Beese’s history

A Beese's postcard
A Beese’s postcard

Come and discover Bristol’s hidden gem. Still often referred to as a Tea Garden, Beese’s was founded in 1846 by Mrs Anne Beese, who provided refreshments to the travellers and workers using the river and Conham Ferry, which the Beese family also ran.

The Conham Ferry simply crosses from Beese’s to the steps on the Hanham side of the river, and is reputedly the oldest river ferry crossing on the River Avon. We are delighted to carry on the tradition by operating the ferry during our opening hours.

Set beside a a pleasantly wooded stretch of the river Avon, Beese’s is an open secret which can sometimes be a haven of tranquility where generations of city dwellers have – for a few hours, anyway – put the cares of the city behind them. Equally, in recent years, Beeses can be a lively place where families, ramblers, cyclists, dog walkers, and of course, river users of the more leisurely kind, can enjoy a friend’s get together, a birthday or wedding celebration or come to one of Beese’s music nights.

Just like Bristol City’s Floating Harbour has changed since it’s inception in 1809 so too has the stretch of river from Netham Lock, which helps to control one end of the harbour’s water, to Hanham, the next destination upstream of Beeses.

Long gone is the heavy industry, noise and pollution – Butler’s tar works on one side and the Board Mills on the other – which once dominated the river valley. In their place, at Crews Hole and St Anne’s, has come tree-planting and extensive new housing. The riverside park just past here, on a loop of the river at Conham, lies on the site of a former sewage works (you really wouldn’t know!) which served part of Kingswood until 1968.

The once dominant house at Conham, Conham Hall, was demolished in 1971, and the river bank here is now often frequented by fishermen.

Beese's in 1889
Beese’s in 1889

This area is full of history. Persecuted Baptists once held secret meetings in the woods nearby, and you can still see the crumbling remains of old copper works established here in the 18th century. The river at Conham was once the scene of an appalling tragedy. During World War I, a steamer called Emily brought a party of 130 poor children on a trip to Beese’s. Just before the return trip, the skipper thought, perhaps foolishly, that he would give the kids a little more excitement by blowing the ship’s hooter.

Some of the children panicked at the noise and jumped into the river. Although most were either rescued or managed to scramble ashore, two boys and two girls were tragically drowned. In Victorian times, visitors to Beese’s would take their tea in the house or the terrace immediately in front of the house which, although a major part of the Beeses backdrop, are now both just for residential use.

Back then a sign facing the river – “Bees Tea Gardens” – would inform you that you had reached your destination. Anne Beese was a lady who discouraged the drinking of alcohol and might be a tad peeved to see the quantities of beer, cider and wine that accompany Beeses Sunday roasts every summer weekend. No doubt, back in the day, the railway navvies then working on Brunel’s newly opened Great Western Railway would have been most appreciative of a nice cuppa.

Today the sign reads Beese Riverside Bar which rather more accurately reflects the nature of the business it has become.  Cream Teas are, of course, still a major part and can be enjoyed in the garden or the bar/restaurant building erected in the 1960s.

From the garden and decked area in front of Beeses you can sometimes hear and spot the trains as they make a brief appearance between tunnels of St.Annes and Broomhill

Beese's post-1889 (we think)
Beese’s post-1889 (we think)

In 1851, Thomas and Hannah Beese were living at The Ferry House – there has long been a river crossing here – along with their four children. Forty years later, their son George, who had seven children, was running the place. When he died in 1895, his wife continued the business. Gilbert Bruton was her ferryman, rowing customers across the river in an open boat.  Today the boat is still open to the skies but does at least have an engine. Before World War II, this crossing cost just one old penny – times have changed! There was once a small cabin on the Conham side, near the towpath, where you could buy sweets, chocolates and sandwiches (if there were any left).

The Beese children attended Crews Hole school on the other side of the river. But they were often late for classes in winter when the Avon flooded – something the river still does today. In the 1920s, the business was sold to the Plumpton family.

Beese’s is open each year for the spring and summer (the dates vary – see our opening hours for details). We have live music most Friday evenings, as well as our annual beer festival since 2009.

With our decking and marquee, Beese’s is a popular venue for wedding receptions as our unique location offers newly-weds something a little different.

Our fully-licensed free house and gardens are available for private bookings, corporate events, birthday parties and wedding receptions.