Bristol From The Post and Press by Maurice Fells
It’s surprising what fascinating stories can be found in old newspapers. When I say ‘old’ I’m talking about papers which were published 50, 80, 100 years or more ago.
I’ve been delving through those published in my native Bristol for my latest local history book. It’s amazing that in 1908 the people of Bristol weren’t short for choice when it came to buying a paper. Three were published in the morning and another three in the afternoon. Today the city has just two papers, the Western Daily Press and the Bristol Post, formerly Bristol Evening Post. Both roll off the presses overnight and are available in time to be read with the bacon and eggs at the breakfast table.
I was searching through the papers to find the events and the people that over the last century or so had helped to make Bristol the great city that it is today. However, my book, Bristol from the Post and Press also contains some rather quirky stories like the one about the 17-year old lad who jumped from a plane flying across the city, just for a dare. Fortunately, he lived to tell the tale to the local papers and was completely uninjured.
Then there was the occasion that the Rolling Stones were turned away from the restaurant at the Grand Hotel where the group was staying for a night. The hotel’s head waiter Mr. Dick Court told the Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger that his sweat shirt and jeans were not in keeping with the hotel’s dress code for its restaurant. Mr. Court told him that he could borrow some suitable clothing - a jacket and tie - but the singer was having none of that. With the rest of his group he made off to a restaurant elsewhere in the city. It was a story that the made the front page of the Evening Post.
My book starts though with a report from the Western Daily Press in 1899 of an investiture held in the centre of the city. Usually these important events are held by the monarch of the day in a royal place. But Queen Victoria decided to make her way to Bristol to confer a knighthood on the Mayor of the city, Cllr Herbert Ashman.
The Western Daily Press, then a broadsheet, reports the visit in much detail giving its account a whole page. Readers were told everything from descriptions of the dresses of the civic dignitaries on parade to details about the music being played by a military band whilst the crowds waited for the royal procession to arrive.
However, the story takes a strange twist when we read that Cllr Ashman was not knighted inside one of Bristol’s grand buildings but on the pavement in the centre of the city – admittedly it was covered by a red carpet. Queen Victoria didn’t even leave her open-top carriage for the ceremony. She borrowed a sword, leant out of the horse-drawn vehicle and commanded the civic leader, who was kneeling, to “arise Sir Herbert Ashman”. After the brief ceremony the Queen made off for her next engagement.
Unfortunately the paper didn’t explain why the investiture was held in Bristol, or in the open air, or why Her Majesty never left her carriage. The latter may be explained that through her advancing years she was frail.
A few months before the ceremony Queen Victoria had announced that in future Bristol’s Mayor would be called the Lord Mayor. Cllr. Ashman was the last Mayor and first Lord Mayor of Bristol.
Another story that I found fascinating involved Queen Elizabeth II who visited a pub completely unannounced to shelter from the snow.
Apparently, she was delivering Christmas presents to members of her family in Gloucestershire when her car got caught up in a blizzard. She sought refuge in the Cross Hands Hotel at Old Sodbury on the edge of Bristol. Her Majesty was secretly taken into the landlord’s private quarters where she had a meal and met his children. It meant that none of the customers in the bar were aware of how close they were to the monarch.
Maurice Fells new book Bristol From The Post and Press is available for purchase now.