industrialisation by remaining mainly a centre for distribution.

Cast Iron

The early machines for the cotton and wool industries were made of wood, but with the introduction of iron these machines could be made less cumbersome and more precise. The name of Darby is connected with this change and the Darby's were of Bristol origin.

Until the eighteenth century cast iron ware was imported for English iron founders just didn't know how to work this metal properly. The Bristol Quaker, Abraham Darby (1677-1717) went to Holland to try and discover the secret of casting iron. He returned with several skilled Dutch workers and set up a foundry at Baptist Mills. The secret still elluded him, that is, until one of his workers, John Thomas solved the problem. Darby went to his Quaker friends to finance the deveopment of his works, they refused him the money and so he moved to Coalbrookdale in Shropshire where he was to become famous.

Another Bristol Quaker, Richard Reynolds, married Darby's grand-daughter and on Abrahams death took over the works which went from strength to strength. The new Iron Age had arrived. Reynolds returned to Bristol, a very rich man, in 1804. He was a generous man and gave around £10,000 a year to charity. Altogether it is reckoned he gave away around a quarter of a million pounds to the poor. He died in 1816 and was buried in the Quakers Friars Cemetery.

Roads

Being a major distribution centre goods roads were vital to Bristol, unfortunately the roads in early 18th century England were very poor, there were defects in both the construction and maintenance of them. The problem of the state of the roads were also compounded by the fact that it was dangerous to travel. Robbers and highwaymen abounded and many travellers chose to arm themselves.

Coachmen often carried blunderbusses. A blunderbuss was a type of shotgun where the barrel flared out to up to 4 inches. The idea was to give the shot more spread at close ranges. Because of the wide barrel diameter these guns could fire almost anything that could be stuffed down it, even stones or pebbles.

The coaches themselves were heavy, well sprung vehicles. They needed to be well constructed as the roads of the time would shake to bits anything less well built. The regulations required that a box of wheelwright's tools be carried, and they were needed. In wet weather the coach would get bogged down and anything up to ten horses would be needed to free them.

An Act of 1691 required that roads between towns should be at least 8 feet wide, whilst roads for horse traffic should be at least three feet wide. These regulations were often ignored, the road at Temple Gate leading to Brislington was found to be only seven feet wide.

On such narrow roads where two of these coaches met there were two alternatives, one could try and pull of the road and risk overturning or they could and try and pass eachother, risking both getting both bogged down or overturning.

In 1702, Queen Anne was not able to make the direct journey to Bristol from Bath as the road was in such a bad state of repair. She had to go via Kingswood instead. Around the same time, the rate of travel on a stretch of road between Marlborough and Chippenham in winter was two miles in three hours. In 1738 the road between Bristol and Bath was extensively repaired to carry the Prince and Princess of Wales, but within months heavy rains had more or less destroyed it. To give an example of what this meant, the price of butter in Bristol, which was mostly made in Bath, quadrupled.

Under an old law, every farmer paying over £50 rent per year was required to give the services of a waggon and team towards helping to maintaining the roads for 6 days every year. Labourers had to give six days work for the same purpose. Needless to say it proved too tiresome to do and so the roads were left largely unkempt.

The roads in and around Bristol became so bad that in 1726 Bristol petitioned Parliament for the erection of turnpike gates for the roads. They were soon put up to a distance of between 10 or 12 miles outside the city. Pack horses were charged at 1d., if they were loaded with coal then it was reduced to 1/2d. Waggons and coaches were charged at 2d. per horse. Cattle and sheep were also tolled.

Although the toll system was soon copied right across England it proved to be very unpopular. At Kingswood the miners there tore down the toll gates and refused to let any coal into the city. The city responded by buying coal at an inflated price across the Bristol Channel in Swansea. The miners went back to work and the imported coal had to be sold at a loss. The gates were re-erected but soon pulled down again. Soldiers were called out to guard them, but as soon as they were withdrawn the gates were wrecked. For a time in 1734, not a single turnpike gate was left standing between Bristol and Gloucester.

By 1754 the roads were still not as they should have been. In that year the Gentleman's Magazine wrote that the Great West Road from London to Bristol "through the ignorance of its constructors, errs and blunders in all forms . . . No outlets were made for the water that stagnate in the body of the road; it was never sufficiently widened . . . 'tis the worst public road in Europe, considering what vast sums have been collected from it."

One man was to be reponsible for revolutionising road building in this country was John Loudon McAdam, and he took up residence in Bristol in 1802. He lived first in Park Street then moved to Berkeley Square. He was to become a Freeman of the City for his work. He made a detailed study of the roads of the country, travelling 30,000 miles and spending several thousand pounds doing so. The old method of road construction had been to dig a trench, "bottom" it with large stones, then surface it with gravel and small stones. McAdam realised that this didn't allow for any drainage, causing the road to become waterlogged and collapsing.

