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Anonymous history in your area
The story of Alcoholics Anonymous
in Bristol and the West of England
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.
first known meetings in the West of England were at Mickleton,
Gloucestershire, in 1948.
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!
followed in 1955; Frieda also started a small Alanon group
(for families of alcoholics) in the same year, the first
major landmark occurred in 1956 when the first English convention
was held in the Bellevue Hotel, Cheltenham.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Newcomers meeting started in 1972 and a Borstal Alcoholics
Anonymous group started in Portland, Dorset.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
printing February 2002
Copyright The Regional Archivist
& Avon Area Archives