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The Bush Tavern, Corn Street, Bristol
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Image by brizzle born and bred
The first type of sign for a place of alcoholic refreshment was a bush outside the door, leading to the name of the Bush. There is a Bush at Totterdown which is a modern building replacing a much older one, demolished in the late 20th century; perhaps this may have some connection with the fact that it is near the end of Bushy Park.

There was a famous Bush Tavern in Corn Street The word Tavern derives from the Roman word for an inn ‘taberna’. In 1775 it was presided over by Mr John Weeks and the directory of that year notes ‘Birmingham diligence and a Bath coach go from this inn, post chaises to let’. He served turtles every day and advertised greatly in the newspaper. Later known as the Bush Hotel it was replaced by the South Wales and West of England Bank which was erected in 1858.

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In 1544 among the innholders were George Grey, Thomas Rancock, Edmund Rogers and John Wyllyams, who was noted as being at Lawford’s Gate. By the time of James I only a small number of inns were allowed within the city limits. They provided lodging and food for travellers, as well as entertainment, sometimes by travelling players, when they were not forbidden by byelaws and acts of parliament.

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John Weeks was the master of the Bush Inn and Tavern in Corn Street, Bristol between 1775 and 1800.

His establishment was one of the most important watering holes in the city in the Georgian period and was noted for its elegant entertainments. Week’s long bill of fare informed customers of the food items in stock over the holiday period from which they could choose to construct their entertainments in the tavern. I have seen a number of similar lists published by Weeks in other years. For instance, there is one from 1790 in the Bristol Record Office.

John Weeks, landlord of the Bush Tavern, Corn St, was known as a generous host and the menu for his Christmas table testifies to that.

This vast bill of fare lists almost 140 dishes, mostly fish, fowl and cuts of meat. These include an entire roasting pig, meat from ten deer and more unusual items such as turtle and reindeer tongue. The list also contains many unfamiliar terms, such as ‘veal burr’ (veal sweetbreads), ‘pork griskin’ (lean pork loin) and ‘stares’ (starlings).

Items are described in odd quantities – such as ‘470 minced pies, 13 tarts’ – which suggests that the list was printed at short notice, once the foods available for Christmas were known.

As well as turtle imported into Bristol from the West Indies, ‘British Turtle’ is listed on this fascinating 1788 Christmas bill of fare from a Bristol tavern. Was British turtle, the popular substitute dish made from calf’s head which becomes more commonly known as ‘mock turtle’? Or was it real turtle landed perhaps in the Bristol Channel by local fishermen? Various species, including Leatherbacks, Loggerheads and even the rare Green and Kemp’s Ridley Turtles still occasionally turn up in British waters.

These rare visits were probably more frequent in the eighteenth century. When caught by fishermen, these valuable reptiles would have been sold at considerable sums and ended up on the tables of the wealthy.

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The Bush Tavern was for many years Bristol’s leading coaching inn. Weeks was landlord from around 1775 to 1801 and he is commemorated in a memorial tablet in Bristol Cathedral. The tavern was later made famous by Charles Dickens, who used it as a setting in ‘The Pickwick Papers’ after visiting in 1835.

Bush Tavern Bristol. ‘The "Bush" was, in its time, the chief coaching inn of the city, and one of the head-quarters of Moses Pickwick’s coaching business. It stood until 1864, near the Guildhall…’ (Matz, p.178). Dickens encountered it in 1835 on a tour.

The inn existed until the mid nineteenth century and the site on Corn Street is now occupied by Lloyd’s Bank.

IN THE reign of George III, when coaching was the only means of travelling, the inn filled a very important part in the life of the community. Stabling had to be provided for horses, and accommodation and fare for travellers.

Those who came to see the travellers off on their journeys and await their arrival from London and elsewhere, bringing news from the capital and tidings of the Continental wars, brought additional custom to the house.

Citizens were accustomed to congregate in the coffee room to hear the latest intelligence and gossip, and those landlords like John Weeks, of the Bush Tavern, who had merited a reputation for providing the best of fare, accompanied by good wine, must surely have led the busiest of lives.

His tavern, which was situated in Corn Street, opposite the Exchange, was demolished in 1854.

In his day there was no more famous innkeeper in the land than John Weeks. Busy as his life must have been in managing his tavern, he found time to interest himself in many phases of the life of Bristol.

At election times, celebrations of victories, meetings and assemblies of various descriptions, John Weeks was ever to the fore.

One definition of a ‘character’ is a person noted for eccentricity. John Weeks can, therefore, rightly be regarded as a character.

He took a delight in doing the unexpected, invariably became conspicuous, and even in the times in which he lived must have been looked on as a bit of a buffoon.

On Monday, September 24, 1792, the manager of the theatre in Old King Street opened the season with a benefit performance consisting of Shakespeare’s ‘Cymbeline’ and an opera in two acts called ‘The Padlock,’ before a very crowded house, in aid of that excellent charity, the Bristol Infirmary.

Walter Louis Vest
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Image by OneEighteen
One of the things that’s been on my list of things to do for several years now is to post a photo of my grandfather. Out of curiosity I did an internet search once and found no mention at all of him anywhere. Not surprising since he was born in 1898 and died in 1967, long before the internet was dreamed of.

As children and even teenagers what do we know about our parents and grandparent? Our knowledge of their history is sketchy at best. I know he was born on a ranch near San Marcos, Texas. He spent his early years there and joined with his brothers to buy a ranch in Frio County near where the old Frio Cemetery is now, outside Pearsall. I heard stories of the brothers going down to Mexico to buy horses which they broke and sold to the Army in San Antonio as calvary mounts. It was a time when a herd could still be driven across country.

During WWI he was ostensibly in the infantry, but was good enough at baseball to play on a regimental team. I have an old photo of a team on the field with the players labeled by what major league team they played for. After the war he was offered a contract to play for St. Louis but was appalled at the language in the contract that allowed him to be bought and sold to other teams and refused to sign.

He married my grandmother, Anna Scott from Louisiana, somewhere around 1920. Where and how they met I don’t know. I remember she was a devout Catholic (my Grandfather was not) and she went to convent school in San Antonio.

During the Great Depression they lost the ranch and my grandfather went to work for Humble Oil Company (later called Esso, now Exxon). When I was young he ran a distributorship in Pearsall. He drove a truck with tanks for diesel, kerosene and gas and made the rounds of all the ranches in the area filling galvanized tanks that stood on spidery angle iron legs. My job in the summers was to ride shotgun and open all the gates. We stopped at the windmills that had the coldest, sweetest water and enjoyed watermelons, tomatoes and pies from people who probably hadn’t seen anybody else all week. He carried all the farm news and gossip around too.

Somewhere along the way he bought another ranch not too far from the one they lost. They lived in town, but spent a lot of time out in the "Buck House" as everyone called it. I remember a big live oak tree, a scary outhouse, baths in a galvanized tub, water from a hand pump, a screened in porch to sleep in in the summer and a big room with three big beds and a kerosene stove for the winter. The walls were hung with old military coats and uniform pieces from two world wars that were used for hunting and ranch work. He took us for long walks to see coyotes, bobcats, foxes, deer, quail, turkey and other wildlife of south Texas.

The photo is of Walter Louis Vest holding his first grandchild for the first time. The child was given his name, Louis.

Now, when someone looks for him on the internet there will be something there.

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