The Great Debate Bristol Heat 23rd November 2022 University of Bristol

Last Wednesday 14 students from 11 different sixth forms took part in the Bristol heat of the Great Debate.  Our largest number of contestants ever.  Our judges were Adam Vaitilingam KC, Claire Deering and Dr James Watts from the University History Department. The topic was “Why does History matter to me?”  The contestants came from a range of local sixth forms plus two schools which had travelled from as far as Cheltenham and Bourton on the Water on a dark and stormy night.  

The students all gave interesting and articulate presentations on the topic and answered the judges’ questions thoughtfully.  Many contestants related to the question back to their own families in particular grandparents and how this had made them first interested in History these included links to the partition of India and the Troubles in Ireland.   Others reflected on what they had learnt from the History of Medicine or events in the Twentieth Century in the wider world which they felt were still not understood well enough in Western Europe. A very witty presentation by Ella Ferris explained how she had looked for reassurance in our recent political upheavals by studying the reign of Roman Emperors.  Orla McMahon after a three and half hour journey from the flooded Cotswolds gave us some excellent thoughts on the local History of her area going back its Roman British heritage.  Our runner up Molly Fleming from Bristol Grammar School gave a very well researched presentation on the need for continued Holocaust History.  Our winner Catherine Saunders explained how her interest in History had been sparked by a balloon debate. She had researched Katherine Johnson, the black American mathematician contribution to the space programme which had once been written out of American History.  Catherine’s commitment to History was about finding out about these hidden figures and she introduced us to the concept of the Matilda effect where the bias against women in science has hidden the achievements of women like Rosalind Franklin and deprived several more of the Nobel prize.  Catherine was chosen as a worthy winner and presented with her certificate by our judges.  She will go on to the national final at Windsor Castle on Saturday 25th March 2023. Good luck Catherine and well done to all our contestants, Joe Hendy (Yate) Tianna Biddick (St Brendan’s) Orla Mahon and Maya Samuel (Cotswold School), Imogen Lee and Maddie Chan (Cheltenham Ladies College), Molly Fleming (Bristol Grammar School) Ellie Gooch and Lily Wiltshire (Churchill Academy) Saifullah Ahmed (Redland Green School), Ella Ferris and Niamh West (Clifton College), Catherine Saunders (Redmaids High School) and Alice Li (Badminton School). 

Finally, a big thanks to all the teachers who prepared these students for the competition and who supported them on the night and to all their parents and friends who also came along to support them as well. 

12th October Wine Through Time: A Vinous History of Bristol. Dr Evan Jones

Last Wednesday’s long awaited talk for members by Dr Evan Jones was definitely worth the wait.  Evan has already given us talks on death and disease and led a walk that illustrated the sex lives of Bristolians of the early modern period. What was awaiting us this time? He began with the origins of the wine connection, from the Roman Empire when wine drinking was a symbol of Imperial sophistication and wines was shipped over in amphorae. The extent of alcohol consumption during the medieval and early Modern times was a surprise to many of our members and especially that in Bristol much of this was wine. The cost of moving it elsewhere in the country by land meant that in Bristol it was a relatively cheaper drink and from Norman times it was regularly coming into the city (from Bordeaux and later Spain and Portugal). So it was not just the drink of the aristocracy. After members tasted small amounts of first the adulterated mixture that resembled those drunk by Bristolians in the thirteenth century we moved on to stronger and richer wines accompanied by French, Spanish wines and English cheeses. We also learnt the about the use of barrels in shipping wine and the amount of alcohol poisoning that went on when men sought to salvage the cargo of shipwrecks as well as the derivation of the name of Bristol’s most famous sherry (Cream as well as Milk). The social history of drinking is clearly a major field of research.  By the end of the talk we had had not only enlightening talk but a friendly meeting of members and surprisingly no-one spilt anything.

NEW SEASON. Wednesday 28th SEptember.

Jogger, Mugger and Hipster: Gentrification in late 20th century Britain

Professor Peter Mandler

Peter Mandler a renowned cultural historian at Cambridge University opened our sixth year of the new Bristol Branch of the Historical Association.  In forty five minutes he gave a wide ranging and fascinating exploration of the changing demography of Britain’s post-war cities.  He introduced the Jogger a now widely accepted part of urban life as a once “UnEnglish” even preposterous figure.  Originally middle aged men  trying to ward off heart disease these exercisers had become highly visible in our cities by the 1970’s.  These pioneers were often graduates of our expanding universities who now choose to live in the inner city for longer and by 1978 had been joined by female joggers.  Their uniform of sweat shirts and trainers moved from running to protect their hearts to running for their minds.  We got use to them hogging our cities’ pavements.

Another media trope “the mugger” was seen as part of the moral panic that often surrounded reporting on our inner cities. While the media presented street crime rising and the victims being aging, poorer white women, the work of Stuart Hall and other sociologists helped to present a more accurate account of crime and robbery in the 1970’s suggesting black young men were being presented as scapegoats in  the zones of transition of the inner city. 

The final figure the “Hipster” often seen as figure of fun and even a pretentious phoney by journalists was presented by Professor Mandler as part of the way cities evolved in the noughties.  These socially aspirant young people had well paid jobs and were part of making cities more viable even in the more unattractive parts of London . 

This funny and insightful lecture was followed by lots of lively questions from the audience many contributing their own experiences as urban dwellers in our city.  


The University of Bristol have a new project researching Bristol’s industrial history. A report written by Dr James Watts and Lena Ferriday has just been published, uncovering the history of the former gasworks, 65 Avon Street, St Philips. The company introduced gas and gas lighting to the city, and this research highlights both the positive and negative impacts of this new technology for the city:

The university is now appealing for local people to come forward with memories, images, documents or artefacts associated with the Gas Shed or Retort House, the former headquarters of the Bristol Gas Company or its later use as the Vauxhall Drive Garage. They have a survey for people to share stories and footage set up here: They are also looking for participants in oral history interviews, who can sign up here:

There is more information on the project here: