History of Bristol According to Jonty Morgan

The Bristol School of Panters

Francis Danby, Samuel Jackson and William James Muller were the leading local lights of the impressionist movement in the late 18th to early 19th centuries. They were constantly on the move relaying conversations back and forth in the voices of the callers. Due to the fact they usually ran between the two parties conducting the conversation their collective of impressionists became known as The Bristol School of Panters.

To make calls subscribers to the system simply raised a flag to attract the nearest impressionist, usually, when not engaged in a call, positioned with a telescope on one of the hills overlooking Bristol. No calls could be made between 10.08pm and 10.37pm because that was when the buxom Mrs Chorky of Elbroad Street got undressed for bed. This fault in the system wasn’t repaired for eleven months until the Bristol School of Panters bought her a pair of curtains.

Calls were more expensive to make during business hours as the streets were busier and therefore took the sprinting impressionist longer to negotiate. The system of communication took the term ‘phone’ from the classical Greek ‘phone’ meaning ‘voice’ or ‘speech’. A lot of terms employed by subscribers back then would still ring a bell with users of modern communications technology today as these examples illustrate:
Phone Hacking – the sprinting impressionist has received vicious kicks to his legs delivered by an employee of a rival firm while making the call.

The Phone is Bugged – the sprinting impressionist has a flea problem.
Anonymous Call – the sprinting impressionist is wearing a hood.
Hung Up – the sprinting impressionist was unable to complete the call as past crimes suddenly caught up with him along with the public executioner.
Heavy Breather – the sprinting impressionist is out of condition.
Engaged – the sprinting impressionist has been caught short.
Trunk Call – the sprinting impressionist has to swim across the Avon.

Subscribers experienced other things that would strike a familiar cord today, for instance a sex line service was available at a premium rate. However this didn’t last long because the caller realised that compared to the sprinting impressionist he was getting the raw end of the deal. The only gripe for sprinting impressionists was dealing with the Mozart household. Whenever there was a call for him the sprinting impressionist had to wait for ages as he continually played one of his tunes (usually Eine Kliene Nachtmusik) and Mrs Mozart got the impressionist to hold one end of the cord the washing was hanging from as he waited, the other end being tied to a post. Occasionally the music was punctuated by Mrs Mozart’s apologetic voice which said, ‘We’re sorry that nobody is available to take your call at the present. Please continue to hold the line. Your call is so important to us.’

Danby, Jackson and Muller and the Bristol School of Panters were held in high esteem by Bristolians as their form of impressionism was put to great use to make the city a dynamic entity in the world of business and personal communications. Their spirit and endeavour has never been forgotten. During the great storm of 1827, for instance, Danby, Muller and Jackson hired a boat to negotiate the flooded streets to enable calls to still get through. Muller rowed – a street was named after this in Bristol as a mark of respect.

Taken from The History of Bristol According to Jonty Morgan available on Kindle through http://www.amazon.co.uk and http://www.amazon.com



Paying on the Nail.


On the night of 5th September, 1594, a mysterious event happened in Bristol. Instead of a crop circle appearing in a cornfield, giant black nails appeared in Corn Street outside the many banks located there. Rumours were rife as to the reason for their sudden appearance but unfortunately the source of these rumours couldn’t be nailed down, unlike the pavement in Corn Street. The most popular suggestions were these:
They were a message delivered by aliens – this was plausible because it was in the days before Royal Mail established a monopoly.

A giant Indian guru was about to visit Bristol and there wasn’t a bed of nails big enough at The Dragonora.
It was the first street art statement by Bristol artist Banksy who’d used the pavement as his canvas instead of adorning vertical walls in the city because back in 1594 he was so young he’d only just mastered crawling.
The speculation ceased a week later when Old Queen Bess announced that they were chopping blocks to relieve those guilty of financial misdemeanours of their heads. The first four men executed on the nails were, along with details of their fiscal crimes:

Norbert Tremblet the landlord of The Old Fox Inn in Redcliffe. To keep his guests entertained he’d had a trampoline erected in the beer garden. Unfortunately, egged on by the landlord, some visitors from Prague tried it out and Tremblet was promptly arrested as the source of all those bouncing Czechs.
Peter McDreggs who ran a dry cleaning business in Hotwells. He accidentally left some change in the pocket of a customer’s submitted trousers which then underwent the cleaning process. He was successfully prosecuted for money laundering.

Horace Pepper of St. Werburghs. He’d engaged in a fencing duel in 1593 with a love rival from Swansea called Dai Jones, during which his extravagant doublet had sustained several irreparable slashes. When Pepper fell upon hard times the following year he was asked by the man who delivered his firewood to settle his debt by giving him the doublet. Pepper refused for sentimental reasons and thus became the first man in history – as he was led to the chopping block – to be penalised for refusing to pay by Dai wrecked doublet.
Aaron Arrowsmith an optician based in Patchway who met his maker as a result of including small print in his charts.

