Come and discover Bristol’s best kept secret. Beese’s Tea Gardens was founded in 1846 by Mrs Beese, who provided refreshments to the many travellers using the Conham Ferry, the captain of which was Mr Beese.
The Conham Ferry runs from Beese’s to the Hanham side of the river, and is 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.
Situated beside a deeply running river Avon below a steeply wooded bank, Beese’s is a haven of tranquillity where generations of city dwellers have – for a few hours, anyway – put the cares of the city behind them. Just as in the old docks, visitors who have not made the trip upriver from the Feeder to Conham for a few years will find that the views, with perhaps the exception of the chimney on Troopers Hill, have changed dramatically.
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 which served part of Kingswood until 1968.
The big house, Conham Hall, was demolished in 1971, and it now makes a fine place to take your fishing rod for the afternoon.
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 (sometimes known as Bees) would take their tea in the big house, still there today but no longer used for catering.
A big sign – “Bees Tea Gardens” – would inform you that you had reached your destination. Today’s cream teas are enjoyed in a building erected in the 1960s. It was Anne Beese, a Christian lady who discouraged the drinking of alcohol, who first opened the tea gardens way back in 1846.
The railway navvies then working on Brunel’s newly opened Great Western Railway (you can still hear, and just spot, the trains rushing by today) were no doubt very grateful for a thirst-quenching cuppa.
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, just as someone does today, from the Conham towpath. Before World War II, this crossing cost just one old penny – now it’s 25p each way. There was once a small cabin on the Conham side, near the towpath, where you could buy sweets and chocolates.
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 which has sold out every year 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.