Postcards of Bristol from yesteryear

Did you know that Know Your Bristol On the Move has access to over 8,000 postcards of Bristol, images that hold fascinating stories of Bristol’s past? We have postcards of famous people of the day, postcards of famous landmarks, and postcards of ordinary Bristolians doing what Bristolians did in the early twentieth century. Collected by local deltiologist, Roy Vaughan, the images have been digitally scanned and catalogued by the Bristol Record Office. We need volunteers to help research the stories behind these postcards and to map and load them onto the Know Your Place website.

Know Your Place is a fantastic a hugely successful source of Bristol’s history that that stretches from the eighteenth century to yesterday; stories, resources and accounts of local history are all layered onto multiple historical maps. The Vaughan Collection of postcards is our opportunity to fill in some of the interesting stories of Bristol from the early part of the twentieth century. For instance, when were the Royal Italian Circus’s elephant and horses in town, and where were they performing – what is the story behind this image of performing horses and an elephant?

Royal Italian Circus - by kind permission of the Bristol Record Office (BRO: Vaughan Collection 43207/38/4/2/1)

Royal Italian Circus – by kind permission of the Bristol Record Office
(BRO: Vaughan Collection 43207/38/4/2/1)

Visiting circuses had been providing Bristolians with entertainment since 1772 when Philip Astley first performed his trick horsemanship on Durdham Downs. Circuses were still calling at the city in the early 1900s. Often appearing under the heading, Bostock’s Royal Italian Circus, the circus in the postcard was formed in 1863; they went out of business in 1931. And in 1901, the Royal Italian Circus spent a month performing at the People’s Palace, a music hall in Baldwin Street. But it is unlikely that the photograph here dates from 1901: the middle and late 1920s is far more probable. Between 1924 and 1929, Bostock’s Royal Italian Circus stayed in the city for week-long engagements at the Bristol Hippodrome, usually around Christmas and New Year. It is unlikely that you’ll see an elephant performing at the Hippodrome this year!

The Vaughan Collection has two postcards of the Royal Italian Circus. Although the act can be identified from the postcard caption, where the photograph was taken is much harder to determine. Do you know? Does the wall behind the horses and elephant still exist – is it recognizable? Could it be the Backfield in Stokes Croft, a site that has a very long history associated with circuses that stretches back to 1790?

Answering this sort of question, discovering the story behind the picture postcard, and finding its place on an old map of Bristol is the challenge we can offer our volunteer researchers. If you would like to join us we meet at the Bristol Record Office on Tuesday mornings, 10.00 to 12.30. Or you can contact me at the university: