Antiques series. Tim Wonnacott is at the Bristol Harbour Festival to meet locals with their precious antiques which help tell the story of this historic city.
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Britain is stuffed with places
famous for their antiques
and each object has a story to tell.
I'm Tim Wonnacott and, as the crowds gather for their favourite outdoor
events around the country, I'll be pitching up with my silver trailer
to meet the locals with their precious antiques and collectables.
I'm feeling inspired myself, thank you very much.
Their stories will reveal why the places
we visit, deserve to be on The Great Antiques Map Of Britain.
Today, we're at the Harbour Festival in Bristol,
the gateway to the West Country.
Lots of eager owners have come along to show us their intriguing items...
Ta-dum! It has got something that is beyond price here in Bristol.
..which represent this area's unique antiques heritage.
To have this, is a delight in Bristol Blue.
Also, of course,
they want to find out what their precious objects might be worth.
£100-£200. £2500-£3500. £200-£300. £5,000.
Have a guess how much this 1913 ladies motorcycle could
fetch at auction.
This is just to perfection in every detail.
This harbour has seen some life.
Bristol used to be England's second city and port.
Well, you have to go back to Medieval times,
but that's how important it once was.
Cabot sailed off from here in his Matthew to Newfoundland.
Brunel built important ships. And business - with Europe, Africa
and the Americas in commodities like sugar, tobacco and, of course,
the slave trade - kept this place afloat.
And wealthy merchants' houses still dominate some
parts of the city.
The profits that these businesses in Bristol must have
made in the old days, well, it's just been tremendous. Look at it.
But those merchants wouldn't recognise Bristol's big hitters
of today, like the creative media, electronics and aerospace industry.
And the historic docks they sailed from, have been
redeveloped into a major visitor attraction.
So, it's absolutely fitting that we should be
here beside the water, as a part of the Bristol Harbour Festival.
It's been an annual event since 1971
and now attracts 250,000 visitors each year.
And some of them seem very pleased to see us.
And we're off to a rip-roaring start with Bristol's Lord Mayor, no less.
Alastair Watson. He's brought along a hugely important Bristol antique.
-You come bearing arms, I see.
-I do indeed, Tim.
But not just any ordinary piece of armament this, is it?
It's beautiful. It's our Pearl Sword.
-It's one of the treasures of the city.
-It is a treasure.
It's one of our four swords and perhaps the finest.
Let me remove it, firstly, from the scabbard,
and I'm doing this somewhat gingerly,
because the antiquity of this piece,
-practically defies belief, doesn't it?
Because this is thought to have been made between about 1370
and 1390 and it says on it in between these two shields,
"John Wells of London, grocer and Mayor to Bristol
"gave this sword fair."
We think he presented it to the City of Bristol when he was Mayor
of London in 1431 or 32 and it's remained in the city ever since.
So, solid silver is the handle that has been flashed in gold,
called silver gilt, and in fact I'm going to put it back in
the scabbard because the scabbard has a bit of a story to tell too.
It does. It's our pearl scabbard.
When Queen Elizabeth I visited Bristol in the 1570s,
a pearl scabbard was applied to the sword at that time and that
scabbard stayed on the sword
until the middle of the 20th century,
when this replacement to commemorate
-the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II came about.
We still have that old scabbard but it was in pretty poor
condition, so we had this new one made and replaced the seed pearls.
We called it the Pearl Sword because of the Elizabethan scabbard.
And a very nice title it is for it. Absolutely delightful.
Ordinarily on this programme, we arrive at this moment
and we have a bit of a valuation.
But on this particular occasion, I'm going
to dip out on that and simply tell you that your sword is priceless.
-Is that good enough?
-We believe that too.
-Thank you very much.
-Thank you for having us, it's been great.
A pleasure. Thank you, Tim.
Britain's oldest continually running theatre is Bristol's Old Vic
which opened for business in 1766.
In order to raise the funds to build it,
the developers offered investors free entry to all shows for ever,
if they bought a specially made token,
and Peter has one to show us.
I brought along what looks like a coin
but actually is a silver ticket from the Theatre Royal in Bristol.
Peter, on the face of it, this is a rather dull looking,
leather-covered jewellery box, but if I open it up - ta-da! -
it's got something that is beyond price here in Bristol, right?
We seem to have a theatre token made in solid silver
but beautifully engraved.