To enhance the deterrent effect the financial institutions kept the heads of those decapitated on the nails and produced them sporadically to warn customers of the likely outcome of any financial deviancy. These collection of heads, with gapping mouths and bulging eyes frozen upon their faces in that moment of shock can still be viewed behind the counters of those same banks today. One just needs to venture within and ask if they have an account that pays more than 0.5% per annum in interest.

Due to the large volume of executions conducted in Corn Street a saying came into common usage called ‘Paying on the Nail’ as financial miscreants paid the ultimate penalty there. As the nails became associated with money, merchants and bankers started to use them as tables outside the banks upon which they conducted business. This was called ‘Nailing A Deal’. If the deal was concluded not long after a beheading the cash was called ‘Blood Money’.

Taken from The History of Bristol According to Jonty Morgan available on Kindle from http://www.amazon.co.uk and http://www.amazon.com


Cabot Discovers America.


In the mid-1490s the greatest laughs in Merrie Olde England were supplied by a comedy duo from Bristol called Cabot & Ostello. John Cabot had newly arrived from Italy where he’d been a florist when he joined the English comedy circuit, Cumbernauld Ostello had been a cesspit cleaner. When the pair of comedians joined forces they decided to rechristen themselves Bud Cabot & Loo Ostello as a reminder of their previous occupations.

Their knockabout comedy act soon had the ‘House Full’ notices posted wherever they performed. This was a complete contrast for Loo Ostello who, in his previous job, was used to houses being empty because the cesspit was full. Their most famous routine revolved involved Ostello asking Cabot the names of players occupying positions on a baseball pitch. This usually went down like a batter hit by a stray pitch with English audiences. Nevertheless, despite this they were still greatly admired as performers and it is a mark of their popularity that they were the only comedy duo of the 1490s in England who never experienced ‘dying’ on stage. Admittedly this was mainly due to the fact that they pulled out of the 1496 King’s Royal Command Comedy Performance at the Plague Hospital in Hackney because Loo Ostello had a sore throat.

With all the other comedians gone having discovered that it wasn’t just humour that was infectious, Cabot & Ostello had the merry making field to themselves. This made Cabot somewhat disinterested as he was the type who thrived on a challenge. It was during a session with a clairvoyant that he was told that Cabot & Ostello could never consider themselves to be truly great until they had conquered America. This played on Cabot’s mind, but he got no sympathy from Ostello when he broached the subject. He just rebuked him for having a session with a clairvoyant when he was a happily married man. Cabot took no notice. He was a man possessed. What made it even more difficult for comedians to conquer America back in 1497 was that America didn’t even exist. Columbus had discovered the West Indies in 1492, not mainland America. He’d steered well clear of discovering that, partly because he didn’t have any great baseball gags.

To conquer America, Cabot concluded, would mean having to discover Newfoundland first. Ostello mused that could be easily achieved by turning up at Eastville Park with a megaphone and near the boating lake shouting through it that there was a drought on. The lake would be emptied in no time and Newfoundland would be there for everyone to see.

Cabot decided to organise a voyage across the Atlantic to discover America. Ostello thought it might be an idea to meander around and take in a lot of other countries on their comedy tour. But Cabot wanted to go there directly which was no surprise to Ostello because Cabot was the straight man.
Cabot journeyed to London to petition King Henry VII for his support. Henry liked the idea of America being discovered as it would be easier for his son to obtain a divorce in the courts over there. He thus granted Cabot a charter to claim any unchristian land he found on his travels for the King. It was for this reason that upon his return to Bristol that Cabot was barred from the Bangalore Tandori on Gloucester Road.
The major funding for the voyage was supplied by a wealthy Bristol merchant called Joseph Ameryka. He was looking for an investment as a tax dodge and requested that Cabot didn’t broadcast the scheme or Ameryka’s link with it in any way.

Cabot had a ship built and named it after Loo Costello’s mother, a devoted cesspit cleaner who’d never had a wash in her life, it was thus called The Ma Phew. A crew of seventeen was then assembled – it worked out cheaper that way than getting them ready made. In case of sea-sickness or severe indigestion they also took some settlers with them.

The omens were good when the Lord Mayor of Bristol remarked at the ship’s launch in 1497, ‘If you gert nutters find land ital deaf knit lee be a merical.’ A month later Cabot arrived in Newfoundland thereby discovering mainland America. Cabot and his comedy partner were greeted on the beach there by a chap with red skin called Frank who was an ancestor of Albert Einstein who proceeded to warmly shake their hands. The natives made a commemorative carving in Holy wood of this momentous event called ‘Cabot & Ostello Meet Frank Einstein’.

The comedy duo performed a gig and the baseball routine went down a treat. There was much rejoicing amongst the native Americans and a chap slapped Cabot on the back and thanked him for discovering the place and naming locations there after merchants who’d funded the voyage. For now he realised he lived in Pennsylvania, named after Bristolian William Penn, so he could at last find his way back after being lost, for thirty-five years, by simply following the road signs.

