Edson Burton. Black Activism in Bristol from c1963 to 2021.

Our final lecture this year was a fascinating and informative survey around the History of Black Activism in Bristol

Edson Burton’s lecture covered the small pockets of immigration that existed in Bristol before the Windrush generation.  The first cadre which included many ex-servicemen and the gradual build up of a Black Community of thousands by the 1960’s.  Edson’s research which had included interviews with many of that first and second generation showed the colour bar that excluded many well educated individuals from the West Indies from skilled and professional work.  The Bristol Bus Boycott inspired by the American Black Civil Rights Movement was compared with the St Paul’s Riots of 1980.  The established narrative about the reaction of political parties to the Boycott which appears in school textbooks was challenged.  Edson described the reaction of the generation coming to maturity in the 1970’s who were facing discrimination at school and police harassment on a daily basis and how some were attracted to Rastafarianism.  Black Bristolians felt safe in St Paul’s and they saw the police raid on the Black and White Café in 1980 as an attack on the heart of their community.  In the aftermath of the riots Edson explored how the community had built up its new institutions to service its community and how problems nevertheless continued.  The campaign Justice for Judah for the wrongful tasering of a black community constable in 2017 and the Black Lives Matter Campaign of 2016 involving a younger black community and led by local activists were compared to the 1963 Bus Boycott.  The Q & A which followed led to some sharing of personal recollections about the attitudes of other parts of the city to St Paul’s including the stigmatizing of it as an unsafe crime ridden area, the memories of eyewitnesses in 1980.  Edson’s talk also drew attention to the wider St Paul’s community which included immigrants from Poland and Ukraine and the common ground with other areas of the city like white Southmead. A fascinating end to the term. 

GREAT DEBATE. DEcember 1st 2021.

A massive thankyou to all the teachers and students who spent a great deal of time preparing for and taking part in the GREAT DEBATE. We had ten sixth form historians taking part. The question was…

The 70-year reign of Queen Elizabeth II has seen global and widespread changes including in: societal infrastructure, industry, rural life, the environment, and ideas: Which changes of the last 70 years have affected your local area the most?

The three judges (Adam Vaitilingam QC, Mary Feerick and Clare Deering) were very impressed with the high standard of the presentations.

The debate was recorded. If you are a student or teacher please contact Rob who will give you a link.

Michael Wood Wednesday 24th November 2021.

The Story of China – Voices from the Chinese Past

Last night Michael Wood Professor of Public History and a film maker who has produced an unmatched range of History programmes over his long career attempted what might seem an impossible task.  How in forty five minutes do you cover the History of the world’s longest civilised state with the largest population in the world?  Michael brought it to life by selecting five distinctive voices from China’s past.  In a journey from the 2nd century BC to the 20th century he selected a poet, an historian, a female autobiographer, an emperor and a feminist. 

The Chinese voices brought to life this remarkable country about which so many of us would admit we know far too little. Starting with tradition of Chinese poetry that went back further than Homer he introduce Du Fu from the eighth century whose work he compared with Shakespeare and Dante in its importance and humanity. Quoting his experiences in losing his young son in a famine caused by war “Brooding on what I have lived through, if even I know such suffering, how much worse is the life of the common man”.

The historian Sima Qian of the Han Dynasty was his next voice. An historian whose accurate accounts had led modern archaeologists to undercover amazing finds and who used interviews with ordinary people as sources and wrote objective accounts long before such ideas were considered in European History.  Even more extraordinary was his decision to honour a promise to his father to complete the history by suffering the terrible punishment of castration. “A man has only one death. That death may be as weighty as Mount Tai or it may be as light as a goose feather. It all depends on the way he uses it.”

The twelfth century Li Qingzhao a female autobiographical writer was his next voice writing at the time of the invention of printing her ground-breaking account of her marriages and her ability to get a divorce from her abusive second husband was extraordinary enough but her comments at the fall of a dynasty and criticisms of men’s handling of affairs are pithy and lively. 

After this Michael went on to Xuanye the first Emperor of the Qing dynasty who ruled from 1654 for over sixty years and epitomised the sage emperor giving wise advice to his successors to “look after the people…considerate to officials…to be diligent…and treat their people with balance”.  Not always advice followed by his successors!

Finally, Michael gave us the voice of the Chinese feminist Qiu Jin born in 1875 who wrote that true equality could never be just about class

Don’t speak of how women can’t become heroes:

alone, I rode the winds eastward, for ten thousand leagues.

…abolish the rule of men. 

