Professionalisation is a major research focus of accounting historians, with particular attention paid to circumstances attending the formation and spread of accounting associations. This paper adds a new dimension to such research by examining the failure of public accountants to create a professional body in circumstances that appear conducive to organisational formation whether viewed from a functionalist or critical perspective. It is argued that strategies adopted by Bristol's leading public accountants enabled them to achieve economic and social advance in the absence of organisational formation. Of importance was how they positioned themselves in Bristol society through geographical location, the political, philanthropic and religious networks that connected them to the governing elite, and devices employed for publicising their services. Also relevant was their association with key venues where professionals and businessmen met to discuss commercial affairs. No inconsistency is revealed between the failure of Bristol's leading accountants to form a professional association in the 1870s and their enthusiastic embrace of chartered status following formation of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales in 1880.