At the Sign of the Full Moon

This old inn has been given a new lease of life. Restored and rejuvenated as a backpacker's hostel, it is returning to its roots as a home from home for travellers.

The Full Moon, Bristol

The Full Moon is older than it looks. A late Stuart building was given a late Georgian facelift with new sash windows, porch and decorative ironwork arch over the yard entrance.

The Full Moon Inn was built in the early years of the 18th century. At the time it was on the northern edge of Bristol, beside the road to Gloucester. Since then the city has spread out into a massive conurbation, engulfing the Full Moon. It now seems close to the heart of Bristol.

Samuel Seyer in his Memoirs of Bristol (1823) thought that Full Moon was ancient. That would be astonishing if true. Early inns were in town centres. So where did he get this idea? The inn stood on land that once belonged to the medieval Priory of St James. Seyer perhaps assumed that the inn was built by the priory.

We can be sure that it was not. After the monasteries were dissolved, the property of St James's Priory was sold to Henry Brayne, a wealthy London merchant. Henry gave part of this estate to his wife, including a meadow called Stokes Croft. Now Stokes Croft is a street name. Back then it was a huge field, that stretched over the northern half of what is now St Paul's. When we next hear of Stokes Croft - in 1579 - it had a little lodge and garden in the entry to it. That was all. It is only in 1716 that a deed refers to an inn newly built on Stokes Croft, called the Full Moon.

Why was an inn built outside the walled city? In Georgian times it would have been handy for visitors to the massive St James's Fair, held in St James's Churchyard. The rest of the year the Full Moon could hope to entice weary travellers on their way into Bristol. This was an era when more and more people were travelling by coach. New inns sprang up to accommodate them. Like older inns, they were built around a large inn yard, with stables and coach-houses. The layout of the Full Moon is typical.

Since transport depended on the horse, another advantage of a green field site was easy access to fodder. The first innkeeper was Charles Andrews. He leased a large part of Stokes Croft with the Full Moon. Part of it became a paddock, while the meadow would provide hay. The fields also made an arena for spectacles hoping to draw a large (and thirsty) crowd.

But growing Bristol was hungry for building land. Developers seized on the big fields of the Full Moon. A plot was granted to Peter Wilder in 1730 which was the start of Wilder Street. In the next century the back lane to the inn became Moon Street. Then came City Road, Grosvenor Road and the interlinking streets. All the Full Moon's meadow was built over.

Staircase of the Full Moon

This handsome staircase is typical of the period around 1700.

Bristol was a major hub of the public stage-coach network that spread over Georgian England, but it was the city centre inns that profited. They hosted the coaches for long-distance travel. The Full Moon though was well-placed for short hauls to places in south Gloucestershire.

In 1830 a light van for passengers left the Full Moon for Olveston every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at five in the evening. Meanwhile a van for passengers and parcels left on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays for Thornbury at the same hour. These were horse-drawn vans €“ plain box-like vehicles. We can imagine the bustle in the inn yard with two leaving at the same time on a Saturday. Yet that was nothing to the scene at the end of the century, when no less than 10 carriers operated out of the Full Moon. It was the Victorian equivalent of a local bus service. People would come in to Bristol in the morning to do their shopping or business, then go home with the same carrier at the end of the day.

By Victorian times the word inn was starting to seem old-fashioned. The Full Moon Inn became the Full Moon Hotel in 1865, though part of it it - the Full Moon Tap - functioned as a pub. That must have been confusing. There were three other pubs in Bristol called the Full Moon. Nevertheless in the next century the Full Moon Hotel gradually evolved into a pub. By the 1980s it had ceased to offer overnight accommodation at all. The bedrooms were unused. By the end of the century the building was shabby and dilapidated.

Now Eco Properties are changing all that. The building has been restored and renovated. The Full Moon will once again cater for travellers. It has just been reopened as an eco-friendly backpackers' hostel. In Georgian times the Full Moon was a social centre that hosted events as varied as auctions and inquests. The new owners have created the modern equivalent: an Internet cafe and a function room. Once more the Full Moon glows a welcome to those near and far.

Official website: The Full Moon Hotel, North Street, Bristol.

Further reading: Kenneth Morgan, Country Carriers in the Bristol Region in the Late Nineteenth Century (Bristol Branch of the Historical Association 1986) includes some photographs of horse-drawn carrier's vehicles.