It says "King Street, Bristol Theatre, May 1766", and then
if we turn it over, "The proprietor of this ticket is entitled
-"to the sight of every performance to be exhibited in this house."
And that is what it says and that is what it means, right?
Absolutely, even today.
They are a direct link with the people who actually
had the theatre built back in 1766.
So, if I had invested my money in 1766 and bought this ticket,
my successors, my inheritors, would still hold the ticket and could
still see every performance in what is now the Bristol Old Vic?
Originally, you'd have had to pay £50 and then because there was
a cost overrun on building the theatre, as always,
you had to pay another 30.
-So, it cost me £80?
But to be able to watch, or as they say rather sweetly, have a "sight
"of every performance" that would ever have happened in that theatre.
-So, how many of the original theatre tokens were there in 1766?
There were 48 of them and every now and again someone turns up
-and finds one.
Well, I think it's a fascinating story and it's a thrill to be
able to handle one of these tokens
because they are extremely rare. And if you could find one,
you would have your handle on a fair degree of cash were you to
-want to sell this token, which you never would.
Deep intake of breath.
But what would today's value be of such an extraordinary item?
Find out later.
You can't come to Bristol without
talking about Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
His legacy is everywhere.
Brunel was a man with big ideas and he made things happen.
Just downstream from here is the famous Clifton Suspension Bridge
and this is the SS Great Britain, a ship built right here
in Bristol that it is said, quite literally,
changed the world.
Like all of Brunel's achievements, it's an incredible
piece of engineering and was the first of its kind in the world.
Eleni Papavasileiou is a curator at the SS Great Britain Trust.
Tell me, what is so special about the SS Great Britain?
Well, there was no ship like the Great Britain before her, really.
When Brunel conceived her, she was to be the largest iron-hulled,
screw-propelled steamship in the world.
So that was his vision, really, for that
kind of technology and innovation in the ship building world.
And she turned out to be commercially very successful.
The first few years saw her going to New York as a luxury cruise liner.
She enjoyed great glory,
if you like, but also managed to fulfil Brunel's vision of being
part of the chain of transport from London to Bristol
using the Great Western Railways
and continuing on to New York on the ships.
It's sort of one-ticket travel, in a way.
Yes, exactly, it's almost like the full package,
which was really ahead of his time to come up with that kind of concept.
You could say, indeed, that this revolutionised travel for all time.
Indeed, yes, a great, great vision.
The Trust has amassed an awesome archive,
giving a fantastic insight into Brunel, man and boy.
What's that little sketch of a hobbyhorse?
Oh, this is a very special item from the collection.
It's a sketch of a rocking horse that Brunel drew
-when he was only six.
I think it's a brilliant indicator of his early observational skills
and his artistic talent and he's very good at applying his artistic
sensibilities in everything that he does.
Amongst Brunel's other achievements, I guess
the first thing that people think about is the suspension bridge.
In our collection, there are four plans that
he submitted for the first competition of the bridge in 1829.
Four different concepts,
basically, for what he envisaged the bridge to be during that time.
There are pencil drawings that show an aesthetic
view of the bridge, basically, and there are two engineering
sections as well, so he combines two elements there.
An artistic and a more engineering,
if you like, scientific take to that.
His connection with the age of steam, the Great Western line,
was an achievement, wasn't it?
Brunel's railway, the Great Western Railway, changed the landscape.
It became a means of transport that people could rely on
and use much more and it had an implication on time.
There was a time difference, for instance, from London to Bristol.
So that became the same.
People were in the same time, if you like, from 1840 onwards
and that is because of the railway. Can you imagine?
Different time zones in Britain. Not really.
How very confusing.
But that is how it was before the age of Brunel's railway.
Well, you've got all this fascinating material
here in Bristol.
It sits in this building at the moment.
What are the plans for the future?
Well, we have in excess of 12,000 objects that relate to Brunel
and we're planning a £7 million project
on the site to show artefacts,
rare, unique artefacts that have never been seen before by the public.
So that is very exciting for us.
Well you've got your work cut out.
I wonder if Brunel had any Bristol blue glass on his mantelpiece.
It's probably one of Bristol's most famous products
and Francis is a keen collector.
I'm a bit of a glass nerd and I do collect English glass.
I've brought along some pieces of Bristol blue glass
of the 18th century, some of them signed by Isaac Jacobs, who
was the most famous glassmaker in the city at the end of the 18th century.
Now, this particular dish is lovely, isn't it?
Because it's got this Greek key fret pattern
and a little rosette in the middle.
And, I guess, because it's a signed piece, and we've got
"I Jacobs Bristol"
-on the back, that makes it really rather special, doesn't it?
We know that he sent this pattern of decanter stand
-to sell in a shop in Bond Street in London in 1805.
Then we've got another piece by the same maker
and this is a favourite type, for me.
I think decanters are a marvellous collecting area
and to have this is a delight in Bristol blue.
And then if you fancied a bit of rum,
probably imported into Bristol via the dock over there,
it says "rum" on it and even the stopper is initialled R for rum
so you make quite sure you've got
the right stopper in the right decanter.
But there's one very special piece, which is this finger bowl.
We can see it's got Prince of Wales feathers in gilt on it,
-but this is another important named piece, isn't it?
We know that that little bowl was decorated by a mid-18th century
decorator called James Giles.
We think that it was made about 1763,
because in November 1763, there was a royal birth,
a new Prince of Wales who later became George IV.
Very strange occurrence that the only source of blue in
Britain for glass-making
and ceramics had to come through the port of Bristol,
and for that curious 20, 30-year period, this is where it was all at.
Any idea what these blue beauties would fetch at auction?
All will be revealed later on.
Britain abolished slavery in 1807,
thereby ending a cruel trade that had made some Bristolians rich.
Local publican Mark
has brought along the table relating to the centenary of that event.
It's a cast-iron pub table made in Bristol.
It was created to mark the centenary of the abolition of the slave trade
way back in the early 1900s.
I'm hoping to find out if Tim can corroborate that
and perhaps know the value, because I've got three of them.
Well, what we're looking at is something that is loosely
called, as a type, a Britannia pub table.
All my life I've known them as Britannia pub tables
and it's got some very interesting details.
Now, Britannia is Britannia and Britannia rules the waves
and if you're patriotic, you go into a pub
and you sit as table that has got Britannia cast onto it.
Which is where the term Britannia pub tables comes from.
She's traditionally standing, holding the shield, with
a bit of the Union flag within that shield.
But what we can see here is "slavery abolished".
You're absolutely right in your surmise that this was cast
specifically for 1907, the centenary,
celebrating the abolition of slavery.
The stretcher is also cast iron,
and in it, it says, "G Jones, 69 Castle Street Bristol."
We know that G Jones started in Bristol in the 1870s.
There are a variety of these tables about.
You can buy a WG Grace Britannia table. For example, General Gordon.
So it's a very interesting subject.
But my big tip would be,
if you're at all keen on Britannia pub tables, is to go out
and make a collection of these rarities, and grace your pub
with all these Britannia tables, and then you can become the world's
leading collector of Britannia tables with all kinds of novelties.
-How about that for an idea?
-Great tip, Tim, thank you.
Why not? They'll come flocking in for another pint.
The normal price range is about £100-£150 but I fancy with
this slavery abolished version and with its trade-related
stretcher, it would make a tad more, particularly more here in Bristol.
-How many have you got in your pub?
-I've got three.
Oh! Greedy guts!
In 1907, William and Edwin Douglas transformed their Bristol
blacksmith and foundry business into an engineering
manufacturer of motorbikes.
Initially successful, the business finally closed in 1957
and remaining bikes have become collectors' items.
I went to Kingswood Heritage Museum to meet Bill Douglas,
great-grandson of one of the founders.
Well, Bill, this is the holy of holies in here as far
-as Douglas is concerned, isn't it?
-It's quite a collection, yes.
If we start off with this earliest motorised bicycle,
if you had said to me, what's the date and age of that bicycle frame?
I should have said 1950. And there we are - 1905 and made in Bristol.
Barter was the name of the man that designed the engine.
He came up with this strap-on engine.
The castings were done by Douglas.
Douglas then started producing bikes.
At the outbreak of war, the company suddenly became hugely busy,
making this model.
This is the Douglas motor bicycle that made the company name, really.
Really, yes. They were asked to supply the Army with bikes
and one of the lowly office workers said,
"When do they want the 300 that you've agreed to?" And no-one
seemed to know, so he said, "We had better read through the paperwork."
They found to their utter astonishment
that they'd signed for 300 a month for the duration of the war.
