Thursday, 6 October 2016

AHOY, ME HEARTIES: BRISTOL'S TREASURE ISLAND PUBS



In Bristol’s historic core, alongside a number of attractive waterfronts, there is an area encompassing the elegant Queen Square and the 17th century King Street.  Tucked away in this appealing part of the city are two pubs which contributed to one of the most famous works of English literature: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. 

There are many attractive historic buildings in King Street, but the one which immediately draws the eye of visitors is the rickety-looking half-timbered inn called the Llandoger Trow – a trow being a kind of flat-bottomed barge.  The pub is reputedly the inspiration for the Admiral Benbow in Treasure Island, although the latter was not actually in Bristol in the story.  The Admiral Benbow is the backdrop to the opening scene in the story, which centres around the adventures of Jim Hawkins, who was intent on finding the buried treasure of pirate Captain Flint.   The inn was owned by Hawkins’ parents, and the story starts with the appearance of a mysterious stranger who warns Hawkins to keep a lookout for a one-legged man, an event which eventually leads to the discovery of the map showing the location of the buried treasure.  Incidentally, the Llandoger Trow is allegedly where another famous author Daniel Defoe met a Scottish sailor called Alexander Selkirk, who had spent four years marooned on an uninhabited island in the South Pacific Ocean.  It is said that this chance encounter gave rise to Defoe’s novel Robinson Crusoe.  

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Llandoger Trow
   
Just off Queen Square is another pub dating from the same era called The Hole in the Wall, formerly the Coach and Horses.  The present name is a nod to the small spy hole which can be found on the side of the building, where people used to keep watch for any Customs men or Press Gangs so that they could warn the sailors drinking in the inn.  Treasure Island’s most famous character, Long John Silver, the prototype for the  familiar image of a pirate with a West Country accent and a parrot on his shoulder, was the landlord of The Spyglass Inn in the novel.  Jim Hawkins had orders to meet him there and, when he arrived he was shocked to find that the landlord was one-legged, fitting the description given by the aforementioned stranger.  Nevertheless, he describes the inn as “a bright enough little place of entertainment”.  There are many pubs claiming to be the inspiration for The Spyglass Inn, but The Hole in the Wall is the one most closely matching the description, not least because as well as the spy-hole, it occupies a quayside position in line with the fictional pub: Hawkins was told to follow the line of the docks.  The inn was also described in the novel as having a street on each side, which also fits, as the Hole in the Wall has the quayside on one side and a street leading into Queen Square on the other.  

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Hole in the Wall

Bristol is one of Britain’s most appealing cities.  Well connected by road and rail, it also has an international airport.  There is always something going on, particularly during the summer months, and there are plenty of other intriguing watering holes to investigate besides the Llandoger Trow and the Hole in the Wall.

Map of the area.

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