The Ostrich Inn (at the entrance to Bathurst Basin from the main harbour) was built around 1745. Two other Bristol pubs of the same name are no longer with us – one in Old Market and the other in Durdham Down. In 1793 the inn was listed as the ‘Ostrich, Trimm Mills’ because of its location close to the Treen Mills pond.
It is one of the pubs on the harbourside that was used by the sailors, shipyard and dockside workers and merchants who worked in the Port of Bristol during the time of the slave trade. Inside the pub, on the wall there is a copy of a trade card for the Ostrich Inn from 1775, which has a picture of a young black man (probably a slave) on it.
The external appearance of the Ostrich has changed little over time. Some early pictures of the inn show windows blocked-up to avoid paying the window tax, which rose sixfold after the inn was opened.
Much frequented by visiting sailors, the inn achieved notoriety in 1950 when a Polish seaman was stabbed to death during a quarrel at the bar. The inn was then known as the Ostrich Cider House as its licensee kept no beer.
The phrase ‘happy as a sandboy’ is said to have originated in the Ostrich. In early Victorian times, loose dry sand was in demand to be spread on floors, then mostly bare boards, to absorb any liquid spillage and so enable the floors to be swept more easily. Collecting and distributing the sand was done by ‘boys’ (of any age) and it provided them with a living. They carried bags of the stuff around and sold it as required. It was particularly in demand for the floors of inns and hostelries. As may be expected these ‘boys’ worked up a thirst in the course of their labours and, not surprisingly, were often paid by a landlord, at least in part, with ale. Consequently they were usually happily inebriated. Hence the origin of the phrase.
The Ostrich was taken over at the end of 2017 by Butcombe, which has since completed a full redecoration of the pub, inside and out.
Sources: Bristol’s Lost Pubs, Paul Townsend’s brizzle born and bred and Gordon Faulkner in Merchant’s Landing’s Quay Notes (March 2010, PDF)