Unfortunately, the celebrations got out of hand and when zip codes were allocated the natives became intoxicated and openly engaged in orgies. Cabot was alarmed to learn that whatever happened in America usually occurred in England twenty years later. Disgusted by what he feared he had unleashed, Cabot ordered the ship to be prepared for an immediate return to England. But the crew wondered if this could be postponed for about 19 years and 335 days.

Taken from The History of Bristol According to Jonty Morgan available on Kindle from http://www.amazon.co.uk and http://www.amazon.com


Edward Hodges Baily


Bristol’s greatest sculptor was Edward Hodges Baily. He became renowned for his ladies’ busts as well as for one of the most iconic and famous statues in the world. Hodges Baily was born in Downend in 1788, the son of a celebrated carver of wooden ships’ figureheads. Busty mermaids were his father’s speciality and their home was festooned with examples of these erotic carvings. As a consequence, in adulthood, Baily became a strong advocate of feeding baby milk by bottle to avoid infants getting a mouthful of splinters.

In 1795, Baily was sent away to boarding school where he immediately felt home-sick. This was an improvement on being at home where he was usually sea-sick. At school Eddie showed a keen aptitude for figures, though not of the mathematical variety. He made very convincing wax busts of famous women that were usually displayed after ‘lights out’ in his dormitory. This soon became the most sought after billet on the public school circuit. Indeed, it has been suggested that Baily’s efforts were responsible for the English aristocratic male’s appreciation for the busts of women that persists to this current day.

After leaving education, Baily was able to concentrate on the female bust full-time and even opened a Bristol studio on the strength of his success in that field. However, much to the consternation of local youths, he wouldn’t let slip where that field was located. As his fame grew Eddie expanded his operation and advertised his wares in the national press. This caused a furore when he displayed the authoress Mary Shelley’s bust on page three of The Times. Readers were divided as to whether this was art or titillation. Mary Shelley herself was even divided, but that was considered her own fault for volunteering to be cut in half by a magician on stage at the Old Vic.

In 1831 Hodges Baily was commissioned by the Royal Family to produce a series of sculptures to adorn the halls of Buckingham Palace. However, no payment was forthcoming. As a consequence Baily’s business went under. Questions were even raised in Parliament regarding the issue as it was considered very confusing for a sculptor of busts to go bust. Therefore it was agreed by a unanimous vote in the Commons that to avoid complicating matters Baily should be banned from ever saying that he’d gone bust….he’d have to explain that his business had gone ‘tits up’ instead.

Due to his talent Baily swiftly extricated himself from his financial embarrassment. He was so much in demand that he wondered if there was enough base material on the planet to fulfil all his commissions. With that in mind he made the outlandish purchase of Mount Everest which immediately placed him in debt again. Mount Everest fell into the hands of the Official Receiver who promptly sunk without trace.

It was then, in 1840, that Baily was commissioned to knock out the piece he is most famous for: the 18 foot sandstone statue of Horatio Nelson that adorns the top of its 161 foot column in Trafalgar Square. It was Baily’s idea to place it so far off the ground as he was experimenting with the concept of high-rise statues at the time. After finishing Nelson’s Column he wrote a treatise on high-rise sculpture that is still used as a yardstick by artists today (mainly because it was exactly 36 inches in length). The salient points of this seminal work were:

1. If the subject of your statue was known in life to walk about with one arm behind their back, provide them with a column of 80 feet and 6 inches…as this would be a half-Nelson.
2. If the reputation of the subject of the statue is likely to diminish over time, place the column on land prone to subsistence.
3. If a statue of Icarus is to top a column, ensure that all pedestrians milling below it are issued with hard-hats.
4. It’s advisable in these early Victorian times never to place a statue of Boudicca on a column. As the menfolk will not appreciate being looked down upon by a single mother with two kids.
5. If the sculptor maligned the reputation of the subject of the statue in any way by producing an inaccurate image, the sculptor must then produce an accurate statue of the same subject and afford it the exact same column inches as the original.
6. Statues of Joan of Arc must never be placed on a column that exceeds 60 feet; as that is the length of the longest ladder any fire brigade currently possesses in the UK.
7. Statues of Jesus should be placed on a column on a beach, so that when the tide is in it will appear as though he walks on water.

Baily was elected to the FRS (Fellow of the Royal Society) in 1842 and remained a prominent member until his death in 1867. Thus it could be said that despite his earlier notoriety, his masterpiece, Nelson’s Column, enabled him to be finally accepted in high society.

The Mad Barber of Bedminster


The greatest daredevil Bristol ever produced was Charlie Stephens aka The Mad Barber of Bedminster. Here are some of the daring feats he became renowned for:

  1. Shaving himself with a cut-throat razor in a cage full of lions.
  2. Fathering ten children.
  3. Having sugar cubes knocked off his scalp from a distance of 250 yards by a crack-shot with a rifle….although this was because he was fed up with waiting to have them removed on the NHS.
  4. Holding the longevity record for having a ferret stuffed down his trousers: 21 days, 14 hours and 53 minutes set in 1919.
  5. Holding the record for the longest continuous high pitched scream: 21 days, 14 hours and 53 minutes set in 1919.
  6. Being fired by a canon in Redcliffe….although Stephens swore he was innocent and hadn’t dipped into the collection plate as he passed it around as part of his duties during Sunday morning service.