McAdam proposed that the bed of the road be raised above the land with drainage ditches on either side. The road should be cambered (ie have a convex surface) of 3 inches for every 18 feet of width. The road should be constructed of clean dry flint or stone with no earth, clay chalk or other material that would hold or conduct water. No stone was to be more than six ounces in weight - if a stone was too big to go into the mouth it was too big for his road.

In 1816, he was made General Surveyor for the Bristol Turnpike Trust. The first year he was paid £400 and was responsible for 146 miles of road. The year after he was given £500, £200 of which was estimated as expenses. Parliament recognised the importance of his work and awarded him three £2,000 grants. One in 1820, another in 1822 and the final one in 1823. He refused the Knighthood that was offered him.

His success earned him many enemies, and in 1824 attempts were made to dismiss him from his post. He left the city in disgust in 1825.

Lead Shot

In 1782, William Watts, a plumber, lived on Redcliffe Hill, just opposite St Mary Redcliffe church. The story goes that he had a dream in which he was caught in a heavy shower whilst walking through Hotwells. Instead of water it was raining molten lead which fell in perfect spheres. This dream nagged at him and so he organised an experiment. He poured molten lead from the tower of St Mary Redcliffe church into a vat of water. The experiment was a success, for lying at the bottom of the water were the spheres of lead he had dreamed about.

Mr Watts decided to build a shot tower. He removed the roof of his house and built a tower. Digging a pit under his house he soon broke through into the old mine workings (Redcliffe Caves) and continued digging. There was obviously little in the way of town planning in those days!! Having now a sufficient drop for his needs Mr Watts soon became very rich. He sold the business and patent to Colonel Worrall and his partners. The money he had made he invested in some very risky building speculations, these all turned out badly and he went bankrupt.

The original business changed hands several times over the years. From Colonel Worrall the busines passed to Messrs. Christopher George and Patent Shot Company then to Messrs. James Williams and Patent Shot Company. In 1868 the business passed to Sheldon, Bush and Patent Shot Company. The original tower in Redcliffe Street was in use until 1968 when it was demolished in a road widening scheme.

Lead Shot Tower - Redcliffe Hill

Lead Shot Tower ~ Redcliffe Hill

Sheldon Bush built a new 140 feet tall reinforced concrete one in Tower Lane. Sheldon Bush closed in 1995, but the tower, a Grade II listed building and one of only three shot towers left in the country, is still there. Developers want to pull the tower town for redevelopment but in 1993 a poll of Bristol Evening Post readers found that 86% of them want the tower to stay. Being a Grade II it is protected and not even the mobile telephone companies are not allowed to put their masts on top of it. In the summer of 2000 the tower is still for sale. Suggested uses for it include a very exclusive office or apartment. The room at the top is 12 sided, around 18 feet across and has a panoramic 360 degree view but as the old lead lift is now ruined the only way to reach it is by climbing the 155 steps in 14 flights. The 1st April 1998 edition of the Bristol Evening Post suggested that it was to be made into a white knuckle ride with a vertical drop of 120 feet!!

Sheldon Bush lead shot tower - Cheese Lane

Sheldon Bush lead shot tower ~ Cheese Lane

Postal Services

Before 1784 post was carried by "Post Boys", these were men who travelled on horseback from stage to stage. They averaged around four miles an hour, the jouney to London, about 120 miles, taking around 30 to 40 hours. A letter would cost 6d. to be carried. People put little reliance on them as they were often robbed. If a letter was sent by private coach it would cost 2 shillings, but it would be under the protection of the coachman and the guard, and would almost certainly arrive the next day.

A Bath theatre manager, John Palmer, concieved the idea of regular mail coaches controlled by the Postmaster-General, between Bristol, Bath and London. The Post Office ignored this scheme but Palmer contacted Pitt, the Prime Minister, who insisted that the scheme be tried.

On 2nd August 1784 the first mail coach ran from London to Bristol, it took just 16 hours. Palmer was put in charge of the London end, but met with opposition from the Post Office that insisted that the coach would have to wait for the mail to be made ready. A Bristolian, Francis Freeling, was sent to help him, Freeling was to become head of the department.

The two horse coach could carry four passengers, paying 1 pound 2 shillings for the trip. The difficulties were overcome and huge profits were made. Palmer was originally offered 2.5% of the profits but was deprived of this, receiving payment of £3,000 a year instead. Feeling cheated he wrote to Parliament and in 1813, about five years before his death, was awarded £50,000.

Bristol's first Post office was in the Dolphin Inn, Dolphin Street where horses were stabled. A letter cost the then huge sum of 4d to be sent.

