Hole in the Wall, Queen Square, Bristol

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    Situated in the heart of the dockside, next to the historic Queen Square, is the old Berni - now a Beefeater - restaurant, the Hole-in-the-Wall ex mail-coaching inn.

    The pub/restaurant is reminiscent of an old coaching inn, with the restaurant covering the whole of the top floor, where you can dine whilst looking out over the docks and the river station, or the prominent St Mary Redcliffe church.

    Once called the Coach and Horses, the Hole in the Wall pub on the corner of Queen Square is a well known Bristol landmark.

    In the eighteenth century it was one of a number of pubs frequented by seafarers in the age of press-gangs, where men were kidnapped and forcibly recruited into the British Navy. The spy house on the dock side of the pub was used as a lookout for press gangs.

    The Spyglass at the Hole in the Wall where sailors kept watch for the press gangs.

    Press-gangs were not used for slave ships, though underhand methods were used to get sailors aboard these ships. Slave ships were not popular with sailors, because of the high mortality rates among the crew and the danger of slave rebellions.

    It was common in many of the taverns around the centre of Bristol for landlords to receive money from ship owners in return for plying sailors with drink to get them into debt.

    The only way sailors could then avoid going to the poor house or debtors' prison was to enlist on a slave ship.

    Who on earth would want to drink in a Hole in the Wall ? Quite a few people, it seems even if they can't agree about why. There's plenty of debate about which Bristol pub inspired Stevenson's Spyglass in Treasure Island. Most people think it's the Hole in the Wall in The Grove, which seems to fit the description fairly well.

    Why the Coach and Horses was called the Hole in the Wall isn't clear, but it's certainly been known as that for hundreds of years. One theory, which is as good as any, is that it gained the name from the small doorway and long passage entrance from Queen Square.

    AT THE SIGN OF THE SPYGLASS

    WHEN I had done breakfasting the squire gave me a note addressed to John Silver, at the sign of the Spyglass and told me I should easily find the place by following the line of the docks, and keeping a bright lookout for a little tavern with a large brass telescope for a sign. I set off, overjoyed at this opportunity to see some more of the ships and seamen, and picked my way aillong a great crowd of people and carts and bales, for the dock was now at its busiest, until I found the tavern in question.

    It was a bright enough little place of entertainment. The sign was newly painted; the windows had neat red curtains; the floor was cleanly sanded. There was a street on each side, and an open door on both, which made the large, low room pretty clear to see in, in spite of clouds of tobacco smoke.

    The customers were mostly seafaring men; and they talked so loudly that I hung at the door, almost afraid to enter.

    The fact that Stevenson never saw it until after Treasure Island was published doesn't spoil a good story But how did any pub end up with such an uninviting name ? Mr R. W Evans of Bristol Hill, Brislington, reckons it goes back to the war when the pub - then the Coach and Horses - was damaged by a bomb.

    'To gain access for his customers the landlord knocked a hole in the wall at the back of the premises, which consisted of a courtyard surrounded by a high brick wall,' says Mr Evans, who picked up the tale from a pub regular some years ago.

    It's a nice story, but not the reason for the pub's name, which is far older. The inn was built around 1700 as the Coach and Horses but deeds refer to it as both the Coach and Horses and the Hole in the Wall.

    The second name was usually given to inns near a hole in a boundary wall, and there have been at least three in Bristol. Two were in Prince Street, just outside the old city boundary.

    The earliest was the Shipwrights Arms which vanished, more than century ago. The second, fondly remembered by many Bristolians, was The Merchants Arms, a converted house built on, or near, the site of the Shipwrights Arms and run by the well-known Fowkes family. That was demolished around 1943 to make way for the road across Queen Square.

    Literary pirate Long John Silver is set to be celebrated with a statue in Bristol. Fans of Robert Louis Stevenson's one-legged pirate hope to build a bronze statue in his honour outside the Hole in the Wall pub believed to be the inspiration for the novel's watering hole, The Spyglass.

    Although the scheme to build a statue is at an early stage, it is estimated it will cost up to £45,000 to create. A campaign is being launched to raise the cash and is being kick-started by 96-year-old Frank Shipsides, who is acknowledged as one of Bristol's greatest living marine artists.

    He has agreed to donate 150 personally-signed copies of a picture depicting the proposed statue outside the pub. The statue is the brainchild of the newly-formed Long John Silver Trust, which is aiming to put one of fiction's best loved villains on the city map.

    There are many Bristol links to the novel Treasure Island and both the Hole in the Wall, in Queen Square, and the Llandoger Trow, in nearby King Street have been said to be the inspiration behind The Spyglass. It is where the story's hero, Jim Hawkins, meets Silver, who is running the pub.

    The Hole in the Wall still features a spyglass, a peephole in the wall once used as a lookout for the press gangs, who kidnapped men to force them to serve in the Royal Navy. It had a bar named the Spyglass when it was run by steakhouse entrepreneurs the Berni brothers.

    Renewed interest in Treasure Island - and in Long John Silver - began last year when the classic children's tale was chosen for the launch of Bristol's first Great Reading Adventure, which resulted in 8,000 copies of the book being distributed.

    Many schools were involved in the project and the Bristol Evening Post serialised the story in the paper, illustrated by local children. Local historian Mark Steeds, the main driving force behind the trust, said: 'I was fired by the idea of some sort of tribute in Bristol to Stevenson's story after taking part in the Great Reading Adventure.

    'I dressed up as Long John Silver and, along with a friend, went along to my local primary school to read to and entertain the kids.

    'I'm convinced that the inn which fits the book's description closest as the pirates' haunt is the Hole in the Wall.

    'It would be the ideal place for a statue of Silver and I'm sure that it would attract visitors to Bristol from all over the world.

    'However, good quality statues don't come cheaply.'

    1. brizzle born and bred 33 months ago | reply

      1854: A Spanish vessel, Rosario, crewed entirely by Spaniards and Highlander, which had a mixed crew of English, Scottish and American sailors, were docked at Bristol Port. One of the Highlander’s crew saw a Spaniard abusing a young woman and intervened to protect her. A fight broke out between the two men, which was ended by passing police officers, who separated the combatants and sent them back to their ships. There was another fight between the two crews later that evening, after the Spanish sailors allegedly attacked the men from Highlander Unfortunately, the following day, both crews chose to drink in the same pub, The Hole in the Wall on Prince's Street.

      Recognising that there might be trouble, the landlord wisely separated them, sending the Highlander crew to an upstairs room. Shortly afterwards, a lone sailor from Highlander arrived at the pub and was attacked by the Spaniards. His shipmates heard the disturbance and went to his rescue but, being unarmed, quickly scattered when they realised that the Spaniards all had knives. Three men were stabbed in the affray One of them, Cornelius Murphy, was an innocent bystander, who just happened to get in the way of a knife-wielding Spanish sailor. Murphy Robert Hoskins and John Beale were taken to the Infirmary where Murphy died soon after admittance. His assailant was identified as Juan Antonio Castro and, when the subsequent inquest on the death of Murphy recorded a verdict of ‘wilful murder’ against him, he was committed for trial at the Gloucestershire Assizes. On 1 April, Castro was found guilty of the lesser offence of ‘manslaughter’ and sentenced to one year’s imprisonment. '

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