The feat Stephens is most associated with is his attempt to ‘shoot’ Niagara Falls in a barrel in 1920. For this venture he had a custom built barrel constructed by a Bath cooper with specially strengthened wooden staves it was thought would be capable of withstanding the battering it would receive in the choppy waters, and rocky terrain it was set to negotiate. This special strengthening process was achieved by adding an extra coat of varnish. The barrel’s interior incorporated state of the art technology – for 1920 – in navigational aids, those being a shelf on which to place an A-Z of the Niagara area and a peephole.

Before leaving for the Canadian border with the USA, Stephens put his barrel on display in Bristol. The consensus of opinion was that it would be better for him if he put it on a bonfire instead.

Upon his arrival in North America, Stephens set up a base camp in Buffalo and put his barrel on show there charging one cent for spectators to look inside. It was a great relief for the American press when a decent crowd assembled to view the strange contraption as it proved that Stephens did have some cents after all.

It was during one of these public viewings that the famed American stuntman Bobby Leach voiced his concerns about the barrel being too heavily weighted. Stephens was so irked by this that he added extra weight via a couple of full pots of paint. Leach dismissed this as a cynical attempt on the Bristol daredevil’s part to gain more female interest in his endeavour to ‘shoot’ Niagara Falls by aiming for the emulsional impact. Stephens simply brushed the jibe aside.

Charlie Stephens courted further publicity by setting up home in his barrel in the days leading up to the attempt. This elicited much sympathy from around the world as well as a letter from Bristol City Council informing him that he’d now been placed a band higher on their list of those in need of social housing.

The Mad Barber of Bedminster was aware of the money making opportunities his daring attempt upon the Falls presented. He obtained a healthy payment for exclusive film rights. This was because the fee was counted out inside his barrel which he’d made a no smoking zone.

The night before the attempt a barrel of ale in a Buffalo bar, where Stephens was drinking, fell from its shelf and smashed to pieces on the hard, uncarpeted floor. Then the bartender explained that they were out of whisky so he couldn’t fulfil an order of scotch on the rocks so the customer had to make do with Harveys Bristol Cream on the rocks instead. However, the weather forecast seemed promising so the omens looked good for the following morning.

In the night Stephens started expressing some doubts which caused him a sleepless night in his barrel. To allay his growing fears he hired the services of a clairvoyant who, with the assistance of a crystal ball, foretold that the Bristol daredevil would die as his barrel smashed to pieces on the rocks of Niagara. This was bad news for the clairvoyant because it was a home visit.

This didn’t deter Stephens as he reminded himself that he was an Englishman and made of sterner stuff…he just wished his barrel was too. On the morning of July 11th, 1920 he set off in his barrel. The ravenous cataract soon claimed his life. Leach had been correct as Stephens’ too heavily weighted barrel simply fell through the water and smashed into smithereens on the rocks below. All that was recovered of Stephens was a severed arm chained to a fragment of barrel. The arm was returned to Bristol and given a decent burial. Thankfully the hand contained more than two fingers otherwise it would’ve been an indecent burial.

As a result of this tragedy there was an emergency sitting of Parliament and a new law was passed which meant that any barrel designed to convey a human had to carry the following message on its side, ‘HM Government Warning: Shooting Niagara Falls In A Barrel Can Seriously Damage Your Health’. Fortunately, the occurrence of people dying in barrels has been a rare phenomenon since 1920, so Charles Stephens’ death was not in vain.

Blackbeard the Pirate.


The most notorious pirate of them all came from Bristol. Edward Teach was born in the Redcliffe area of what was the England’s second largest city in about 1680. Initially he was a steady, respectable sort of chap who, in keeping with his name, entered the teaching profession. However, in 1700 he went through a mid-life crisis which upset his friends and family because he was only twenty so it meant he would barely reach forty before he snuffed it.

The mid-life crisis manifested itself in this manner…He started advocating to his pupils that they grow long beards like him, smoke copious amounts of tobacco, drink gallons of rum and bed numerous buxom wenches. What made this all the more shocking to early-18th century Bristolians was that he was teaching in an all girls’ school at the time.

Edward Teach was dismissed from his post and immediately looked into making a career from being a ruthless and bloodthirsty pirate but one that remained on land in Bristol because his mum was reliant upon him to collect her pension every Monday. Teach changed his name to Blackbeard to capitalise upon his long, luxurious growth of chin hair. To this he attached fuses that he set alight whenever he boarded vessels. It was for this reason that he was sacked from his next job as lock keeper on the Avon & Kennet Canal. Blackbeard then opened a refreshments stall at St. Nicholas Market, but Trading Standards closed him down for selling pirate coffees.