After the talk we had a really enthusiastic Q & A session and Michael brought us up to date with answers that showed the problems of modern historians in China and abroad writing honestly about the Communist era. The state refuses to admit that any mistakes have been made since 1949. Michael revealed that last chapter of his own book had been removed before going on sale in China.

Review Mary Feerick

Dr Lyndsey Jenkins Lecture on Post War Labour Women MPs

Lyndsey Jenkins lecture based on her forthcoming book on Labour Women MPs in the period from
Attlee to Thatcher included the names not just of well known figures like Jennie Lee and Barbara
Castle but less well known figures at a time when female MPs never reached more than 4% of the
House but in 1945 Labour had more women MPs with 21 than they would have again until 1987! In
an era when all consumers coped with rationing these exceptional women stressed their role as
housewives to find common ground as citizens with other voters. These politicians stressed the
tough struggles of austerity Britain, shortages of baby clothes, the queues for food, the carrying of
shopping on the bus and the struggles with exhausting housework long before the labour saving
devices associated with consumerist Britain. They used the same rhetoric that recognized the skills
of the housewife that are so often associated with the success of Mrs Thatcher in 1970’s and ‘80’s.
Lyndsey’s lecture also described the barriers these women faced in a 96% male House of Commons.
As well as a disrespectful press, a Speaker who often failed to give them the opportunity to speak
the Labour Party seldom gave them safe seats to contest so they had to excellent campaigners.
Unlike the pioneering first women MPs 1919-39 these women in the era of National Health Service
spoke about the issues around pain relief for childbirth and were not afraid to refer to their own
experiences. Although not using the language of the Feminists MPs of a later era they raised the
issue of respect for mothers and housewives as equal contributors to society. They also campaigned
for equal pay for professional women. As usual once the lecture ended a lot of lively questions
ensued on this clearly neglected party of Labour’s History and the Bristol HA is really looking forward
to Dr Jenkins forthcoming book.


Stephen Bourne gave a really fascinating insight into his career as a self-taught historian in last night’s talk.  Stephen’s initial book Aunt Esther’s Story which came out thirty years ago was based on his link to the older women in his family whose stories of their experiences on the Home Front in Second World War London fascinated him when he “bunked off” school in the 1970’s. He co-wrote a book with his black aunt Esther. Esther was adopted into his warm working class family when she lost her parents. This book led him into a world of research and writing having left school with few qualifications.  With funding available for community History Stephen has been a pioneer in piecing together the jigsaw pieces of British Black History.  He wrote for the vast array of independent magazines available in the 1990’s including The Voice, Race Today and The Caribbean Times.  Stephen struggled to get his books published without a literary agent and but once they were published, they sold!  There was and is a real audience for Black British History and particularly for the voice of Black Britons telling their own stories.  His books have included work on the Black Home Front in both wars, Black Servicemen as well as writing about Gay History.  Black Poppies which first came out in 2014 was republished in 2019.  Stephen’s books are on areas that today would form a PhD thesis but then he was pioneering Black History before such topics were being taught in universities.  Stephen was refreshingly honest and open about the barriers facing him including lack of interest at the BBC and told a great story about the enthusiastic reception he got from 13 year old Liverpool school children and bus drivers.  His latest project is working on a children’s version of Black Poppies to be used in his local London schools because of the lack of resources.  While understanding why teachers taught American Black Civil Rights, he urged the need for more inclusivity of Black British History because this subject is essential for our children.  Now recognized by the academic establishment with an Honorary Fellowship Stephen reminded so many of us that we learnt History first by listening to the stories of our families and for some of us by not finding ourselves in the version of History served up for us in our schools and universities. 

Stephen’s website https://stephenbourne.co.uk/books/


Our first lecture of the new season. Wednesday 6th October.

Tim explored some of the fascinating journeys he took using the maps produced during the Festival of Britain year (1951). The aim was to see how Britain had changed over a seventy year period for his new book About Britain.  His journey from Canterbury to Margate beginning on the Roman Stone Street was soon interrupted by the M20.  He showed us the Airport Café that is all that remains of the airport which once hosted the Silver Airways Company where people drove their cars onto planes, replaced in the 1960’s by ferries. These changing transport technologies touched on Britain’s flirtation with the Hovercraft which disappeared in the 1970’s.  The two themes he took were how our thinking had changed about land and about the past.  How land had gone from being cleared in East Anglia to being reclaimed.  How the 1950’s writers of these guidebooks especially WG Hoskins view of an upward trajectory of progress has been replaced by conservation and attempts to put back what had been “destroyed”.  This included on his Welsh journey the eradication in the 1990’s of the Rhododendrons in Snowdonia and the bringing back of original plants and rewilding. The guidebooks had offered a very bucolic eternal view of the English landscape and seemed to go out of the way to ignore our Victorian industrial heritage (“dull” “boot and shoe” and “hosiery towns”). Since the 1970’s industrial archaeology had seen a point in preserving this part of the landscape.  Our Victorian and even Twentieth century landscape was now being appreciated including the preservation of Preston Bus Station! Tim’s thought-provoking lecture finished with speculation on what his children might find if they undertook a similar journey in seventy years’ time. Question and Answers followed including what for Tim had been the most positive and saddest change he had found – A Viking ship replica in Kent and the neglected town of Burnley were the answers. 

