Night One : Blackbeards House
Night Two : Redcliffe Caves
Night Three : Llandoger Trow
It’s easy to imagine tall ships, sails whipping in the wind and cries from one sailor to another when walking through Bristol’s docks, so it is not hard to believe that Bristol had a strong role during the golden age of piracy. The port of Bristol was a central part of the slavery and tobacco trade making the area around the harbour and the shipping routes to Bristol very attractive to pirates.
Piracy was illegal, but privateering was legal. Privateers were meant to have a ‘letter of Marque’ from their government allowing them to attack merchant ships of the country stated in the letter. They could take a cut of the loot they took from the ships.
Bristol’s most famous pirate Black Beard was allegedly born in the city. Also known as Edward Teach, the infamous sailor had a reign of terror over the Caribbean Sea.
Another pirate with Bristolian links was Bartholomew Roberts who roamed the seas in the 18th century. He sailed from Bristol on merchant ships and was forced to join a band of pirates after his own ship was captured.
He soon became captain of the ship and succeeded to be the most successful pirate in history capturing 456 vessels in four years. He was killed in a battle against HMS Swallow, which had been sent to capture pirates. He was granted his dying wish to be buried at sea so his body would never be captured.
Bristol also played a great role in the demise of piracy. Governor Woodes Rogers, a famous privateer, was born in Bristol in 1679. He circumnavigated the globe between 1708-1711, when his navigator picked up the castaway Alexander Selkirk from Juan Fernndez Island, after having been marooned there for five years. Woodes Rogers was later made General and Governor in Chief over the Bahama Islands where he took steps to suppress piracy, successfully ousting Blackbeard as Magistrate of the “Privateers Republic”. A plaque to Woodes Rogers can be seen in Queen Square.
Fictional pirates have also been inspired in Bristol. After Alexander Selkirk was rescued by Roger’s crew and taken back to Bristol he allegedly met author Daniel Defoe in the local pub The Llandoger Trow. Selkirk later became inspiration for the character Robinson Crusoe. The character Benn Gunn in Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Treasure Island’ was also based on Selkirk. Stevenson is also said to have visited the Hole in the Wall pub just off Queen Square in Bristol, which bares resemblance to the Spyglass tavern in Treasure Island.
Many of the buildings in Bristol are closely linked to both pirating and privateering. Queen Square, situated near the harbour was, as it is today a very busy business area. The Customs House is situated in the square; this is where the taxes and duties were collected from the ships that came into the Bristol harbours. Much of the wealth and prosperity brought into this area came from pirating and many of the buildings around the harbour are said to have been funded by this maritime crime.
First Broadcast : 5th May 2007
A self confessed super fan of Most Haunted and editor of GhostMag.com. Matt’s passion for ghost hunting began when he moved into a haunted house in his second year of university in Leicester! His favourite location is the Niddry Street Vaults in Edinburgh.