WG Grace is without doubt Bristol’s most famous sportsman. Born in Downend in 1848, Dr Grace played first-class cricket for a record 44 seasons, captaining both Gloucestershire and England. Famous for his corpulent figure and long bushy beard, he was nominally an amateur player but earned a large fortune playing where he was both a fine batsman and bowler.
WG is universally credited with being one of the most important men in the development of cricket in this country and ergo the world, although he had a reputation while batting for not walking when he was given out by the umpire.
As if his position in the cricketing and Bristol pantheon is not already secure, he now has a Wetherspoon’s pub named after him on Whiteladies Road, less than a mile from where he lived for a few years on Victoria Square.
Replacing what used to be the Dragon Kiss bar, the first name given to this pub while it was still being fitted out was The White Ladies Inn. Perhaps high-level talks at Wetherspoon’s HQ in Watford put pay to that moniker.
Ales on tap are numerous and most are £1.99 a pint: Titanic White Star, Ruddles Best, Butcombe Gold, Abbot Ale, Elgood’s Greyhound, Bath Ales Gem and Grainstore Triple B. Also on tap, I counted seven lagers, four wines, and two ciders, Stowford Press and Thatcher’s Gold.
Bristol is well represented in the decor, but surprisingly any evidence of WG is hard to find, apart from one photo and a few cricketing quotes on the far wall nearest the kitchen, part of a selection of prints by Rose Vickers of lines from former Clifton College pupil Sir Henry Newbolt’s famous poem Vitai Lampada.
As in its best-forgotten Dragon Kiss days, the bar in the WG Grace is on the right as you walk in, with a small terrace area populated when I visited yesterday with the characters that tend to populate Wetherspoon’s establishments up and down the land.
The new pub, which only officially opened yesterday, feels more like a bar, with oversized lampshades contrasting with old black and white photos, exposed brickwork, and two large skylights in the back room accessorised by more trendy light fittings.
The opening of the WG Grace could perhaps mark a new beginning for this stretch of Whiteladies Road, which still has two big premises empty, the former Ranch and BSB.
Wetherspoon’s certainly has its detractors, but in the words of Bristol legend DJ Derek, who often plans his gigs around new openings: “I love Wetherspoons, you know the standard wherever you go and they’re always the cheapest place in town. You can get fish and chips and a drink for less than £4 in the afternoon and I’m a big fan of the Thursday curry night.”
The WG Grace, 71-73 Whiteladies Road, Clifton, Bristol, BS8 2NT. 0117 946 9780.