The story of Alcoholics Anonymous
in Bristol and the West of England
The earliest beginnings of Alcoholics Anonymous in the West
Country go back to 1944 in Washington, DC, USA, when John M at the
prompting of his wife Frieda joined the Welcome Group. He
achieved sobriety in 1947 and came home to England with 'this
message' in the same year, with his redundancy pay of £100.
The first known meetings in the West of England were at Mickleton,
Gloucestershire, in 1948.
The Bristol group came into being in 1953 at the instigation of
Dr. Jim H from Belfast, then stationed with the RAF at
Pucklechurch. The first known meeting place was at the Full Moon
public house in Stokes Croft!
Bath followed in 1955; Frieda also started a small Alanon group
(for families of alcoholics) in the same year, the first in
A major landmark occurred in 1956 when the first English
convention was held in the Bellevue Hotel, Cheltenham.
In 1957 Calne started its own AA and Alanon groups in a member's
home. In Bristol, the first lady member joined-and stayed.
She died sober in 1980.
An important development came in 1959 with the second English
prison group being started at Dorchester with the help of Bristol
members. Leyhill Open Prison followed in 1963, with groups
at Horfield in 1964, Shepton Mallett in 1965 and Dartmoor prison
in 1966. The Verne, Portland Bill, followed in 1967. A
Prison Intergroup (PIG) started in 1965, with Bristol represented
by Travers C who was closely involved in all the work.
>From 1960 onwards there was a continuing dispute over monies
raised for a General Service Office to serve the needs of the
fellowship in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
This was finally resolved in 1966/7 with the purchase of a lease
in Redcliffe Gardens, London. They subsequently moved to
Stonebow House, York, in 1986. The Western Service Office
opened in 1974; present day service structures in Bristol date
from this time.
1960 saw the beginning of hospital groups, with the founding of a
group at Wells, Somerset. This was followed by a group at
Barrow Hospital in 1967. The late Sixties also saw the start
of the Tower Hill group.
Meantime, a second AA group started in Bristol and groups sprung
up in Taunton, Plymouth, Bruton, Bournemouth, Salisbury and other
places, leading to the formation of the South West Intergroup
(SWIG) in 1964.
The Bristol Sunday Club started at the Toc H premises in 1965 from
2pm to 9pm. Bristol members attended the first meeting of an
Alcoholics Anonymous European Committee which met in Paris in
1967; this early initiative was not a success.
In April 1968, a Bristol Akron Group formed and published the
first copy of Bristol Fashion, an independent AA journal for
members, in June 1968. The journal highlighted the belief
that the AA programme was a spiritual one. The launching of
Bristol Fashion was greatly assisted by the editor of The Road
Back, published from Dublin by Sackville, and he contributed
regularly until his death in 1979.
The publication still comes out regularly. In 1982 it
received a congratulatory letter from the General Service Board of
AA Inc. in New York. The responsibility for its circulation
was taken over by the Newcomers Group of Bristol in 1976.
In 1968 the 21st anniversary of AA in England and Wales was
celebrated at the Grosvenor House Hotel, Park Lane, London on 29,
30 and 31 March. The weekend celebrations ended with an
interdenominational service of thanksgiving at the Royal Parish
Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields.
Meantime at home the work crept onwards. A group started at
Westbury-on-Trym in November of that year, and Portishead started
its own group in 1970. In 1971 a young people's group, later
to become the Fellowship Group, started in Bristol. In 1971,
the first European Convention of AA was held in Bristol.
Sixteen countries from all over the world were represented and the
guest of honour was the Apostolic Delegate, His Excellency
Archbishop Enrici. This meant that the Bishop of Clifton was
also involved, together with the Lord Mayor of Bristol and her
husband and the Sheriff and Sheriff's lady: the Archbishop was
afforded a full diplomatic welcome to the city.
A special production of Lady on the Rocks was presented at the
Winston Theatre during the visit, playing to full houses.
There were visits to prison groups, talks, social events and a
reception at the Mansion House. The convention closed with a
service at Bristol Cathedral, led by the Bishop of Bristol.
An unforeseen result of this visit was an invitation to Rome for a
Dublin member and a Bristol member in 1972 to carry 'this
message.' They were well received and were awarded the papal
medal, the Order of the Good Shepherd. This was taken to New
York in 1984 and is currently on display in the Archives.
Dr. Jack Norris, Chairman of the GSB in New York, followed up the
visit to Rome by making contact with Italian and Vatican doctors
regarding medical aspects of alcoholism.
The Newcomers meeting started in 1972 and a Borstal Alcoholics
Anonymous group started in Portland, Dorset.
The years continued with reunions, pre-Christmas dinners, visits
and moves. In 1974, the Withywood group started and the Avon
Intergroup Hospitals Committee held its first meeting.
Archives in the West of England, based in Bristol, began in 1980,
following a trip by two Bristol members to the World Convention in
New Orleans where they met Nell Wing, AA's first Archivist.
In 1983, the Bristol Reunions, which had been revived in 1981,
began forming their own tradition: not only had an Archives
display and an Archives Meeting become an integral part of the
weekend, but so had the Marathon Meeting with its lighting of the
candle by the oldest member present on the Friday night and the
blowing out of the candle by the newest member present on the
Sunday morning. This was the first time there was a
comprehensive Literature Store at an AA convention.
The 50th anniversary year was celebrated in 1985 with a three-day
convention for the Avon Intergroups at the Grand Hotel and a
pilgrimage of a party of 12 to New York and to Montreal for the
World Convention. Bristol Fashion was one of just three AA
journals invited to make a presentation.
This brief summary will stop here. The years following
brought the deaths of many of the founder members but the
Beginning had by now been accomplished. From this point on,
Alcoholics Anonymous was here to stay.
In the 25 years since 1975 the number of groups meeting on a
weekly basis in the Bristol and Avon area grew from 16 to over 70.
For a fuller account of the triumphs and heartbreaks of the early
years, see A History of the Birth and Growth of Alcoholics
Anonymous in the West of England, available from the Archivist,
Avon South Intergroup, PO Box 42, Bristol BS99 7JR
First printing February 2002
Copyright The Regional Archivist
Bristol & Avon Area Archives
to AA History