The pub’s original name was The Dublin Porter Stores. We’ve long had dreams of rediscovering the original lettering which we believe was filled in and later covered up by the large ‘Ushers’ sign above the front doors.
When the first licensee Mary Stone was pulling pints in 1853 this was a poor, Irish area. Small terraced houses lined the steep, cobbled street right down to Stokes Croft. Porter being the b;lack stuff and much enamoured of the locals, of course. Though not much storage went on at this pub; the cellar is tiny!
Slum clearance led to the 1960s flats opposite and much history was lost; there are now only two houses on Hillgrove Street North (the pub’s actual address; we tend to just say ‘Dove Street’ for ease of reference), us and our neighbours. Those little ‘artisan’ houses, suitably modernized would be much in demand today! In fact, it was only the formation of The Kingsdown Conservation Group that stopped the march of the high rises continuing up the hill, inevitably razing the pub and Kingsdown itself!
Thanks to the impressive Bristol Lost Pubs project we know the pub re-emerged, possibly after some time closed- in the 1970s as The Hillgrove Porter Stores. It is the only pub of that name anywhere.
Georges, Courage, Ushers…
Built in robust redbrick and sandstone by The Bristol Brewery Georges Ltd, a merger with London-based Courage, Simonds & Barclay in 1961 saw the removal of fine old Georges lettering from the windows; but thankfully the rest of the stained glass remained intact. We carried on the theme with leadwork inside the pub in our 2003 attempt to reverse the ravages of a chipboard-and-woodchip 1970s refurb.
Various corporate moves led to the pub passing to Ushers then [Un]InnSpired Inns (and now Red Oak). Glen Dawkins took on the lease six months after acquiring The Miner’s Armsfrom longstanding licensees Martin & Anita Creed.
“The Hilly was my local, living round the corner as I still do. I used to run the now-defunct Bottoms Up wine store in Totterdown and I’d do the day shift at the shop then race back to the pub for opening at 7pm whenever they went on holiday. When Martin decided to retire in 2003 it was the natural thing to take it on. The pub was always great but trade was skewed to late evening. I could see the law was changing soon and there would be a profusion of late licenses. For a long term future I had to get people in earlier and for me that meant real ale; it’s what I love and believe in. So we went from Courage and Ushers to six beers in one fell swoop, then ten when a free-of-tie lease was negotiated.
It took six months of hard slog but it worked; one of my proudest moments was when then Manager Marianne won Bristol CAMRA pub of the year. Jamie there now has fourteen handpulls and six craft keg lines. It was tricky enough with half that in the miniscule cellar!”