‘It is past the art of man to find us out’: anti-Catholicism and the ‘Bristol Firemen’ in 1730

‘Shortly after midnight on 3rd October 1730, a series of brilliant 'fire balls' or hand-made grenades were seen arching through the air on St Augustine's Back, Bristol, and over the back wall of George Packer's large and opulent mansion house. There was 'a noise like the report of several guns', followed by quickly spreading flames. Within minutes, the merchant's home was ablaze, his household in full flight, and it was only a favourable wind that prevented the flames spreading to nearby warehouses and the dense flotilla of wooden ships crowding the adjacent quay.’ In this article, Steve Poole uncovers a story of organised extortion by arson at Bristol, and the ethnic and religious prejudices which it exposed.

The Templars of Temple Fee

In the twelfth century, crusader knights took on the mission of protecting pilgrims to Jerusalem and the Holy Land from across Europe. The journey was long and dangerous, but it was widely believed that taking a pilgrimage to the Holy Land was the most sacred form of penance. Pious landowners who could not take the pilgrimage themselves gifted land to the order as an alternative form of penance. One such piece of land sits in the heart of Bristol, in the area which today surrounds Temple Meads train station. Julian Lea Jones tells the fascinating history of the rise and fall of the Knights Templar at Bristol, of their activities at the preceptory and of their thriving trade.