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Manor Hall Bar: A History

A retrospective of Manor Hall Bar by Andrew Franks

Bar Manager 2008-09 and Bar Senior Resident 2010-2014

I was a Bar Manager in Manor Hall 2008-09 during the third year of my Aeronautical Engineering degree at Bristol. In the previous year I sat on the JCR committee as Archivist and was working as a staff member in the bar. I saw many opportunities to contribute to the Manor Hall community and enjoyed working with my fellow Bar Managers, Myfanwy Hill and Steffan Jones under the Bar Senior Residents/Tutors Tom Noble at first and later Owen Peachey. When I returned as a Senior Resident in 2010 I was privileged to work with talented Bar Managers and dedicated bar staff for the following four years. Many Staff, Bar Managers and members of the Senior Common Room have devoted countless hours of service to the bar over the years.

The room that Manor Hall Club Bar occupies is located in what was known as the West Common Room when Manor Hall opened in 1932. In the autumn term of 1978 Manor Hall became mixed. There was immediate pressure for the hall to have a bar as each corridor/flat was still single sex. A jungle mural was soon drawn on the wall where the bar area now is in the West Common Room. A decision was made swiftly and the bar came into effect in early 1979. It was initially operated in association with the JCR Committee. The bar quickly became the social centre of the hall. Many students chose to either stay there the whole evening or as a place to meet up as the start of a night out. The members of the 'club' were the residents of the hall for that year. The bar had much lower costs than other bars, therefore was able to subsidise the cost of drinks.

In the early years, there were two suppliers to the bar. In part due to excessively low prices and stock wastage it was in such financial trouble that it often paid one supplier at a time while being in debt to the other. When Dr Martin Crossley Evans became Warden in 1982 he realised change was needed. In 1985-6 Dr Martin Crossley Evans took the bar under his control, created a management structure, committee and insisted that regular accounts were audited and presented to the Manor Hall Committee, which met at the end of each term.

In the beginning there was no cellar, although the area behind the bar was constructed in the following few years. The early Bar Managers and Staff had to lower kegs down part of the way and then drag them down stairs, hence chips of the concrete have been taken out of many of the lower stairs. However, unbeknown to the designer at the time of the hall’s construction in 1932, Sir George Oatley (1893-1950), with a bit of work Manor Hall was ideally set up to have a bar constructed thanks to the presence of the coal chute into the cellar next to the main entrance. Gas was already in each bedroom of the hall from when it opened in 1932 for individual hot water heating.

Dr Martin Crossley Evans created a fund for the work from his Manor Hall building repairs account. The bar was able to repay the investment over the following six years. In part of the current cellar there was an oil tank for the oil central heating for the whole building. This needed to be cut out and part of what was left was made into a box room and the other part for the bar cellar. The cellar construction in 1985-6 took much longer than expected due to it taking three months to drill through and remove existing walls. It was finally finished after a number of drill bits were broken hitting metallic parts of the building foundations. The former coal chute could then be used to lower kegs into the cellar.

In the following years, the main suppliers to the bar were Carlsberg and Coca Cola. The main drinks available on tap were ciders, lagers and ales. Guinness was removed from tap before 2010 due to it becoming less popular and was replaced with more cider such as Thatchers in later years as that became more popular. An interesting fact is that the most profit was actually made from the sale of coke/diet coke and lemonade from post mix rather than any of the alcoholic drinks.

The bar often ran its own events but in later years became more reliant on events such as the after dinner party for formals, often including live entertainment and the annual JCR garden party once the exams were over. As well as the JCR events there were also various Open Mic Nights, Manor Amateur Dramatics events, Charity Committee events, Christian Union events, International events and MacInnes Club receptions held in the bar.

The garden party was often the most popular and profitable day in the year for the bar with sales of special summer drinks and extras such as ice creams proving popular with students and other guests.

The last night of the bar each term (affectionately known as 'drink the bar dry' for many years) was often the highlight of the last week of term. It served a dual purpose in that the bar was able to shift stock that was going out of date over the holidays and it was a good chance for the Manor Hall community to bid each other farewell before the end of term.

The games available in the bar proved popular. There were various pool tables and existing ones that were recovered after it was clear that too many drinks had been spilt to ensure a good game of pool could be played! The table football was well-used and was very resilient in later years even with over-enthusiastic users!

In the early years staff were not actually given monetary incentives, they were issued with drinks tokens. It was only in 2005 that reforms were made which meant bar staff were paid for their hours worked through the university hall bars.

There were either two or three student Bar Managers appointed by the Bar Committee each year: Treasurer, Secretary and Ents/Staffing. Bar Managers and Bar Tutors/Senior Residents interviewed for bar staff at the start of each year from the residents of the hall.

The smoking ban in enclosed public spaces came into force in 2007. Although massively improving health, smell, general appearance of the bar and attractiveness to non-smoking students it did lead to a marginal loss of custom. A smoking shelter outside the main entrance was constructed shortly after, although access from the bar to the garden was only allowed on special occasions.

Manor Hall Bar needed to adapt over the years to maintain profits. Proliferation of cheaper alcohol from supermarkets, changing habits of students over time, social media and continued pressure for students to perform better in their studies led to decline in the bar attendance and takings over many years. Being so close to the city centre the bar quite often had to compete with other bars in Clifton and throughout the city centre. In 2013 Dr Martin Crossley Evans forbade drinking in student kitchens for the first two terms in all Halls of Residence of the University while he was the Head Warden. This gave a boost to the hall bars as a social meeting place.

Each year the Bar Managers came up with new and innovative ideas to generate business for the bar. There was an extra effort undertaken in 2008-9 to re-brand the bar as the Sun and Serpent. A TV for the bar was also purchased that year along with a new speaker system. This allowed the bar to profit from showing sporting events such as the Six Nations rugby and certain football games on terrestrial TV.

The 2012-3 refurbishment resulted in a total transformation both in front of and behind the bar:

  • The fixed wall between the bar and JCR rooms was removed and replaced with removable sliding dividing doors.

  • The whole parquet floor for both rooms was polished and restored to 'like new'.

  • A new ventilation system was connected directly to the outside patio area with a lower ceiling.

  • Overhead strip and spot lighting was installed.

  • Additional speakers were added to allow there to be music controlled from the bar office for the whole expanded room.

  • The sink and ice making machine was moved from behind the bar to the cellar.

  • An extra door was installed from behind the bar to the Junior Common Room.

  • The whole area was cleaned and repainted.

  • New chairs and tables were added to the Junior Common Room side.

  • An additional TV was installed in the Junior Common Room side.

There was a succession of bar auditors. The final auditor was Richard Adams from 2007 (also Bar Manager 2003-4). He offered a great deal of wise words, advice and guidance to the Bar Committee in the later years. This all changed in 2013 as the bar stopped using its independent bank account for paying takings into and ordering stock and came under the control of Residential and Hospitality Services.

In 2018 the new residential system came into effect and there was no longer a dedicated Senior Resident responsible for the bar.

In 2019 the beer and post mix lines were removed and Manor Hall Bar now operates as a bottle bar on selected event nights and is fully staffed under the management of the University Residential and Hospitality Services.


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