Amazon.com: About Britain: A Journey of Seventy Years and 1,345 Miles eBook  : Cole, Tim: Kindle Store

PILLS, SHOCKS & JABS. Peter Cullimore.

Book review by Rob Pritchard Bristol Historical Association. 14th September 2021

The book costs £12 and is available from independent bookshops, which will either stock it or order copies for you. Or you can order directly from the publisher Bristol Books via their website www.bristolbooks.org and they will post it to you. ISBN number:  9781909446298

Pills, Shocks and Jabs is a worthy sequel to Peter Cullimore’s book Saints, Crooks and Slavers. As one would expect from a journalist, the book is extremely well written. It is also superbly illustrated and is an ideal read for anyone interested in 18th century Bristol, the history of medicine or the fascinating story of Quakerism.

In the early eighteenth century there were about a thousand Quakers in Bristol which had a population of about 20,000. Given their number the Quakers seemed to have had a disproportionate influence on the life of the city. Until about 1700 they were persecuted and even imprisoned for their beliefs which included pacifism. Like all nonconformists (dissenters) they were excluded from politics, the civil service and the army and navy. Like many nonconformists the Quakers turned their energies towards business. Some of them had made money from Bristol’s involvement in the slave trade but by the middle of the century they had become passionate about abolition. This was after all the Age of Enlightenment. As philanthropists Bristol Quakers used their money to invest in good causes such as health care for the poor.

The Bristol Quakers were a tight knit community. Women played a leading role in Quaker society. Peter Cullimore’s book has an extremely interesting chapter on what he calls Quakerville which lay to the north of the old city around Stokes Croft. There is a very useful map which takes you around places such as Brunswick Square, King Square, Broad Street and of course Quaker Friars. The magnificent website Know Your Place will be very useful in this respect. I can recommend this walk to our readers. I always feel very sad about the loss of St James Square which was damaged in the Blitz and then destroyed by post war developers. By the end of the eighteenth century the affluent classes had moved up the hill to Clifton.

The Bristol Quakers spent a great deal of time together. Much of what we know about them comes from their diaries and letters. Peter describes Sarah Champion Fox (1742-1811) as the queen bee of the Quaker community. She kept an excellent diary for half a century and we have Madge Dresser to thank for editing this in 2003. The Quakers were not keen on portraits but there are some delightful illustrations by Dr Thomas Pole of life in the Quaker house at 14 St James Square.

The core of Peter’s book is the story of eighteenth century medicine. In an age before anaesthetics, antiseptics and the germ theory, medical practitioners  struggled to help their patients. There were apothecaries, surgeons, physicians and druggists. Many were well meaning. Some were qualified. A few were effective. The Bristol Quakers such as Shurmer Bath, Dr John Till Adams, Ann Till Adams, Dr Abraham Ludlow and Dr Thomas Pole stand out for working hard to help patients both rich and poor. Their story is supported by non-Quakers such as Dr Edward Jenner and John Wesley.

For chocolate lovers there is a chapter on Fry’s chocolate which claimed to have medicinal qualities. Then there were the medical conmen. There is the cautionary tale of William Broderip who made a fortune oversubscribing pills and powders. The chapter on the use of electric shock treatments is quite shocking. Nevertheless, John Wesley and others advocated the use of electricity because it was seen as a multi-purpose remedy that had come from God, a kind of divine fire.

Many eighteenth century remedies may have had a placebo effect but the story of Jenner’s smallpox vaccination is very relevant in an age of vaccine passports. Dr Abraham Ludlow had already established an ‘inoculating house’ at Barton Hill.

Healthcare for the poor was virtually non existent but Quakers such as Dr Ludlow worked at the new Bristol Infirmary and helped set up the Bristol Dispensary (with Methodists). As well as providing free medical care the Dispensary used midwives to deliver about 1.000 babies. Some of the new generation of midwives were men. By the end of the century many women preferred man-midwives.

In my perambulations up Johnny Ball Lane, I had never realised that I was walking past the original Bristol Infirmary burial ground. The chapter on body snatchers shows how surgeons and students raided such burial grounds to obtain bodies for medical dissection. Even Quaker doctors played the role of resurrection men. The story of ‘Long Jack’ shows the risks they took.

The chapter on the Bristol Infirmary is poignant at a time when developers are keen to get their hands on Bristol’s older hospital buildings. Quaker medical men played a key role in the establishment of one of the first hospitals in England outside London. It may surprise readers to know that the surgeons and physicians were elected! The story of the election of a new surgeon at the city’s Merchant Tailor’s Hall in 1767 is hilarious. Political allegiances seemed to matter more than medical skills. Nevertheless, change was coming. By 1774 women had the right to vote in the Bristol Infirmary elections.

Many Quaker practitioners were pioneers in other fields. Dr Edward Long Fox petitioned parliament to abolish the slave trade in 1788, tended the wounded after the Bristol Bridge riot of 1793 and argued for a peace treaty with Revolutionary France in 1795. Not surprisingly he was not popular with more conservative forces in Bristol. His key work however was his construction of a revolutionary asylum at Brislington House in 1806. Peter’s book shows how ground breaking Dr Fox’s asylum was when compared with asylums such as the infamous Bedlam.

The book ends with the story of Dr Thomas Pole who had parallel careers as a travelling Quaker minister, surgeon, physician and obstetrician.

The Quakers were ‘movers and shakers’ in eighteenth century Bristol. They had a wide range of interests and played a vital role in the Age of Enlightenment.

I would like to finish this review with a family memory of Quaker ‘good works’. My grandparents worked for the Fry family at Failand House in the 1920s. My grandfather was Lady Fry’s chauffeur. One of his jobs was to drive her to Horfield Prison where she gave lantern slide talks to the prisoners. My grandfather’s job was to set up the projector and change the slides. Meanwhile back at Failand House Lady Fry’s daughter Agnes set up a small school where she gave my four aunts (who were all going to work in service) additional school lessons.

Enjoy the book. I certainly did.


Wednesday 4th August 2021. Dr Evan Jones.

Dr Evan Jones provided a fascinating tour of the streets and groves to the north of the medieval city. His research has provided a fresh perspective on life in medieval Bristol. Nineteen Bristol HA folk attended. The official title of the tour was ‘From Grope Cunt Lane to Fucking Grove: a sex tour of medieval Bristol’

Evan began by St John the Baptist in Nelson Street. In the Middle Ages this street was called Grope Cunt Lane. The area was close to the ships docked at the Quay/Key head and so the local prostitutes had plenty of customers. Evan explained how words such as cunt had a somewhat different meaning. Nevertheless, by the eighteenth century the city fathers were becoming embarrassed by such street names and were looking for more respectable names. Nelson was a patriotic name and could be accepted by most Bristolians.

We moved on to St Stephen’s and discussed recent research into marriages in the parish. From there we moved on to Host Street (next to Christmas Steps) which had originally been called Whore Street. Once again, the city fathers sought to make it more respectable. Whore Street was changed to Horse Street and eventually Host Street.

From there we progressed to Park Row and talked about the garden houses/allotments that enabled some richer Bristolians to rise above the stench of the city below.

By the University Wills building and then Priory Road, Evan talked about the groves (Hither Fockynggrove and Inner Fockynggrove) that sat on the northern boundary of the 1373 City & County of Bristol boundary. Evan provided a map indicating the position of the county boundary stones. At least one of these has been found.

The groves were areas where couples could walk and talk and engage in more intimate activities away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Evan explained medieval and early modern attitudes to sex. Most couples had very little privacy. Beds and bedrooms were often crowded. Hence the attraction of the groves on the boundary with Gloucestershire.

The tour provided an intriguing picture of how sexual language and attitudes have changed in the last six centuries. It also gave us a tantalizing view of a side of Bristol that is now so different.

 The party retired to the Highbury Vaults.

New book. Bristol and Transatlantic Slavery : Origins, Impact and Legacy

Some of you will remember the meeting held by the Bristol Historical Association on 30th April where three leading Bristol history teachers talked about their forthcoming book. It’s finished.

You can buy it from the Bristol Museums Service for £11.95. Altough it is intended for use with school students it will be of interest to general readers of history.

Here is the link.