Blackbeard then detached himself from the pursuit of a legitimate job as the careers officer showed him that he only had one job that was suitable for him on his file and that firm wouldn’t be requiring his services for another 169 years because Bristol Rovers hadn’t even been invented yet. Thereupon, Blackbeard started forcibly spreading the pirate ethos. For instance, he deliberately tripped Bristol’s Lord Mayor as he opened the doors of the market to the crowds to herald the start of the January sales so that he could witness thousands walking the plank.

In 1703, he embarked on his greatest mission up to that juncture. He declared that he would replace the Union Jack with the Jolly Roger throughout the land. One councillor in Bristol, William Torpid, was denounced for agreeing that he would prefer the Jolly Roger because he had fond recollections of visiting a brothel in Anchor Road in his youth when he was under the influence of laughing gas.

Blackbeard’s most audacious coup was to replace the Union Jack flag that flew above Buckingham Palace with the ‘Skull and Crossbones’. However, the press and the public misunderstood and thought it was official confirmation that Queen Anne was suffering from anorexia. It was speculated that the flying of these flags on the palace roof would signify these events:

  • The Welsh Dragon – the Queen’s mother-in-law is in residence.
  • The Welsh Dragon at half-mast – the Queen’s mother-in-law has completely recovered from a serious bout of influenza.
  • Three Lions – Lord Bath is visiting.
  • The Cross of St. George – The angry residents of Crew’s Hole Road are visiting to protest about all the pot holes.
  • The Stars and Stripes – Famous erstwhile prisoners who’d done time for theft are visiting.
  • No Flag At All – Famous ex-prisoners who’d done time for theft have just left.

In the event no further incidents occurred and it wasn’t until 1917 that something other than the national flag was displayed above Buck House. That was when the Union Jack appeared with lots of holes in. It transpired that no deeper meaning could be read into this it had simply been a case of the Red Baron flying overhead.

Blackbeard had always been a little hard of hearing and the budget of 1711 led to him swiftly leaving his native Bristol never to return. He heard that the Chancellor was going to impose a heavy tax on beards for the first time. The pirate had taken to the high seas before it could be explained to him that the tax was on beers.

Blackbeard plied his nefarious trade in the seas around the Caribbean. During his reign of terror there he was responsible for murdering thousands of people – many without their permission. He also married a dozen wives in a six month period in 1719 without once applying for a decree nisi. This was known as his Honeymoon Period. But at the height of his powers and influence he suddenly died. His exploits had gone to his head and he attached a Catherine Wheel to his beard. Upon lighting it he fell overboard and drowned, his body having become stuck on the rudder. The only consolation was that his vessel, The Queen Anne’s Revenge, then completed the fastest ever crossing of the Pacific Ocean.

John Wesley’s Chapel


Throughout the 1730s the road-sweeper and preacher John Wesley walked thousands of miles each year spreading the Methodist view of religion and also encouraging dog owners to purchase poop-a-scoops. Thousands gathered to hear him spread the gospel…thousands more would’ve turned up had he chosen to spread the gossip instead. Wherever he went a multitude was sure to gather. If he lived today he’d be offered a free season ticket at Ashton Gate.

His brother Charles also spread the Methodist faith by the different route of composing hymns. Indeed, he was regarded as the greatest hymn writer ever. As he chose music to spread the word he became known as the Rhythm Methodist. This was bad news for John because it meant that he only got to see his brother at certain times of the month.

John Wesley was content to sweep the streets and cleanse the souls of the poor an un-churched with his preaching and his brush. To avoid the expense of building churches he encouraged his ever-expanding band of devotees to hold meetings in their houses. This made Methodism more popular still. This was especially the case at the home of Miss Lillybeth Aurbothnott who’d placed a sign in the window of her abode in Lawrence Weston which read: ‘Services Provided Daily between 10am-6pm’.

Although the experiment using the private residences of followers as churches was initially successful, it soon became apparent that inconveniences could be caused to home-owners. Roy Weald, for instance, who attached a hymn board to the rear wall of his property in Brislington to enable him to conduct Methodist meetings in his back garden found that it instead attracted the Number 78 Horse-Bus to stop off there to pick up and set down passengers to the detriment of his prized rhododendrons.

Christopher Larkhill, whose home in Keynsham doubled up as a Methodist church, found that after an outbreak of influenza amongst his parishioners that he needed to evict several garden gnomes and shelve his plans for a fish pond due to the pressure for space occasioned by the consequent burials.

Buoyed by his increasing popularity John Wesley was seen to adopt a more radical stance and on one occasion, in front of 40,000 at Bishopsworth, held up a placard which read ‘Down With Our Rulers’. Wesley was immediately arrested for sedition but equally swiftly released when he explained that he’d supported the message because he was cheesed-off with not being well endowed.

After almost a decade of hoofing it, Wesley announced plans to build a real, permanent chapel. Donations flooded in which enabled the first Methodist chapel in the world to be built-in the Horsefair, Bristol in 1739. What particularly pleased John Wesley as that there was enough money remaining to install a small cupboard in the chapel, inside of which was placed a brand new sweeping brush to remind him of previous days. Wesley proudly called this ‘The New Broom’.

