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Lifestyle Article - Lamplighter's

Lamplighter's   Stephen Willington (1802-1846) became the proprietor of the Lamplighter's Hall Inn around 1835. Stephen's brother John was powder magazine keeper at the nearby Powder House. Stephen appears not to have had an easy proprietorship, with a fiat of bankruptcy issued January 1835, and audited in 1837, and finaly Mary Ann Onion's insolvent debtors auction of all tenements in October 1844. Both Stephen and his wife Hester (nee Andrews) died within a few months of each other in late 1846/early 1847, leaving nine children with the youngest only 5yo - five of whom immigrated to Australia.

A history of the Lamplighter's was written by Mrs Ethel Thomas in her book "Shirehampton Story". The book (in its second edition) was published by Ethel and can be purchased directly at 55 Cook Street, Avonmouth, Bristol BS11 9JY, England. Permission has kindly been given to present the following extract.


The Lamplighter's by the riverside was originally called 'Lamplighter's Hall', and as far as is known is the only Inn in the Country to bear this uncommon name.

First mention of the Lamplighter's comes in the Bristol Journal of 17 December 1768 when offered to let as 'The Public House at Passage Leaze opposite Pill, commonly called "Lamplighter's Hall". The next mention was in 1772 when the property was up for sale, and described as 'sometime the estate of Joseph Swetnam, Tinman of Small Street, Bristol, deceased'. It is thought that Joseph Swetnam was probably the son of James Swetnam a Tinman who traded at the Three Ship Lanterns on Bristol Back around the year 1740, and who is believed to have been the first Bristol tradesman to use an engraved bill-head on his invoices. Joseph Swetnam must have been a prosperous businessman, because at one period he was contracted to light several of the Bristol Parishes by means of oil-lamps, and out of the profits he built for himself a splendid house in the Country 'in full view of the picturesque beauties of Pill' which he appropriately named 'Lamplighter's Hall'.

Isaac Taylor marked Lamplighter's Hall on the map he surveyed in 1777, and subsequently the Inn became a favourite resort of pleasure parties. On 12 June 1794 the Bristol Gazette reports that 'the annual dinner of the Bristol Sailing Society (founded in 1785) was held at Lamplighter's Hall and made a loyal fete to commemorate the natal day of one of the best of Monarchs (namely 4 June 1794 which was George III's 56th Birthday). The report continues, 'the company near a hundred sat down to a most excellent cold collation provided by Mr. Brown which gave universal satisfaction. The hearty veteran Captain Shaw presided and gave many admirable sentiments. Several loyal songs were sung, and the evening closed peculiarly comfortable. Many ladies attended who tripped the light fantastic toe and made a second Elysuim of this delightful spot.'

The Lamplighter's Hall comes in for mention several times in connection with the history of the Society of Merchant Venturers of Bristol. From time to time the Standing Committee of that Society went down to Lamplighter's Hall at Shirehampton to examine the ship's pilots, and to make its authority felt. On one occasion the pilots had to be rebuked for being drunk and fighting in front of the Committee. When the Committee examined the pilots there in the year 1800 it was found that some were deaf, one had rheumatism, one gout, one intoxicated and another suffered from a nervous disorder. On that occasion it is not surprising that steps were taken to appoint suitable men in their places.

By the year 1810 the Lamplighter's Hall was known as 'Lamplighter's Hotel' and advertised as being in especial favour - the landlord stating that 'his house was so much frequented on Sundays that he was under the necessity of engaging additional waiters from Bath. Ordinary every Sunday two shillings per head . . . etc.' Furthermore, a Bristol Guide Book of the year 1824 suggests a day's excursion as 'Voyage down the Avon to Kingroad, either in light boat with sails, or on the deck of one of the outward-bound steam-vessels as far as the River's Mouth (i.e. Avonmouth). Opportunities for return the same day occur most frequently with a flowing afternoon tide, or by land-conveyance from Lamplighter's Hotel . . .'

Thus it is that the Lamplighter's has for more than 200 years played a significant part in the history of the Parish, and must have been well known to seamen from all over the World who visited this hostelry during long periods of anchorage in Hungroad.

To-day the house is owned by Watney Mann (West) Ltd., and in order to comply with the present Description Acts is known merely as 'Lamplighter's'. During the Autumn of 1973 the building underwent extensive interior modernisation, but the famous skittle alley still remains. The exterior of the house was left unaltered, except for the gardens which were converted into a customer's car park. There is no doubt that Lamplighter's is now well and truly 'fortified' to continue its long and interesting history during the latter part of the 20th Century.

Shirehampton Story, pp.160-162.

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Last update: 4th September 2010