Hanging after a trip to the pub - The morbid past of the Highbury Vaults


By Seb Topan, 2nd Year Law & Feature Writer

The former purpose of this Bristol landmark was not exclusively in the provision of drink. A popular watering hole for students and locals alike, the Highbury Vaults pub once had a macabre past.

In mid to late 1800s Bristol, condemned prisoners had their final meal in the depths of the pub, before being sent to be executed on the gallows at the top of St Michael’s Hill. 180 years later and the Highbury Vaults pub is now a fond local for students, academics and townsfolk alike.

A pint at the Highbury Vaults | Flickr / Chris Bertram

Located close to the University’s School of Humanities, this traditional 1800s pub serves a great selection of ales from its original small Victorian snug bar, and good-quality classic pub grub, including its acclaimed Sunday roast.

Originally built around 1840 as a turnpike, before becoming a pub a decade later, the Highbury Vaults offers a beautiful hidden walled garden where customers can enjoy a relaxing pint in the summer.

‘I think that it is a pretty exceptional piece of history, right at the heart of Bristol’, second-year History student, Beth Thompson, tells me.

‘People can go and enjoy a pint surrounded by history!’

Asked whether she would indulge in a drink, or two at the pub, after the government eases the Covid-19 restrictions, Thompson says: ‘Oh definitely! Especially with a pub rooted in history.’

‘I think the fact that its linked to the death penalty makes the pub so intriguing; I can’t wait to visit the pub with some friends for a nice G&T’, Thompson continues.

The mid-19th-century pub has a narrow frontage and dark interior. The bar to the back of the pub has an inter-war counter, old bar-back fitting and panelled dado. The bar also has an impressive set of handpumps, dating back to 1936, adding to the historical aesthetics of the pub.

Over the pub’s 180-year history, it has barely been touched. In the early 1980s, an extension added another two rooms where you can find a billiards table – a feature rarely found in pubs today. More recently, the pub featured in ‘CAMRA Heritage Guide’ and the ‘Good Pub Guide’, owing to its service and friendly atmosphere.

Post-lockdown, the Highbury Vaults pub is sure to continue to be a favourite local of the people of Bristol and increase its student popularity, amid the quality experience and historical intrigue of the pub.

Featured Image: Flickr / Rob Brewer