Dating Bush House

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Bristol, Acraman's Quay

A question often asked of Pevsner authors is 'how do you research the buildings you write about'? This case study attempts to show in some detail how we approach a building such as Bush House, where the dating and history of use in unclear.

John Latimer (1824-1904) wrote a thorough history of C19 Bristol, published in 1887. He said that extensive warehouses in Prince Street were built shortly after 1835 for Acraman Bush Castle & Co. for use as a tea warehouse, a venture that quickly failed. All C20 histories seem to have relied on this statement; however it is not the whole story. The main dating evidence comes from Street directories held at the Central Reference Library, and the consolidated rate books for St. Stephen's parish and other records at Bristol Record Office.

Bristol Record Office holds the Root of Title researched in 1979 to establish the right to ownership of the site. The land on which Prince Street and Narrow Quay were built was purchased by Bristol Corporation from St. Augustine's Abbey in 1239. In 1725 building leases were issued to Henry Combe for two tenements in Prince Street and a warehouse behind on the Quay.

Rate Books were kept by each parish to record the annual collection of the Poor Rate and other rates administered by the parish churches. These are now held at Bristol Record Office. After 1825, St Stephen's parish collected its poor rates, harbour rates and paving rates together - hence the termGlossary Term Consolidated Rates. They show, for each year, who owned and occupied a property, how the building was used, and its size relative to others in the area.

Acramans occupied a number of warehouses at the S end of Narrow Quay, including 18-22 (an early C18 warehouse demolished after 1968 and illustrated in R. Winstone, 'Bristol As It Was 1963-75', pl. 290), and one opposite crane 9 on the site of Bush House. In 1825-6 they held the leases of warehousing in this row to a total rateable value of £170.

By 1830-31 Messrs. Acraman had also acquired the leases of the three houses at the S end of Prince Street. In September 1831 when the 1831-2 rate was collected, the two houses at the S end of Prince Street and the warehouse behind it are listed as "premises rebuilding", and no rate was levied. The following year, the new property is described as "warehouses, lofts, cellars and compting houses", and was charged at £200. (A 'compting house' or counting house is the company office where money was received and paid out and ledger books kept.) Thus phase one of Bush House was being built in 1831, and a design date of 1830 or 1831 could be deduced, which ties in with the completion of Pope's Wool Hall in 1830.

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Bristol, Bush House

Acramans' business is described as "iron and tin plateGlossary Term merchants, iron and brass founders & ironmongers, manufacturers of patent proved chain cables and anchors". The rate books show that the northward extension was built sometime between June 1835 and July 1836, when the enlarged warehouse was rated at £320. In 1839 this was increased to £540. A second painting by Müller, Bristol from Clifton Wood (Bristol Museums & Art GalleryGlossary Term, K1542) of 1837 shows the second phase complete. A 1929 aerial photograph shows the two-part construction of the roofs.

By 1842 the Acramans empire was bankrupt and the warehouse was occupied by Robert Castle and Thomas Tyson, assignees of the estate. After several intervening changes of occupation it was taken in 1846 by George and James Bush, bonded warehouse keepers. Their company remained until the late 1960s and gave it its present name.

It is often said that the warehouse was built for the tea trade. As we have seen it was in fact built primarily for Acramans' iron and engineering companies. It seems from Mathews' Directories of Bristol (held at Bristol Reference Library) that the company of Acraman Bush Castle & Co. was formed probably in 1834 specifically to take advantage of the removal of the East India Company's tea monopoly in 1833. Given Latimer's account, the extension of 1835-6 may have been made specifically to accommodate their anticipated trade in tea. Mathews' directory for 1840 first describes the building as a tea warehouse, and from then until 1845, Daniel, Edward and Alfred Acraman are described as East India merchants. It is clear that tea was never the sole commodity stored, and that all the Acraman companies including Acraman Morgan & Co (the shipbuilding arm from 1839) were based at Bush House.



A long room or passage; an upper storey above the aisles of a church, looking through arches to the nave; a balcony or mezzanine overlooking the main interior space of a building; or an external walkway.


Longitudinal member of a timber-framed building, set square to the ground.


Pedestal or pilaster tapering downward, usually with the upper part of a human figure growing out of it; sometimes called a terminal figure.