by Tony Virgo
on 01 Jan 82
We recently spoke to Mr Tony Virgo, who has lived in Bishopston since he was seven years old. He was born in Horfield, but moved to his present house in Hatherley Road, which was previously occupied by his father and grandfather. Now 72 years of age, Mr Virgo told us of some of the changes he has seen in Bishopston and the neighbouring areas.
He started by telling us about the old Premier Cinema in Horfield. now MAC builders' merchants which was owned by a portly fellow named Mr Justin. It was in being before the advent of entertainment tax, when ticket mactines were introduced to register the number of people going in. Prior to this on a Saturday afternnon, the management didnt't even bother to open the front cash desk. Instead, Mr Virgo and his mates would go down to the side entrance amd pay a penny to the man at the door. Once inside they could sit anywhere and were treated to a full programme; generally including two feature films and a serial. The sort of films he remembers include Pearl White in The Perils of Pauline, Charlie Chaplin, Cowboy films with stars like Tom Mix and a serial called The Hidden Hand. Mr Virgo and his friends thought the serial was terrible because it meant paying to come back the following week. All the films were silent and had to be accompanied by a pianist, then a young lady. It was quite a skill accompanying films for, in addition to playing well known tunes such as the William Tell Overture, the pianist was required to improvise most of the time, creating moods of emotion according to the scene showing at the time. The Premier eventually closed down and was bought by Alders an adjacent D.I.Y. business before being taken over by M.A.C.
The other cinema for the area was Pringles next door to the present Homeplan furniture store which survived until very recently ,having had its name cgaged to "The Scala"
Mr Virgo then began to talk about this school next to St. Bonaventure's Church at the top of Edgerton Road. It backed onto a number of fields, owned by an Irish cattle dealer named Mr Clancey, where Mr Virgo would often go during the summer to do lessons. The building itself was Victorian with separate entrances for girls and boys and loos in the yard. There was no such thing as central heatiing, but, instead, stoves were placed in every room in the winter
Clancey, himself a Catholic gave the land for the Church to be built on, but there was still plenty to spare. The present area behind the church was all built-up in the 1930's, but durin Mr Virgo's boyhood, he could walk onto the common behind Horfield prison and look across open fields stretching all the way to Westbury.
As for the Gloucester Road itself. The road is still one of the main routes into Bristol, but nowhere as busy as it is today. Mr Virgo could remember sheep and cattle being driven down the road to a slaughterhouse situated beind the Premier Cinema, from where the meat would be sold locally, from various costermongers barrows up and down the road. Not so many of the houses were developed as shops as they are today. as in those dayas they all had gardens extending to the road, bounded by privet hedges and fences; hence today's very wide paved frontages. Those house which were developed, sold the usual items we see today: boots,fish,meat,vegatables, tobbaco. There was even one shop, Browns which sold nothing but pork. The road itslefwas made up and hard surfaced to allow for the few motor vehicles which were beginning to appear but most transport was still horse drawn.
I asked Mr Virgo if any of the present shops was very long established, but he told me that they had all changed hands many times since his younger days. However he did point out some of the changes. The site of the present Kwik Save used to be Woolworth and prior to that Curtis the baker, with stables at the back. Here Mr Virgo had his first job after leaving school at 14; working with the horses and going out in all weathers on the two wheeled delivery vans.
Later he went to work for Miss Hodges' millinery shop just before the Promenade opposite Claremont Road. She employed half a dozen girls in a room upstairs; trimming the hats with ribbons and feathers for the ladies in the Redland and Clifton areas. They were all packed in beautiful presentation boxes made from plywood, lined with velvet and packed with tissue paper and ribbons.
These jobs were taken until he was sixteen and old enough to be apprenticed to a plumbing firm in Knowle for five years; having to ride there every day on his bike.