Bristol research: Cricket, Cary Grant, Banksy…and Dracula?

It’s not often Cricket, Cary Grant and Dracula come up in the same conversation. Oh, and Banksy. But they do here, following my Bristol research trip.

Why Bristol research?

Bristol research curved terrace

Why not? It’s my home town so a research trip really appealed! It’s the city where I spent the first decades of my life. I am currently writing a book, set in the Regency, with scenes around the docks and in what was then South Gloucestershire, now just outside the city centre…

But more about the book at a later date

For today’s blog, I want to share with you my delight in a Bristol research trip where I discovered an area of the city that I only knew by name. Montpelier.

Montepelier railway station Bristol graffiti

Rob Brewer from Bristol, England, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>,

Not what you’d expect, huh? I certainly didn’t!  Described as more Bronx than Bristol, it’s a million miles from the place I knew as a child. Apparently more than 80% of building surfaces in Montpelier are covered with graffiti – some of it I loved. Some….well, looking at all the coverage I found online, it has certainly divided opinion.

When I grew up in Bristol, Montpelier was just one of the railway stations en route  to my aunt’s house. It has always been so much more than that, only I didn’t know it.

Bristol research MontpelierBristol research Montpelier

 

 

 

 

Bristol research Montpelier

OK, it doesn’t have the grandeur of Clifton, or Cheltenham, or Bath, but it has a charm and energy all of its own, and LOTS of interesting history!

Let’s start with the name

The earliest mention of Montpelier is in Matthews Bristol Guide of 1793 – “a beautiful view of Bristol and the country can be obtained from Montpelier.” Bristol has expanded a great deal since then and this is about all that is left of that “beautiful view”, a few rooftops through the trees of what is left of the public park.

Bristol research Montpelier park viewApparently in the 18th and early 19th centuries many places with pretensions to becoming a health resort took the name, copying the French spa town of Montpellier, although sometimes changing the spelling to just one “l”. One can find areas called “Montpel(l)ier in Brighton, Cheltenham, Harrogate and even in London.

Bristol research? Where to start?

woman against background of questionmarksIt makes sense, when planning a research trip, to find someone who knows the area well, if you can. I have family living in and around Bristol and arranged to meet up with my ideal guide, one  who knows the area and also has an interest in the history.

 

dirty draft fastMy book begins in 1816, when Stoke’s Croft was at the edge of the city. What better way to start our tour than with refreshments at the Full Moon? It has been serving customers since the early 18th century, when it was a busy coaching inn on the road north to Gloucester.

Perfect, since I had already decided my hero will stay here when he arrives in Bristol.

The Full Moon is now advertised as a backpackers’ hostel but it still has many original features inside.

Bristol research Full Moon coaching inn entrance archOutside, however, although the original arch into the yard is still there, the building itself has had a lick of paint!

Bristol research Full Moon inn

Not quite what the Georgians would expect, but it’s a lively welcoming place and I loved it. And, let’s face it, given the amount of painting going on around the place, maybe it’s best to do your own?

Bristol research Montpelier street art

 

It was when we left the Full Moon and made our way to Montpelier that I realised just how much street art there was in my old town. It’s everywhere.

 

 

And not just painted on the walls!Bristol research Montpelier street artNot surprising, when you think that Banksy  started his career in Bristol.

Bristol research Banksy street art

Richard Cocks, CC BY-SA 2.5 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5>

The history

Art aside (for now), Montpelier has a rich and varied history. In 1645, General Fairfax made his headquarters at Montpelier Farm (demolished 1872) on the nearby Ashley Hill, and Cromwell stayed there in September 1645 before leading the attack on nearby Bristol. In the 18th century, Montpelier had its own Grand Pleasure Baths. There is still a Bath Street, but a medical centre now sits next to the Old England, the 18th century tavern.

Bristol Montpelier Old England pub

Which brings me to Cricket

Bristol research Montpelier pubThe Old England is thought to be the only pub in England that has full size cricket nets in the garden. (You can just about see them through the trees, here.)

They are still in use by members of the Old England Cricket Club.

In Victorian times W G Grace came here to enjoy his favourite pastimes of beer and cricket, and he is depicted in all his glory on the front of the pub.

 

Bristol research Montpelier pub W G Grace

Picton Street

Fairfax isn’t the only general associated with Montpelier. This street named after General Picton, who died at Waterloo. This was the centre of a Regency shopping area and still has its original houses, although not all of them are shops now.  As someone who grew up in the centre of Bristol during the 50’s, I remember lines of small plain terraced houses, perhaps with a polished brass doorstep and the odd painted door (usually some dark colour). A bit drab, to be honest. Nothing like the explosion of colour that I saw as we made our way along Picton Street!

Bristol research Picton Street

Bristol research Picton Street

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bristol research Picton Street street art

And what about Cary Grant? More Bristol research

Cary GrantThere has been quite a lot of media interest in Cary Grant this winter. Or Archibald Leach, as he was christened. Possibly because a new TV drama “Archie”,  was released in November 2023. Also, at least one of his films is usually being shown somewhere on tv. He was born on 18th January 1904, so belated birthday wishes, Archie.

What you might not know is that he was born in Bristol and lived with his grandmother in Picton Street for a while before leaving home  at 14 to seek his fortune on the stage.