The permanent home presented Wesley with the opportunity to work on a maxim that he was convinced would promote peace and goodwill when unleashed upon the world. This adage was: agree to disagree. Within weeks of its release in 1741 firms of solicitors were going to the wall at an alarming rate. By 1744 the few remaining practitioners of this noble profession, in order to preserve their existence, were forced to broker a deal which included a sizeable donation to get Wesley to amend his saying to: agree to disagree, but only on Sundays (their day off).

When John Wesley died in 1791, King George III called it one of the saddest days of his life…John Wesley’s life that is, not King George III’s.

Dame Clara Butt.


Sir Thomas Beecham once said of Dame Clara Butt: ‘On a clear day, you could’ve heard her across the English Channel’. This off the cuff comment upset a lot of people, so they clubbed together and purchased a DAB radio for Sir Thomas so he could hear her with clarity irrespective of the weather.

Dame Clara Butt came to Bristol at the age of 8 with her family in 1880. It was in her adopted city that her talent for powerful singing was nurtured and then blossomed. Her ability to belt out a song was first recognised at South Bristol High School. This shows how loud her vocals were because she was attending North Bristol Grammar School at the time.

On the strength of numerous recommendations she was invited to join the Bristol Festival Chorus, this was because they were touring Australia at that moment. Upon her return, she was advised to profit from the lavatorial humour that could be mined from her name. With this in mind, in 1887 she became a semi-professional Lavatory Minstrel.

Lavatory Minstrels were employed by prudish Victorians to take up residence in their privies and play tunes when they were used to drown out the embarrassing sounds that were made within. For shy Victorians there were blind Lavatory Minstrels available, who judged by sound when to break out into song. However, many who used them complained that they were never able to water the roses in their garden ever again without hearing a rendition of Swanee River issuing from their outhouse.

The most famous Lavatory Minstrel was Harvelous Pimpkins from Mississippi. In attempting to find his long-lost mother so he could be her very own Lavatory Minstrel, he searched the whole of Europe and several far-flung outposts of the British Empire on foot before he eventually tracked her down to a terraced house in the Easton district of Bristol. It was then that he penned the immortal, Lavatory Minstrel classic that made his name: Mammy, Oh Mammy….I’ve Walked A Million Miles Just To Find You’ve Got Piles!’

Dame Clara Butt was much in demand as a Lavatory Minstrel at public events as she was able to drown out the shameful noises from a whole cacophony of  portaloos single voiced. This further enhanced her reputation, to the extent that when she agreed to put on a performance, accompanied by other leading Lavatory Minstrels, at the Bristol General Hospital Loos during an outbreak of dysentery, a crowd estimated to be in the region of 78,000 gathered in the narrow streets outside. The police advised the concert to be delayed while they established order, but the excitement and anticipation of the spectators spilled over into shouting, violence and irrational behaviour. However, Dame Clara wasn’t blamed for the disorderly behaviour as it was all put down to pre-minstrel tension.

In 1890 the powerful, 6 ft 2 inch Clara Butt won a scholarship to the Royal Festival of Music in London. Soon after, Queen Victoria paid for her to study music at the prestigious Academy in Paris. Three months later she paid for her to study in Berlin, because she could still just about hear her in Paris.

Dame Clara has been credited with having the greatest vocal range of any singer in history. She was also the first to sing, and thereafter be identified with the Elgar anthem Land of Hope and Glory. She regularly performed before royalty and toured the world, only resting her voice – except when it was foggy – when voyaging on ship between continents.

In 1902 in a historic concert, that evoked memories of her Lavatory Minstrel days, she performed in Bristol’s sewers accompanied by the Bournemouth Philharmonic Orchestra and matching Wellington boots. It attracted an estimated listenership of 400,000, a record for pre-radio days, as her voice was conducted through all the pipework to the loos of her public. Unfortunately, her powerful voice unblocked all the toilets and drains in the area which led to the Bristol Society of Plumbers putting out a contract on her life. Dame Clara also disliked thereafter being labelled The First Lady of Pong.

She became the favourite of the British troops serving in the trenches in France with her free performances two evenings every week. However, this was curtailed in 1917 when Dame Clara had a double glazed window fitted to her bathroom in Staple Hill.

It was said that one only had to hear Dame Clara Butt’s voice to be moved. The evidence supports this as during her lifetime she had 18,937 different next door neighbours. One music critic stated that her vocals were so powerful and full of emotion that whenever she cried thousands upon thousands of others cried simultaneously. This was because they mistook it for an air raid siren and thought their homes and possessions were about to cop it.

When Clara Butt was made a Dame, all of Bristol was proud. Because Clarus is Latin for ‘Loud’, the Bristol Evening News used the Latin for ‘Our Dame’ to proclaim her ‘Noster Dame’ on their headline. This was bad news for Clara as Quasimodo instantly consulted a firm of solicitors specialising in compensation claims as he wanted to sue her for going deaf as he wasn’t getting far with his litigation against the bells.

Thomas Chatterton Bristol’s Famous Boy Poet.