They thought it was 300 a year, did they?
-They just thought it was a one-off offer.
-Oh. 300 a month? My gosh.
How many of these bikes did
they make in the course of the First World War, then?
25,000 of these dispatch rider's bikes, as they were known.
We don't have much chrome plate on it, do we?
No, they painted the rims
and the handlebars black because a sniper could well see
the reflection of the sun or some other form of lighting
and probably fell the rider.
But the old man also said as a retort,
"It was also a lot cheaper than nickel plating."
So, the Bristol motor bicycle manufacturers were what
they called "careful", were they?
Early motorbikes are celebrated every year in the Pioneer Run,
from Epsom Downs to Brighton.
To take part, your vehicle has to have been made before
1st January 1915.
Back at the Harbour Festival,
this racy looking rarity qualifies for the Pioneer Run.
Tony and his dad have been restoring it for the last 20 years.
If we stand back and admire it, I mean,
this is just perfection in every detail, isn't it?
It is very good.
Tell me, all these areas that you think of as being chromium-plated,
-it's nickel plate.
-It's nickel-plated, yes.
Which is interesting,
and nickel has a completely different colour to chrome.
Yes, it shows it as a pioneer bike, really, the colouring, yeah.
It's amazing, isn't it?
You don't have a crossbar and that must be
-because this is for a lady, then.
-This is for a lady, yes.
When you think about it, where it was
shocking for a woman before the First World War to expose
an ankle, an extraordinary thing for a woman to buy
a motor bicycle and risk all that, in a way.
Do you know anything about the history of the first owner?
Yes, the first owner was a lady called Margaret Frances Dackins,
-and her father was headmaster of Clifton College.
Yes, so a bit of local interest as well.
She could easily be an emancipated woman of the time, of course.
-I'd have thought so.
-In advance of her time, if you like.
-Now, I don't pretend in any way to be a motor bicycle valuer,
so we're going to consult with Ben Walker at Bonhams.
-Hi, Ben, how are you doing?
-'I'm doing good, and very much.'
How do you rate this machine?
'It is an extremely scarce motorcycle.
'In fact, I have never seen one this early being offered for sale
'or sold publicly before.'
So, what does he think it would fetch at auction?
You'll have to wait and see.
It's hard to believe, but this local beauty spot used to be
the epicentre of a thriving export business.
In the early 1700s,
Bristol was the hub of a triangular trade to West Africa.
From there to the West Indies and North America
and back to Bristol.
And the products the Africans were after were pans made of brass.
With four vital ingredients, copper from Cornwall, local zinc
and coal, and power from the steady flowing River Avon,
the Bristol Brass Company opened its mills alongside
this stretch of the river.
The restored Saltford Mill is the only one left
and local historian Tony Coverdale
knows all about their collection of late 19th-century brass pans.
This is known as a Lisbon pan,
sometimes called barber's basins, and these were made, going out to
Portugal, to Lisbon, and then on to West Africa.
This is known as a kettle.
A kettle is something with a handle that can be hung over a fire
and these were particularly known as Guinea kettles, which goes
back to the West Africa trade. These were made for West Africa.
The way you can tell that they were made here,
if you pick up this other example of a Lisbon pan, you can
actually see the battery marks within the pan.
And that is actually the marks of the hammers
which were used to form the pan.
This was called a battery mill,
literally knocking the brass into shape.
The African market liked to see the battery marks to prove
the quality of the brass.
Given that most Bristol brass was exported,
Joan is fortunate to own a rare Bristol pan.
I'm interested in industrial history.
I'm particularly interested in brass because it was very,
very typical of our area.
It's a handsome pan, isn't it?
And you know that it is from the Bristol Brass Company.
Yes, one of a group of mills
that were organised by the Bristol Brass Company.
And these, of course, were called hollowware, obviously
immensely useful for cooking because the brass conducts the heat very
quickly from the stove through the metal into whatever you're cooking.
This sort of pan is rather familiar as a wok-type pan
to anybody who does oriental cooking today.
But if you wanted to shallow fry something over a flame
then this shape of vessel would enable you to do it and you
can wiggle it around and stop it from burning, which is rather nice.
And I particularly like the handle.
Instead of it being a solid cast handle, it's hollow,
so that, I guess, when it gets hot,
it helps the insulation properties,
so your hand doesn't get hot when the pan gets hot
because the handle is hollow, which is quite fun.
