All Saints’ Lane is a narrow passage leading from Corn Street to the heart of Bristol’s Flower Market, and it is here that you will find the Rummer. The present inn has been known as the Rummer for over two hundred years but its history goes back much further than that. It is built on a portion of the site occupied as early as 1241 by an inn, then called the Greene Lattis, which gives it Bristol’s No. 1 Licence.
Many old inns have had a change of name in their long history but the Rummer must surely hold the record.
The Green Lattis faced High Street and extended backwards to the present All Saints’ Lane which was then known as Venney’s Lane, and it had a large inn-yard and stables at this point. The inn was given to the Church of All Saints in 1241 by its owner Alice Hayle, in the hope that prayers would be said for the repose of her soul.
We know that these early premises were rebuilt in 1440 when the vicar and churchwardens borrowed £100 for that purpose. In that century, one Thomas Abyndon, a churchwarden, occupied the house as its innkeeper and the inn became known as the Abyndon. By the sixteenth century it was variously referred to as the Green Lattis and the Abyndon, and one deed of 1647 even refers to it as the “Green Lettice, in the occupation of the Sheriff, Francis Gleed.”
The confusion of names was perpetuated when in 1565 the Jonas Inn was rebuilt and the Green Lattis incorporated in it; the newly built inn was called simply the New Inn, alias Jonas, alias Green Lattis.”
It was the building of the new Exchange in 1743 which finally fixed the old inn’s name and also gave it its present structure. The merchants of Bristol had long discussed the need for a suitable prestigious meeting place as a centre of activity for the commercial world.
The site in Corn Street was chosen but there were a number of old properties to be bought up before the Exchange could be built.
In 1740 a conveyance was made between the owner Mrs Earle and the Corporation stating that, “as the building an exchange was highly necessary and that the opening of convenient passages to such Exchange by making a new street or streets.. it would be necessary to purchase several houses, lands, tenements.” One of these new streets to be opened up was All Saints’ Lane which had been the courtyard to the Rummer Tavern but now would be a thoroughfare to it and the market which was also to be built at this time.
John Wood, the designer of the Exchange, continued this new approach to the Rummer as part of his Exchange scheme and at the same time set back and rebuilt the inn giving it an entrance into the Lane as well as retaining the one in High Street.
The oldest parts of the Rummer are the old cellars which were under the medieval hostelry on this site but the rest of the house is of late eighteenth and early nineteenth century with an entirely suitable panelled door and doorway with a pediment on brackets.
It was in 1784 that one John Palmer of Bath signed a contract with the Postmaster General for the carriage of mail by coaches. The first road on which this experiment was tried was between London and Bristol and on a memorable day, Augnst 8th 1784, the first coach arrived at the Rummer Tavern at eleven o’clock at night after the first fifteen hour journey from London. The Rummer was now in business as Bristol’s first coaching inn.
The Rummer and the earlier inns on this site have all played a part in Bristol’s history. It was the foremost inn in the area in a central position and Elizabeth I, Charles I and II and William III are all reputed to have been put up here on their civic visits. During the Civil War it also saw a good deal of action when it was held first by the Cavaliers and then by the Roundheads. An annalist says that Oliver Cromwell stayed here in 1649 “on his way to govern Ireland according to his Irish ideas.”
The social life of a city often centred around its inns. The first Freemasons’ Lodge dinner was held at the Rummer in 1735 and continued until 1812 when the Masons built their own Hall noted as, “an improvement in masonic affairs as by the removal from the Taverns, the dangers of the bottle were lessened.” Boxing matches were promoted but never fought at the inn. Felix Parley’s Journal in 1755 told its readers of, “tickets to be had at the Rummer Tavern for a famous boxing match depending between John Harris and John Slack.”
Many literary meetings were held at the inn and the poet S.T. Coleridge published his magazine, ‘The Watchman’ from here; it folded after ten issues and the long-suffering Joseph Cottle, bookseller of High Street, had once again to save the impecunious poet from the debtors’ prison.
In 1962, Berni Inns bought the Rummer and inaugurated their own brand of social revolution. They re-opened the entrance from High Street, created new bars and set up their first steak bar in the West Country. It was at the Rummer that the Berni Inns’ tradition began, of serving good steaks and preserving old, historic inns.
It was a good day for Bristol when the Berni Brothers decided to settle here for without their enterprise there would have been fewer historic inns left in this historic city.
After Berni Inns, The Rummer was passed through the portfolios of the large pub operators, and by the time it closed at the end of the century, it has become quite dilapidated. The Rummer remained closed for a number of years, falling further into disrepair due to the missing sections of roof.
In 2003 the building was purchased by it’s current owner, a Bristolian who has once frequented the place and had learned the trade in the fine bars and restaurants of the capital, who set about a two year restoration project. On 19th December 2005, the doors of The Rummer, now restored to All Saints Lane, opened once again to the public.
Slowly, the remaining portions of the building have been restored and re-opened. The cellars have been transformed into a plush Dining Room and bar, which are open every evening. Most recently, a library has been created in the back room, which houses hundreds of volumes of parliamentary debates, paying homage to the role that The Rummer has played in local and national politics throughout the ages.
Further development in 2016 has seen distilling return to the Old City, with the installation of a micro distillery in the historic cellars at The Rummer. This small still produces high quality gin and spiced rum, and is used to produce Bristol Dry Gin.