Dr Tucker

Dr Tucker was a prominent cleric in 18th century Bristol. He lived from 1713 to 1799 and became the Rector of All Saints and later St Stephens churches. He was well versed in economics and was asked to write a write a book on the subject for the Prince of Wales, who was later to become George III. His work was so far in advance of the time that the book was not shown to the Prince. In fact, Tucker was shown to be a Free Trader long before Adam Smith wrote the "Wealth of Nations". He proposed that restrictions and monopolies of trade were absurd, except where new trades needed temporary protection while they were developed. He condemned war as utterly futile. When war with America was declared he argued that the rebels were driven by selfish motives and that war was no solution. He advised that the colonies should be made independant, and that without the protection of the British internal wrangling would ensure that they would be soon be pleading to return. He may well have been right, it took George Washington to prevent the collapse of the rebellion.

Edmund Burke

Edmund Burke represented Bristol in Parliament from 1774 to 1780. Burke supported the American colonists in their struggle for independence. He argued that the colonists would later contribute to the British Empire. He angered Bristol merchants by supporting a Bill that would repeal the law that prevented the Irish from trading in the trades the merchants engaged in. He angered them further by supporting a Bill that would give relief to the prisoners in debtor's prisons. This outspoken man also supported the claims of Roman Catholics for emancipation, the Dissenters to toleration and the abolution of the slave trade. All of these proposals made him many enemies, and he was told to bend to the will of his constituents. He replied that to do so would reduce him to the status of a mere machine and that he presumed he was elected to represent the city because of his ability to make correct judgements, and that he must retain his right to vote according to his own conscience and intelligence. He withdrew his candadature and Bristol lost what was later described as the "greatest political thinker that has ever devoted himself to the practice of English politics". In 1894 a monument to Burke was erected in Colston Avenue.

Joseph Cottle and the poets

In 1791 Cottle opened a bookshop in the High Street. In 1795, when he was introduced to the poets Robert Southey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge he offered the then grand sum of thirty guineas for the copyright to their poems. Southey was born in Wine Street, Bristol. His father was a linen draper. Southey and Coleridge were engaged to the Frick sisters who lived in Westbury-on-Trym . The money provided by Cottle allowed them to get married. Coleridge on 4th October and Southey on 14th November, both in St Mary Redcliffe church.

Coleridge moved to Clevedon but returned to live in a house on Redcliffe Hill for a short time in 1796. Southey went to Portugal but returned to spend a year at Westbury. He wrote many poems here including "The Battle of Blenheim", "The Well of St. Keyne" and "The Wicked Bishop Hatto". The pair corresonded regularly with eachother and with Humphrey Davy, whom they often met while dining at Cote House, Westbury, which was the home of John Wedgewood, brother to the famous potter.

In 1798 Cottle went to stay for a week with Coleridge and Wordsworth at Alfoxden. It was here that he arranged to publish Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and Wordsworth's "Lyrical Ballads". Wordsworth bought the poems to Bristol and on the way he visited the Wye Valley. Here he composed "Lines written above Tintern Abbey". He wrote the poem whilst sat in Cottle's parlour.

Further Reading

Southey and Coleridge Genealogy

For more information on Robert Southey :-

Schoolnet

Selected Poems

For more information on Samuel Taylor Coleridge :-

LookSmart - Samuel Coleridge

The Samuel Taylor Coleridge Archive

For more informaton on William Wordsworth :-

LookSmart - William Wordsworth

Wordsworth Trust

TCG's Wordsworth Page

Humphry Davy

Humphry Davy is best remembered as the inventor of the miners' safety lamp, but he has a strong Bristol connection. He was born in Penzance in 1778. When his father died in 1794 he became an apothecarys' assistant and started to study to become a doctor. After around only 18 months of study the poet Southey said of him "he is not yet twenty-one - but he has advanced with such seven-leagued strides as to overtake everybody." Apart from Southey, Davy also numbered amongst his friends Gregory Watt, son of he famous James Watt. It was Gregory Watt who bought Davy to the attention of Dr Beddoes, who lived in Clifton, and who was experimenting with Dr Priestley's newly discovered Nitrous Oxide or Laughing Gas. Dr Beddoes opened a "Pneumatic Institute" for the treatment of various diseases by using this new gas in Dowry Square, Hotwells. On the recommendation of Gregory Watts Davy was emplyed as superntendant of this institute. Davy was just twenty-one and went to live with the Beddoes family at 3 Rodney Place, Clifton. Davy had many illustrious friends including the poets Southey and Coleridge.

Humphry Davy is often creditied with the use of Nirous Oxide as an anaesthetic, this honour really belongs to Dr Beddoes, but it was Davy who made these experiments widely known. Davy was destined to go to greater things and in 1801, when he was twenty-three, he was offered and accepted the post of Assistant Lecturer at the Royal Institute. Within 10 weeks he was made a Professor and started his famous work with electricity and metallurgy.

Later on he was asked what his greatest discovery was, he replied "Michael Faraday". It was Davy who took the young man on has his assistant whilst at the Institute and who helped start him on his famous experiments with electricity.

LookSmart - Sir Davy Humphry

Discovery as Invention: Michael Faraday

This page created 25th July 2000, last modified 2nd September 2009


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