Bristol – a watery sort of trip

Down to Bristol again this weekend to stay with Anna and Gareth.  Watery in the sense that for the first time in weeks we might have had to encounter rain, and involving a boat trip and touching the fringes of the big Harbour Festival.

    Last time we came we spent time exploring Clifton, Anna and Gareth’s new neighbourhood, this time we went further afield.
    First, we went to an exhibition of studio pottery at collector Ken Stradling’s Design Study Centre, near the University. The pieces on show came from his collection.  A piece of family history here: Philosopher’s first wife, and Anna’s mother, was the daughter of the studio potter Marianne de Trey (she died in 2016, aged 102). Marianne’s husband, Anna’s grandfather, was the potter and painter Sam Haile, who died tragically young, in 1948. Ken Stradling, an old friend of Marianne, has built up a remarkable collection of glass, ceramics and furniture design classics. Through her mother, Anna made contact with Ken when they arrived in Bristol, and this exhibition featured some of Sam Haile’s work.
   We also had a good look round the rest of the items on show – it was an unusual opportunity to touch, and even pick up, items that one has only ever seen illustrated in books. Here are a few pictures:

I’ve always wanted one of those Penguin Donkey bookcases

A charger by Sam Haile

     Next, we went on a really interesting boat trip from the incredibly crowded harbour in the city centre out through the city’s waterways to where the canal joins the Avon. 
     The annual Bristol Harbour Festival is a massive affair with music, ships, all sorts of boating events, stalls, food and many, many, people…. Even without the festival, Bristol seems to have totally transformed itself into a go-to leisure destination, with all the old dockside buildings converted into chi-chi apartments, surrounded by expensive pleasure boats and encrusted with bars and hip eateries full of cavorting youth.  We felt like anxious strangers teleported in from a quiet provincial backwater – which is exactly what we are, I guess. Oh, and we shared our boat with…. a hen party….. However, the interest of the trip outweighed the disadvantage of our shrieking fellow passengers, who were clearly set on consuming maximum alcohol in minimum possible time. Here are some pictures:

       Our destination was Beese’s Riverside Bar, quite a long way along the river- don’t ask me where. The place was a strange mixture of noisy drinking den, rural retreat and genteel tea-garden with cream teas. There was a wedding party, and the raucous hens, as well as families who arrived on a funny little ferry across the river. I said to the others that it had the feel of a nineteenth century tea and pleasure garden – Battleaxe readers will know that I am interested in such places – remember the Clive Vale temperance tea garden?. Anyway, I’ve just looked up Beese’s on the internet and I was right. Working people would have been sailing out to Beese’s from the city on pleasure boats since it was founded in 1846 as a tea garden. Initially, it did not serve alcohol, but would soon have acquired the slightly improper, rowdy way of going on which characterised such places in the late nineteenth century. Traces of both cultures still remain.

Beese’s – (from the internet) – we arrived this very boat, teeth and all.
Beese’s in the 1890s

        Next morning we woke up to see this hot air balloon drifting past our loft window. Philosopher heard it puffing its air about…..

We went down to somewhere called Wapping Wharf – more hip eateries etc., but we also saw some great sights, including this pirate ship – I hope we can go on it on our next visit to Bristol – cranes, tall ships and a little dock-side steam engine.  Altogether very good….


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