And Dracula?

Bristol research Picton Street

Bristol research Picton Street Irving plaqueBear with me… No 9 Picton Street bears a plaque for the noted actor/manager, Sir Henry Irving (~1838-1905). 

Bram Stoker was his business manager for many years and it is believed that Stoker used Irving as the model for Dracula.

 

Sir Henry Irving

Irving  is described on the Irving Society website thus: “…tall, slender figure—about 6′ 2″—with hair worn longer than was customary, a clean-shaven chin—again unusual for the times—a long, strikingly sensitive face and a dominant, rather sardonic, presence which both fascinated and intimidated.”

cartoon vampirePerfect for Dracula, then. Many have said this was Stoker’s tribute to his friend and  “guv-nor”. However, Irving was also described as “Pompous and insufferable, sucking all the life out of his employees”.

Bram Stoker

Stoker wanted Irving to play the lead in the stage play of Dracula, but when Irving read Stoker’s work, he declared it “dreadful”.

So, was it perhaps not such a tribute after all….?

So you see, my Bristol research trip threw up such a lot of surprises. I have plenty of information and inspiration  for my Regency novel and I am now busily writing it! Almost none of the above will feature, for obvious reasons (and you will have to wait for another blog to discover my 18th century nuggets of research). Writers amongst you will know the pitfalls of research, the rabbit-holes waiting to drag you in. This trip was a positive warren!

So, next time you are walking through a city, why not take a moment to just stop and stare….

Happy reading (or researching)

Sarah

18 thoughts on “Bristol research: Cricket, Cary Grant, Banksy…and Dracula?

  1. Elizabeth Bailey

    Fascinating history and what a wonderful combination of factoids ( as I believe facts are now called). Best research. I did Bristol for The Dagger Dance and found a brilliant map online for 18th century. Let me know if you would like the reference.

    Reply
  2. Sarah Mallory

    Glad you enjoyed it Liz. It’s such a long time since I featured Bristol in a book, but I am sure I will do it again! Thank you, too, for the offer of the map reference. My book is set around 1816 and I actually found Matthews Guide book as mentioned in the blog, plus a map, both printed in 1815. What a treat!

    Reply
  3. lesley2cats

    Great post, Sarah! My daughter Phillipa knows Bristol well, having been to uni in Bath and having many friends still living there, as indeed she did herself for a while. The trouble is, this has already started me on a rabbit hole of my own, starting with our windmill in Whitstable which was once the studio of Henry Irving’s grandson. (Yes, had to go and look it up…) And thanks for all the pictures.

    Reply
    1. Sarah Post author

      Glad you enjoyed it Lesley, I had a great time revisiting old haunts as well as discovering new and exciting places. As for Rabbit holes – don’t stay down yours too long, you have a book to finish!

      Reply
    1. Sarah Post author

      So pleased you enjoyed it, Sophie. It was an eye opener for me, thanks to a lovely relative whose passion for history helped enormously. We had a great time!

      Reply
  4. Liz Fielding

    So interesting, Sarah. I’ll be in Bristol myself later this year and I’ll be looking out for the street art. Nick Park’s Aardman Animations is also based in Bristol and one year there were a lot of individually decorated Gromits throughout the city. And I love the way The Full Moon is decorated. It seems that it always was a very lively place.

    Reply
    1. Sarah Post author

      Thanks for dropping by, Liz, enjoy your visit to Bristol, it is a very colourful city! You can find lots of tours of Bristol street-art online, including a Banksy walking tour on Visit Bristol.co.uk. And by the way, Aardman are based in Montpelier, too!

      Reply
    1. Sarah Post author

      Thanks, Jan. I haven’t visited the centre of Bristol for years now, and there is so much more I want to go back and see. I feel a holiday coming on!

      Reply
  5. christinahollis

    Talk about a trip down memory lane! My first full-time job was with Sun Life Assurance, opposite The Full Moon. That was our local, unless we fancied a walk up to The Bell. As for cricket, there used to be a plaque on the wall of (IIRC) Clifton College marking some heroic cricketing feat performed there in the past which has only recently been beaten by a professional cricketer. I must check Google – but for anyone else planning a trip to Bristol, don’t miss the city archives in the B Bond warehouse. Absolutely fascinating.

    Reply
    1. Sarah Post author

      Glad it brought back memories, Chris! As a family we often went to the piano shop across the road from the Full Moon, but never into the pub in those days, sadly! I used to temp for an agency on park Street, going to lots of small offices all around the city centre. Loved it!

      Reply
    1. Sarah Post author

      Thanks for the link – lots of cricketing interest around Bristol (maybe its because it is sandwiched between Somerset and Gloucester…?

      Reply
  6. Joanna

    Fascinating street art. My trips to Bristol have tended to be to the hospital or airport or theatre, so I’ve missed the art. Must do better.

    Reply
    1. Sarah Post author

      Glad you found it interesting, Joanna. It is not what I expected when I set out, but I really enjoyed the “arty” side of my trip!

      Reply
    1. Sarah Post author

      Thank you, Yve, I am so glad you dropped by. I love being able to share snippet of information with others who might be interested. Bristol has so much history, but I have been away for a long time and a lot of new developments passed me by. Note to self – must do better!

      Reply

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