Thomas Chatterton was born in Redcliffe, Bristol in 1752. From a very early age he did a bizarre and wonderful thing, at Edward Colston’s School he started writing poetry in the persona of a 15th century monk. This caused a sensation as it was the first recorded incident of anyone writing verse using the persona of a 15th century monk since 1499. The school’s physician was immediately called to examine Chatterton. He placed him under minute observation over a period of ten days to see if he had any curious habits. But all he found was one habit with a psychedelic type hood. However, he did find a note written in Chatterton’s hand informing everyone that he was the gatekeeper of a local monastery. This was further evidenced by the placement nearby of a bunch of keys upon which was written on the fob, ‘Hey, Hey We’re The Monk-Keys’.

The school physician rendered his findings, upon Chatterton taking on the persona of a 15th century monk, to the school’s board of governors and concluded that Chatterton was either:

  1. Possessed by the spirit of a 15th century monk.
  2. Possessed by the spirit of a 16th century monk whose watch had stopped.
  3. Possessed by an urge to audition for the Monty Python team 200 years too early.
  4. Possessed by an urge to make himself seem much older so he can get a pint at The King’s Head.

The diagnosis that Chatterton was possessed by the spirit of a 15th century monk gained momentum when Chatterton handed his English teacher an illuminated manuscript. The teacher was fortunate to escape with just third degree burns.

The Bristol literate soon got to hear of Chatterton’s exploits and lionized the young cub. This provided him with the confidence to embark on several writing projects each undertaken in the persona of a 15th century monk. There were two bawdy plays:

  1. Confessions of a Stained Glass Window Cleaner.
  2. No Sex Please, We’re 15th Century Monks.

There was also a script for a play that was never performed (although centuries later a much altered version appeared in film starring Sandra Bullock) about God’s representative on Earth and his ability to walk on water called ‘Pope Floats’.

Finally, during this productive period, he became the scriptwriter for a double act featuring the head monk at a monastery and a male prostitute who was having to advertise his services for free called ‘The Abbot & Cost-zero Show’.

However, Chatterton became so consumed by the character of his persona that he became embroiled in the ups and downs of that traumatic period of turmoil in the 15th century, the Wars of the Roses. The poetry he wrote regarding this time was so realistic that Bristolians were convinced that the young teenager had really experienced those terrible events of 300 years earlier. Chatterton did nothing to dispel these beliefs as he was on a healthy commission for every jar of his anti-ageing cream sold in the Broadmead branch of Boots.

Chatterton, as the monk, composed this verse when Edward IV was in the ascendancy during the Wars of the Roses, about the King’s opponent, Henry VI’s Queen Margaret of Anjou:

Margaret of Anjou, Margaret of Anjou

Why cause all this mayhem

You silly gert moo

If I hath not but taken this silent vow

I’d shout from the rooftops “You Stupid Cow”

The monk (Chatterton) then turned upon Edward IV when Henry VI and Margaret were the top dogs again, albeit briefly.

Edward the Fourth

Edward the Fourth

Your wife is a commoner from up t’ North

You drowned one brother in a vat of wine

And your surviving brother has a crooked spine

(& he’ll also usurp the throne and kill your son and heir with his brother in the Tower upon your death. I couldn’t rhyme this bit but I thought it was important you should know what sort of bloke he really is)

Despite putting her down in verse Chatterton’s 15th century monk developed an intense, yet ultimately unrequited love for Edward IV’s wife, one of the greatest beauties of the times Elizabeth Wydville. His pained and tormented feelings found an outlet in his poetry, such as:

Elizabeth Wydville

I love ye still

But I’m stuck in this Monastery

On the outskirts of Pill

The Abbott thinks I’m wasting away

He didn’t even see me at prayers today!


My sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet, Elizaybeth

A delicate beauty a one of such waif

It’s hard to believe you’ll be the Grandmother of Henry the Eighth

The Dark

The Cold

The Damp

The Rain

Tortured I be

Wracked with pain

I suffer these torments through your lack of attention

And cos the Abbot only gets a basic state pension

As one can derive from these examples, Chatterton was a rare and precocious talent and considered a genius, for which he was later eulogized by Shelley, Keats, Wordsworth and all that Lake poet mob.

Unfortunately, the fame and adulation went to the boy poet’s head and he abandoned the monk and started creating in the persona of other artistic types from other periods of history. This proved terribly embarrassing for himself and his family when he wrote to the Customs Office in London enclosing recent pictures of himself and his mother and sister so they could get passports to accompany him on a lucrative tour of North America. The passport office thought he had adopted the persona of an 11th century stonemason and was sending them designs for some gargoyles to adorn Westminster Abbey.

But young Chatterton really overstepped the mark when he took on the persona of a 12th century architect and composed a verse about designing Bristol Cathedral School in 1154, making him well over 600 years old. A warrant was immediately issued for his arrest under The Prevention of Moses Act, 1722. Chatterton swiftly fled to London and continued to make a name for himself there.

Then, suddenly and dramatically, it was all over. At the age of just 17 he was found dead one morning, sprawled on his bed – the basis of a famous painting by Henry Wallis…what Chatterton was doing sprawled over a famous painting has never been explained. He’d taken an overdose.

