A FEW PIECES OF HARVEYS HISTORY …
12 DENMARK STREET – 1916 to 2015
The story starts in 1796 when Messrs William Perry and Thomas Urch commence trading as Wine Merchants from 12 Denmark Street. In 1822 Thomas Urch brings his young 16 year old nephew John Harvey to work at the firm and so the Harveys side of the tale begins. In 1895 John Harvey & Sons were granted a royal warrant as supplier of fine wine to Queen Victoria and they became most famous for their blend of fortified Spanish wine, Harveys Bristol Cream which was created in these very cellars.
HARVEYS & THE SHERRY TRADE
During World War 1 many Bristol companies were involved in supplying equipment and supplies for the British Army, both at home and abroad. In the 1916 photo below two lorries are parked outside Harveys Cellars in Denmark Street. The lorries, one of which has a War Department sign painted on its side, were picking up part of a 10 ton shipment of wine to be sent via Avonmouth bound for military hospitals in Mesopotamia and the Middle East. The shipment, which was hopefully for medicinal use, consisted of 400 cases of claret, 24 cases of burgundy and 12 cases of sherry. The buildings in Denmark St were very old and soon got replaced by a modern building. To the right of the photo can be seen the edge of the adjacent Merchant Venturers Technical College which had recently been rebuilt following a disastrous fire in 1906. The Technical College has now been converted for mainly residential use.
IF WALLS COULD TALK...
THEY WOULD TELL YOU OF THE DAY IN 1796 WHEN WILLIAM PERRY FIRST PUSHED OPEN THE DOORS OF 12 DENMARK STREET, THE SITE OF A THIRTEENTH CENTURY AUGUSTINIAN MONASTERY, LOOKING FOR PREMISES TO TRADE AS A WINE MERCHANT.
They may remember the smell of the ink or the rustle of the feathers on the quill pens used by the Harvey family when signing agreements and ancient ledgers in beautiful calligraphy script after joining the business in the 1800s. Or they could recount the stories of the cellar workers as they wearily pushed the oak sherry barrels up and down the underground tunnels leading from the boats moored in the Bristol docks after their long journey from South West Spain.
They may be able to elaborate on the visit by Samuel Pepys who notably recorded in his diary after a visit to Bristol that “They did give us … plenty of brave wine, and, above all, Bristol Milk”. Could they tell us the name of the aristocratic lady visitor to the cellars in 1822 who after being offered first a taste of milk sherry and then a new blend, famously remarked: “If that is milk, then this is cream”, thereby giving name to the most famous of all sherries: Harveys Bristol Cream.
They would surely have joined in the excitement when John Harvey & Sons were granted a royal warrant as supplier of fine wine to Queen Victoria in 1895 and then wept as the walls crumbled during the bombing raids in the Second World War.
And there would be more, much more. They would tell you of the sounds of the footsteps of thousands of visitors to the Wine Museum over the later years and the delicious smells emanating from the Michelin starred Harveys Restaurant that was famous throughout the UK in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s until it closed in 2003. But maybe, just maybe, they would say nothing because now they are too busy listening to new sounds as 12 Denmark Street has once again opened its doors.