I mean, they are always difficult things to age
because there is no hallmark and there was no dating system, but
I would think, with the Bristol Brass Company connection
and it being such an important industry,
you could get the top end of £100-£200 for this pan.
-Not that you'll be selling it, will you?
-No, I won't be selling it.
It will go back to Saltford Mill and be an attraction to visitors.
-Thank you very much for bringing it along.
-I'm very pleased to do so.
If you had to name centres for pottery and porcelain,
you'd probably think of Staffordshire, London or Worcester.
But for a short period in the 18th century,
Bristol produced beautiful wares and Roger is a knowledgeable collector.
Today, I've brought along two examples of Bristol ceramics.
One is a Delftware plate from about 1760
and the other is a Bristol porcelain figure from 1775.
Well, Bristol is an extraordinary place with an extraordinary
history in the ceramics industry, isn't it?
Yes, Bristol was second only to London in the 17th and 18th century
for ceramic production.
And this dish that we've got beside us
is an example of tin-glazed Bristol Delftware.
What's so splendid about it is, of course, it's a continuous landscape.
And entirely freehand, there is no pattern, there is no transfer print.
This is entirely using the artistic skill of that decorator.
It's a perfectly balanced composition, it's a work of art.
If the man had been painting on canvas
and he'd done it in various colours,
he'd probably be in the National Gallery right now,
but as it was, he was a humble ceramics decorator
from just over there.
-Looking out the window and painting the ships going by.
-Could well be.
Rather like us today.
The bit that I really like,
though, we have this example of something made in Bristol.
Yes, this is an example of Richard Champion's porcelain.
Champion was a 30-year-old Quaker merchant who took over the factory
in 1773 and he wanted to make it the most perfect production he could.
As we can see from this example, the production is absolutely exquisite.
-You will not find a finer or a rarer figure...
..dating from the 18th century anywhere in our fair land,
than this Bristol-made figure.
The actual modelling of his arm and hands
and the little ruff of his jerkin, are exquisite.
He's taken the hat off his head, not an ordinary hat,
but a tricorn hat with a flower in it, that is bright green.
That's apple green, a difficult colour to create on porcelain,
and he's shoved it on the head of his dog.
As a piece of porcelain, I cannot imagine a more perfect example
and certainly worth its weight in gold. Well, jolly nearly.
'We've seen some highly treasured possessions today,
'but if anyone did want to sell, what are the objects worth?
'First, Roger's Bristol Delftware.'
Now, we come to a valuation moment.
The Delftware dish, perhaps, £300, something like that.
But the Champion figure is an exquisite example.
It could bring between £3,000 and £5,000.
'The last time a Bristol Old Vic Theatre ticket was auctioned
'was in 2009.'
I think you could expect to get sort of 2,500, maybe 2,800.
-It just depends on how passionately involved the bidder becomes.
'What about those pieces of Georgian Bristol blue glass belonging
The two pieces of Jacob's-decorated glass, £600-£900 apiece.
But the rather more important
and historically interesting finger bowl, Prince of Wales
connection, 2,500 to 3,500 would be about the mark of it, Francis.
That's what I would be happy to pay for it
but then I am a glass nerd.
Your words, not mine.
'And that 1913 Douglas motorcycle of Tony's.
'I pressed specialist Ben Walker for his valuation.'
The million-dollar question, Ben. What's it worth?
'Well, if I was estimating it for auction purposes, I'd put
'a broad figure of £12-£16,000, but, on a good day, maybe even £20,000.
'I mean, it's every pioneer motorcycle collector's dream.'
That is a surprise. That's more than I expected.
But what's so lovely is it was made just down the road here in Bristol.
-Here it is remaining at least at the moment.
-Yes, thank you.
Well, what a day we have had, hey?
Great selection of local objects to view.
You could say, indeed, all shipshape and Bristol fashion. What?
Tim Wonnacott is at the Bristol Harbour Festival to meet locals with their precious antiques which help tell the story of this historic city.
Tim meets the lord mayor to talk about his ancient ceremonial sword and values a ticket that gets you in to the Bristol Old Vic Theatre 'forever'!
He examines the great legacy of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, looks at some classic motorbikes made in Bristol and discovers the success of the Bristol brass industry which flourished in the 1700s.