Initially it was thought that due to his youth he had mistaken the pills for a tube of smarties. Why else would such a talented genius with so much more living to do ( although the majority of it would’ve been in previous centuries judging by his modus operandi) kill himself? The answer was swiftly forthcoming for in his hand was a letter from Bristol City Council demanding payment of 609 years poll tax arrears.

King Stephen Bristol’s Most Famous Prisoner.


In 1120 a tragedy occurred. A vessel known as The White Ship sank off the coast of France. Everyone on board drowned including the heir to the English throne, William, the only son of Henry I. All the crew and passengers had been drunk and had engaged in revels and debauchery. As a result of this Henry I decided:

  1. To chastise himself for allowing his son and heir to go on a Club 18-30 holiday.
  2. To chastise himself for making his son heir to the throne of England but then not providing him with enough heir to adequately fill his lifebelt.
  3. To employ a dominatrix to chastise him instead as he considered it far more fun.

However, in the long run, the tragedy had far deeper ramifications for the stability of England. This was because Henry’s only surviving legitimate offspring was his daughter, Matilda. England had never previously been ruled by a monarch who liked crochet, cookery, wearing make-up and dresses, well not in public anyway. (One King did have a penchant for wearing dresses in private for which he earned the name ‘Edward The Crossdresser’.)

Henry was astute enough to realise that his daughter was in a perilous position and therefore got his barons to swear an oath that upon his death they would install Matilda as Queen. He then got them to swear an oath that they would install Sky Sports as soon as it became available, as there were some mouth-watering jousts lined up for 1127.

Henry I died in Rouen in 1135. How his finances got into such a perilous state is unknown. But what did become apparent soon after was that England was in the soup. For the barons immediately gathered and swore an oath to disregard all previous oaths they’d sworn, and furthermore, not to swear at any oaths in the future. This proved particularly difficult for the Duke of Norfolk who had an idiot of a handyman on his estate that he found it impossible not to cast profanities towards. As a result of swearing these oaths, Henry’s nephew Stephen took his chance and declared himself King of England.

Matilda didn’t take it lying down (as King Henry had discovered, she favoured being placed in perilous positions). With her ally the Duke of Gloucester at her side she landed in England and made her way to his stronghold, the West Country, and declared herself the true monarch. England was effectively divided, with Matilda holding the west with her capital in Bristol and Stephen holding the rest of the country with his capital in the Britannia Building Society – he wasn’t going to let his finances go to Rouen like Henry had.

Plenty of battles ensued and in 1141 King Stephen was captured at the Battle of Lincoln and imprisoned in Bristol Castle. But having the King as an inmate in one of his own prisons provided numerous difficulties such as:

  1. A special prison uniform had to be made for Stephen with the arrows pointing downwards as he expected everyone to kneel in his presence.
  2. Counterfeit coins made in 1141 in Bristol Gaol were more accurate than those produced by the Royal Mint.
  3. At Xmas 1141 King Stephen, aided by his supporters, ran a protection racket in the prison called ‘The Fist of Stephen’.
  4. It was far easier for prisoners to obtain a royal pardon. They simply needed to pass wind in his vicinity.
  5. Fellow prisoners didn’t involve Stephen in any of their escape plans, because whenever a tunnel was dug he expected to be invited to open it accompanied by a fanfare.
  6. On Xmas Day King Stephen was presented with various fruits in his cell as a present. However he hated the peaches and angrily tossed them through the bars of his cell window at a guard in the forecourt below. It whistled past the guard’s ear and therefore he became the first person in history to hear the King’s Peach on Xmas Day.

King Stephen actually fleeced his fellow convicts of much of their coinage by saying it belonged to him because his picture was on it. This actually endeared him to the other prisoners for although he was considered aloof, they could see he also had the conman touch. He also helped in the process of drawing a map of the castle grounds and near vicinity by sticking his orb out through the bars and capturing the image reflected upon its shiny surface. This was the first ever map made by orbanance survey.

King Stephen was eventually released and did a deal with Matilda. He was allowed to continue as King until his death, but had to recognise Matilda’s son, Henry, as heir to the throne. Henry would thus become Henry the Second the second Stephen died, which he did in 1154.

The problems prison warders encountered keeping a King imprisoned explains why not many monarchs have suffered this indignity since. Here is a list of kings since 1154 who have been kept prisoner:

  1. Richard I (banged up abroad).
  2. Richard II (became the most notable victim of Henry IV’s policy of cutting prison costs by not feeding them when he starved to death at Pontefract).
  3. Henry VI (the first monarch to lose his head while it was still firmly connected to his shoulders).
  4. Edward V (imprisoned in the Tower of London aged 12 in 1483 with his younger brother by their uncle, who became Richard III, and they were subsequently murdered there. It has to be remembered that this was in the days before Esther Rantzen started Childline).
  5. Charles I (imprisoned and then beheaded in 1649 for ignoring Parliament….I’d better start watching Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesdays I reckon).