Home News The Bristol neighbourhood going through a transformation

The Bristol neighbourhood going through a transformation


Jane and John Griffin have seen a lot change in Redfield.

When we strike up a conversation with the married couple one lunchtime in the St George’s Hall, a Wetherspoon pub on Church Road, they are generous with their time as they enjoy their drinks.

The subject at hand is the ongoing transformation of Redfield and St George, to which John, 65, and Jane, 62, have had a front-row seat, having lived in the area for more than three decades. Both are mostly positive about what they have seen.

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“It has come up so much,” says Jane, a retired general assistant at Southmead Hospital. “We have got some nice things — we didn’t have these restaurants before, we didn’t have these bakeries.”

The couple bought their Roseberry Road house 34 years ago, for around £25,000. They believe the terraced three-bedroom home could now go for well over £300,000.

“When we first moved in it was Ford Focuses and Sierras on our road,” remembers John, a retired plastics manufacturer. “Now there are some big Mercedes.”

He adds: “I feel sorry for the younger generation trying to buy a house, unless their parents are really wealthy.”

Though John has concerns over the affordability of housing, he and Jane have welcomed another aspect of the recent changes — the evolution of the area’s high street, Church Road.

Recent years have seen an influx of businesses with a reputation for high-quality food and drink. Sourdough bakery Bristol Loaf, wholefoods counter Southville Deli and restaurants The Lock Up and The Red Church have replaced Natwest bank, First Choice travel agents, Kingsway electricals and Lloyds bank respectively, among a raft of arrivals which have started to put the street on Bristol’s foodie map.

Jane is happy to see a buzz on Church Road, with independent businesses making money and few units empty. And John does not believe locals are being priced out of the new offering. “Even if you’re coming out for a meal, it’s not something you do every day,” he says. “You don’t need a lot of money.”

They have been impressed by the queues that Bristol Loaf can attract, sometimes stretching past several shops and reaching the St George’s Hall.

Like some other locals we speak to, though, the couple are dismayed by the fate of the Wetherspoon. Our chat at the pub comes days before its closure on September 19, amid plans for 40 flats, though potential developer Landrose says it expects to keep a retail or pub element.

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The loss of a large space where a pint can be bought for £1.69 could be seen as a blow to the working-class community in the area. Though John and Jane believe the pub’s standards dropped in recent years, they say it will be missed as a “hub” for the community.

The couple do not think gentrification or changing demographics were behind the St George’s Hall’s demise. Pointing at a chair tilted on a wonky leg, John says: “If they spent a bit of money on the place it might have been different.”

He adds: “The thing that destroyed this place is they stopped doing Sunday roasts and Christmas dinners. If you go back 10 to 15 years it was packed, and I am talking packed. They still do food, but it’s microwave food.”

Jane says: “You see an awful lot of new faces in the area. When you have a hub like this you get to meet those new faces. All that will be lost. A lot of people who might not have a husband or wife can come in here and have a chat with people, and they don’t get down or depressed. People will go off in different directions now.”

John thinks the picturesque St George Park and the proximity of central Bristol are factors in the area having become more desirable than nearby Kingswood to buyers. “If you go back to years ago, houses in Kingswood were going for more than in Redfield,” he says.

‘Ripple effect’

The stats seem to back up John’s recollection. In 1995, the average house price in central Kingswood was £42,000 — higher than the £40,000 figure for St George or £31,000 for Redfield.

By 2020, though, those positions had been reversed, according to Land Registry data, with Redfield’s average at £257,000, St George’s at £238,000 and Kingswood’s at £229,000.

Few know more about the local housing market than Jon Munden, who has lived in Crew’s Hole for 30 years, a mile or so from Church Road. The estate agent helped set up House and Co on the high street, and 21 years on, times are busy.

“With one property in Redfield recently, we did 22 viewings over two days and had seven people make an offer,” says Jon after welcoming us into the agency for a chat. “If you’re 35 years old and earning £35k a year, that’s a lot of the market in this area.”

The 51-year-old scribbles on a map of Bristol, drawing a dividing line where the A420 changes from the eastern end of Church Road into Clouds Hill Road. On the Church Road side, he says houses often go for £350,000. The Clouds Hill Road side, which is further from the city centre, drops to between £280,000 and £300,000.

Church Road
Church Road in Redfield

Jon says: “It used to be that people didn’t want to move to Easton or Redfield. The people who would buy around here already lived around here.

“That was the way it was 20 years ago in most areas of Bristol, like where I grew up in Brislington. You would live two streets away from your mum. Now a lot of the people who buy here are not Bristolian.”

He describes a “ripple effect” which saw people who could not afford to live in St Andrews or Gloucester Road moving instead to Knowle or Brislington, and people who could not afford to live in St Werburghs or Montpelier moving to Easton.

This effect has progressed to a point that Redfield and Barton Hill are among the last places close to the city centre which remain relatively affordable, says Jon.

