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Our staff and invited guests introduce their favourite documents from the Bristol Record Office collections.
Dating from the reign of George II in 1729, and chosen as the introductory item for the Chocolate! exhibition at M Shed, this is the document to which the beginnings of chocolate making in Bristol can be traced.
It granted Walter Churchman, an apothecary, the exclusive right to use his ‘new invention or engine’ for the ‘expeditious, fine and clean making of chocolate’.
When Churchman’s son died in 1761, another apothecary bought the patent – Joseph Fry, from whom the mighty JS Fry and Sons chocolate company grew.
The company owned eight factories around Union Street and The Pithay before moving out to the open space of Somerdale. Fry’s was taken over by Cadbury’s, and more recently Kraft, and production gradually moved out of the country to Poland.
Through Fry’s, along with the factory at Greenbank previously used by Elizabeth Shaw and its predecessor firms, Bristol occupied a major role making one of our favourite food items. To have the royal paperwork which started it all is a treat in itself.
Selected by Graham Tratt, Archivist at Bristol Record Office.
Join Graham at M Shed at 1pm on Friday 8 March to hear his talk, 'Chocolate in the archives' (free entry with an exhibition ticket).
This photograph, taken at Goram Fair in the late 1950s, brings back vivid memories of my visit there as a five year old. I didn’t see these acrobats with their ‘aeroplane’ but I remember they had a ‘motorbike’ up there in the year I saw them.
I also distinctly recall that there was a platform at least 50 feet up a wobbly ladder, from where someone executed dives into a huge water tank below. He ended the show by putting a film of oil on the surface of the water, setting it alight and diving into the flames. It certainly impressed one five year old boy.
The photo, with many others taken at the fair, form just a small portion of thousands of photographs taken by the Council’s Public Relations Office. The collection has images from the 1930s to the early 1970s on subjects like housing, buildings, events, public health and leisure.
Following a recent digitisation project , all of the images from the collection can be seen at the media PC in our public search room. You are welcome to book an hour and browse through the collection, as well as other collections of photographs and films.
Selected by Dave Williams, Archives Assistant at Bristol Record Office
Log book of the trade ship Aid on a voyage to the Mediterranean, 1867 (RefNo. 30182, vessel no. 22100)
Under the Merchant Shipping Act of 1854, the masters (captains) of British merchant ships were required to keep an official log book. During each voyage, the master narrated crew offences and complaints, treatments for illnesses and injuries, deaths, the auctioning of the deceased belongings, and other incidents. Log books can often be found alongside the crew lists that we have for Bristol registered ships covering 1863-1913.
Many of the log books that survive provide fascinating descriptions of sea faring lives. Were maritime workers obedient to their master? Not according to evidence from log books. For example, during this voyage of the “Aid” in August 1867, many of the men either refused to work on the ship whilst it was in port or in the Bristol Channel, or would only work between 6am and 6pm. One of the crew declared that if, as a consequence, anybody struck him, there would be “blood for supper”. Eventually the master felt he had no choice but to turn back to port.
Selected by Sarah Taylor, Archives Assistant at Bristol Record Office
Papers on the case of John Horwood, bound in his own skin
One of the most curious items in the Bristol Record Office collection is one of the UK’s few surviving examples of a book bound in human skin.
In 1821 John Horwood, an 18 year old from Hanham, near Bristol, was the first person publicly executed at Bristol’s New Gaol.
He had been convicted of the murder of Eliza Balsum, an older girl with whom he had been infatuated and threatened to kill. Eliza died following a head injury after Horwood threw a stone at her whilst she was out walking.
After his execution, Horwood’s corpse was dissected by surgeon Richard Smith during a public lecture at Bristol Royal Infirmary.
Smith had part of Horwood’s skin tanned to bind a collection of papers about the murder, trial and execution and the subsequent dissection of Horwood's body. The dark brown front cover of the book was embossed with skulls and crossbones, with the words ‘Cutis Vera Johannis Horwood’ (‘the actual skin of John Horwood’) added in gilt letters.
The volume has been held for many years at Bristol Record Office, although over time, it has become too fragile to be handled. The book is currently on display on M Shed, the museum of Bristol. Visit the M Shed website to read more.
The entire book has also been digitised and can be viewed via the links below.
Please note that as these PDF files contain images of an historical text, they cannot be read using accessibility software.
- Images of pages 1 to 61 of the Horwood book (pdf, 9.9 MB) (opens new window)
- Images of pages 62 to 111 of the Horwood book (pdf, 7.9 MB) (opens new window)
- Images of pages 112 to 169 of the Horwood book (pdf, 9.8 MB) (opens new window)
- Images of pages 170 to 193 of the Horwood book (pdf, 5.1 MB) (opens new window)
- Images of pages 194 to 251 of the Horwood book (pdf, 8.4 MB) (opens new window)
If you wish to use images from this volume for publication or commercial purposes, please email email@example.com.