gunsmith's shop, demolished in the 'fifties road building programme pictured circa 1930.
A gunsmith in the city was Samuel Veals, who began his gun-making and gunsmith’s business in Tower Hill in 1846. The family stayed there for 130 years, until the business moved, because of redevelopment, to its present home in Bristol's Old Market area.
The early business was a cutler’s as well, and in the basement of the Tower Hill shop (where once, during a building project, a stone tomb, a Bristol farthing and an 18th century sundial were found) there was knife-grinding and sharpening equipment. When the Victorian owners of the new villas in Redland and Cotham, Bristol needed their spacious lawns cared for, they bought lawn-mowers and then took them to Veals to be repaired and sharpened; thus a new kind of business grew up.
Until the Second World War, Veals sold guns and lawn-mowers and repaired both, as well as sharpening scissors and cut-throat razors. But when a member of the fourth generation of the family, Sev Veals, came back from the war, he announced that he never wanted to see another gun in his life, and his father’s friend, MP Ernie Bevin suggested that Veals should start stocking fishing tackle instead. They started with a few cartons and from this grew into the largest fishing tackle firm in the region.
The lawn-mower side of the business went to Easton, Bristol but closed in 1970, and the guns disappeared after the last war with the Fishing Tackle Shop moving to Old Market in 1976.
As well as socialising, a major interest for Victorian men was sport and in particular, shooting. Between 1782 and 1850, there were some 50 gunsmiths and gun-sellers trading in Bristol, but only one of them has survived, George Gibbs of Perry Road. The firm was founded, probably in 1830, by James and George Gibbs, in Redciffe Street, then moved to Thomas Street, Corn Street and Clare Street later in the century.
Many of Bristol’s gun firms dealt in the export market to the colonies, and George Gibbs supplied rifles for big game hunting in the 1860s; they were famous for designing the Farquaharson Metford .505 big game rifle which was exported all over the world, even as far as Russia and Japan, as well as Africa and India.
This enormously successful rifle elicited the following testimonial, one to make today’s conservationists blench.
“On the 5th of this month while on safari, I was called at 5.30 a.m. as a native informed me that elephant were raiding his intame garden, so I rushed out, picked up the .505, and in half an hour came to a herd of seven elephants in the long grass just clear of the village. I got up to within 12 yards of them and dropped two, the rest made off and I followed, and owing to there being natives around, did not go far, and in a few minutes I came up to them again and dropped four more; only one was left and he returned to the first two, and I shot him at 6—7 yards. I think this is the finest christening any rifle ever had. Seven elephant before breakfast!”
This heartless account was written in Kenya in the 1920s. Not surprisingly, George Gibbs, son of the founder, was a crack shot who represented England and who once scored 57 consecutive bullseyes in front of King Edward VII in 1909. His father and uncle had both joined the Bristol Rifle Volunteers when they were re-formed in 1859 (Bristol’s 1798 Volunteers were the first in the country), and a craze for rifle drill and shooting-ranges resulted; when the Drill Hall was built at the top of Park Street in 1861, there were 1,000 members in 10 companies, and the firm of George Gibbs had the contract to supply them, since he was an expert designer and manufacturer of guns and maker of ammunition.
His son George became Colonel of one of the Volunteer Corps, and he would, as a birthday treat, let his little daughter head the parade on a big horse. The Colonel, a keen sportsman, started the Clifton Beagles, and was a friend of W.G. Grace. He once became the talk of the town for shooting down an effigy of a parliamentary candidate, hung by pranksters from the Suspension Bridge.
Five generations of the Veals family have worked in the firm before later selling the shop to Mr Mike Salisbury in 1968, Mikes sons Jeremy & Jon started working there after they left school and took over the business after their father died in 1995.
In 2008 Veals Fishing tackle shop moved out of its Bristol home of more than 30 years because a new traffic system has hit sales. The Old Market business has fallen victim to the showcase bus route, which means customers can no longer park outside. Veals Fishing Tackle, which has been in Bristol for more than 160 years, is now vacating its premises and moving around the corner into Gardiner Haskins on Broad Plain.
Jeremy Salisbury, who owns Veals, said: "People used to be able to just pull up outside and nip in for whatever they needed. " But the city council changed everything when they brought in the new showcase bus route. "Unfortunately it means that although Old Market is one of the widest streets in the country, there are now just a couple of lanes of busy traffic - so there's nowhere for customers to pull up.
"We've noticed a big drop in sales since they brought the new system in, so we had to do something drastic. "We'll have more space but we'll also be stocking more equipment."
Since the move to Gardiner's, customers have expressed how much they love the improved convenience and larger selection they now have with this location.