But a lack of alternatives is not the only draw to Redfield and St George. Jon believes perceptions started to change about five years ago. With the opening of Southville Deli, people started to associate Church Road with Southville, a part of South Bristol seen by many as up and coming.

“The Lock Up opened as well, and Grounded coffee shop, which really made a difference,” Jon says. “Grounded was almost like a creche, because all these young professional women would go there with their kids. That was something the area didn’t have before.

“Bristol Loaf also made a difference, and the Cake House has been doing some beautiful stuff since opening in lockdown.”

Jon believes it is important that Church Road’s offering continues to serve both the original community and those who have arrived more recently.

“And I think it still does,” he adds, giving the Fire Engine, the George & Dragon, and the Old Stillage as examples of pubs still attractive to working-class locals following the closure of the Wetherspoon.

“There are still places you can get an old-school builder’s breakfast. There is still the mix around here. Whether that will be the case in five or 10 years, I don’t know. Where are the people who lived in BS3 before it got trendy?”

In one week, more than 2,000 people signed a new petition to protect the former art deco cinema site behind the Wetherspoon. The Save Redfield Cinema group believes the space, long disused but largely intact, could be brought back to life.

The group, who want to exclude the site from the potential Landrose housing development, spoke this week of their hopes that a new cinema and arts space could help bring together the diverse communities in the area.

Asked if locals could be more connected, Jon says: “In some ways they are more than ever. Some roads have their own Facebook and WhatsApp groups.

“It’s different for some of the older generation not on social media. There are some who would have gone to the Wetherspoon every day for however many years, although the fact it didn’t have enough business to sustain it shows the supply and demand.”

Jon’s prediction for the coming years is that the “ripple effect” will continue in Redfield and St George, as well as pushing into Lawrence Hill and Kingswood.

“Things will definitely be different a year, two years down the line,” he adds. “I have seen all the areas of Bristol where the prices have gone up, and we are catching up fast. This area has never been a student quarter. Will it go that way in another five years, when you have the infrastructure with the new bars?”

‘They are family’

Near St George Park, we enter the Fire Engine pub, alive with laughter and chatter in the late Tuesday afternoon. Eric Prydz’s Call on Me is playing, as one of the men drinking at the bar says he remembers the song’s video, which depicted a women’s workout class. The landlady, Kelly Brice, quips: “I think every male remembers that.”

Kelly, 34, describes the boozer as “spit and sawdust”. Blown up on the wall are black and white photos of Bob Marley and Elvis Presley, looking out at the dartboard, games machine and TVs. A pint will set you back less than £3.

One of its most loyal punters is Andy Phillips, who has been moving further and further east from his Barton Hill home for a watering hole. Following the closures of the Russell Arms, The Swan and Rhubarb Tavern in his neighbourhood, Andy has increasingly been a regular at the Fire Engine.

Andy Phillips
Andy Phillips at the Fire Engine

The 71-year-old enjoys visiting the pub because he finds it one of the most wheelchair-friendly in the area. He has used a wheelchair since breaking his spine in an accident when he was 40.

Andy has a clear camaraderie with Kelly, who tells the story of how they met: “This lovely young man accompanied me here with a bacon sandwich and a pint for the Lions’ New Zealand rugby tour four years ago. We opened for the games at 8.30am, and that was one of the first times Andy was in. Once the rugby was over, we had a chat, and that was it then.”

Andy liked to go to the St George’s Hall for a £1.69 pint of IPA and he says the pub will be a “big loss”, adding: “There used to be so many people who would meet in Spoons.”

With the Wetherspoon’s closure, the Fire Engine is the only pub Andy still goes to. “I am knackered without this place,” he says.

Does he enjoy his relationship with the Fire Engine staff? “I wouldn’t go that far,” he replies, with a wink. Kelly jokes: “I am going to put a step in.”

Laughing, Andy continues: “You know the people here. It’s exactly the same with the Spoons. It’s friendly.”

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The landlady does not think the Wetherspoon shutting will mean a surge in business for the Fire Engine. “We’re too far up the road and we don’t do food. A lot of the people who go to Spoons are families. This is a working man’s pub.”

Kelly, who is originally from Hartcliffe, lives upstairs and works behind the bar nearly every day. She says the pub has got a little quieter over the years. Might the area’s changing demographics have played a role in that?

“Possibly,” Kelly replies. She says Church Road’s Dark Horse gastropub has been “very successful” in recent years, but she is not tempted to rebrand the Fire Engine with food or a more upmarket offering.

“I have been here eight years and these people are not just customers — they are family. I have the same people in here every day. Even on Christmas Day they support. If we have got a good thing, why change it?”

Andy, who is a big Bristol Bears rugby fan, chimes in: “I think what helps is you have the tellies and you can put the snooker and the football and the cricket on. That draws people in.”

Kelly asks: “Is that a hint?” With a mock-conspiratorial turn to us, she jokes: “He’s very demanding.”

