Beese’s history

Beese's postcard
A postcard showing Beese’s

Founding

Discover one of Bristol’s hidden gems. Still often referred to as a Tea Garden, Beese’s was founded in 1846 by Mrs Anne Beese to provide refreshments to travellers and workers using or crossing the river.  The Beese family also ran Conham Ferry.

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

Away from the City

Beese’s is an open secret, set beside a pleasantly wooded stretch of the river Avon. For some, a haven of tranquillity, where generations of city dwellers would put the cares of the city behind them for a time. Equally, in recent years, Beese’s can be a lively place, whether it’s a friends’ get-together, a birthday or wedding celebration, or one of Beese’s music nights. We are visited by families, ramblers, cyclists, dog walkers and, of course, river-users swimming or rowing leisurely by.

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.

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) and the river bank here is now often frequented by fishermen.

Through the Ages

Beese's in 1889
Beese’s in 1889

This area is full of history. The once dominant house at Conham, Conham Hall, was demolished in 1971. 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.

In the 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 Beese’s Sunday roasts every summer weekend. 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.

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. 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. Anne’s and Broomhill.

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

In 1851, Thomas and Hannah Beese were living at ‘The Ferry House’ (a name in keeping with the river crossing here) along with their four children. Forty years later, their son George, who had eight 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 change! There was at one point 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.

Come and Enjoy the Scenery

Beese’s is open each year for the spring and summer (see opening hours). We have live music most Friday evenings, including a mix of known Bristol bands and visitors from afar. There has been an 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.