Kevin Little and David Tanner
Kevin Little and David Tanner at the Fire Engine

Kevin Little, 64, and David Tanner, 73, are chatting at a table in the Fire Engine. Kevin tells us he drinks at the Fire Engine because he prefers its atmosphere over some other pubs which are “more like wine bars”. He was not a regular at the St George’s Hall, but says he knows “a lot of people who are quite upset” about the closure.

The landlady’s main concern for the area is antisocial behaviour and crime. Kelly recalls a recent Saturday evening when “a young girl was screaming because her partner had been jumped by a group of kids who ran into St George Park”. Avon and Somerset police say the incident was not reported and they would encourage people to report crimes so officers can take action and make patrol plans.

Kelly also says drink and drug use can cause issues at the bus stop outside William Hill. “If Andy is getting off the bus, the group gathered there sometimes won’t get out of the way. They can be intimidating. Sometimes there are about 10 to 12 people. Police turned up yesterday and said they had to move on.”

She believes the problem may be rooted in a lack of things for young people to do. “When I was growing up you had more youth clubs,” she says.

Police have received eight reports of antisocial behaviour on Church Road over the past three months. A force spokesman said: “Due to low numbers, no significant trends have been identified in terms of an increase or decrease compared with normal. The park area is one, though, where we regularly conduct high-vis patrols.”

‘In transition’

Boldi Komjathy
Boldi Komjathy, one of the bartenders at the Dark Horse

A few doors down from the Fire Engine is the Dark Horse, a cosy rustic pub with logs piled next to a brick fireplace, not in use on this warm day. On the sun-dappled wooden roof terrace, one customer is enjoying his drink topless.

Well known for its Bristol-sourced stock, a pint of craft beer costs just over £5 and a real ale about £4 at the Dark Horse. A chalkboard on the wall advertises the pub’s “Bristol Famous Sunday Roasts”.

The quality food and drink came after a 2017 relaunch, before which the boozer had been called the Black Horse and known for its cheap pints.

As the Outkast hit Prototype plays from the speakers, bartender John tells us all eight of the beers on tap are local, apart from the San Miguel.

John, 28, describes Redfield as “definitely in transition”, adding: “You get the millennial trendy types and the Bristolian old boys. You still get a nice mix in this pub. The two can contrast quite a lot but they get on well. Ideally we would have everyone in here.”

The Dark Horse
The Dark Horse roof terrace

The bartender, originally from Oxford, lives just off Church Road. He was teaching English in Spain until last year, when the one-two punch of Brexit and Covid meant “boom — I had to move back to England”.

Asked why he chose to move to Redfield, he says: “There was no real thought about it. I had a mate here who had a spare room.”

John likes living in the area. He does not often have to go into the city centre, with enough to enjoy on his doorstep. He adds: “Buying a place is so far away from my options right now. The guy who owns my house is looking to buy somewhere else and he’s going to make a lot of money selling.”

‘We try to do things that are different’

Sahil Patel in the family-run shop
Sahil Patel in the family-run shop Pat’s News and Booze

Closer to the Lawrence Hill side of Church Road is a family newsagent which with its yellow shopfront looks deceptively similar to many other convenience shops. Quietly, Pat’s News and Booze has become an important name in Bristol’s craft alcohol scene.

Prakash “Pat” Patel opened the shop more than 30 years ago and with his son Sahil has built a reputation for an eclectic range of drinks, many from local breweries.

The shop, sometimes called Mr Exclusive Drinks, is busy on the warm afternoon, with customers flocking around the red churn of a slushy machine, always a popular choice on days like this, 31-year-old Sahil tells us.

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More than 250 cases of the store’s alcohol, around £100,000 worth, were stolen last month during a break-in at its storage unit in St Werburgh’s. Sahil has little hope of them being recovered, but it is a mark of the business’ success that he remains optimistic for the future.

With hundreds of different beers and spirits on offer — and even an unusually wide selection of soft drinks — Sahil puts the shop’s popularity down to its range.

“There are not many businesses you can go to and buy a good selection of local beer unless you go to somewhere like Gloucester Road,” he says.

Pat's News and Booze
The dizzying array of soft drinks on offer at Pat’s News and Booze

“A lot of our customers come from all around Bristol. We try to do things that are different. It’s not just the alcohol. Some of our soft drinks you’d normally only see in the USA, like Bang Blue Razz. It’s the same with the sweets and chocolate.

“I think a lot of people like drinking at home since Covid. A lot of our customers would rather buy a lot of beer here and drink it at home with their friends, than go to the pub.”

Despite the shop attracting people from across the city, Sahil thinks Church Road itself is not quite a food and drink destination yet, but he sees Bristol Loaf and the Cakehouse as steps in the right direction.

“More people will support local Bristol stuff rather than chains,” he adds. “It’s good that everyone supports local things around here.”

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