Bristol Harbour

Bristol Harbour

Bristol Harbour is the harbour in the city of Bristol, England. The harbour covers an area of convert|70|acre|ha|1|abbr=off|lk=on. It has existed since the 13th century but was developed into its current form in the early 19th century by installing lock gates on a tidal stretch of the River Avon in the centre of the city and providing a tidal by-pass for the river. It is called a "Floating Harbour" as the water level remains constant and it is not affected by the state of the tide on the river.

Netham Lock in east Bristol is the upstream limit of the harbour. Beyond the lock is a junction: on one arm the navigable River Avon continues upstream to Bath, and on the other arm is the tidal River Avon. The first convert|1|mi|km|1|abbr=off|lk=on of the floating harbour, downstream from Netham Lock, is an artificial channel known as the "feeder canal", while the tidal River Avon follows its original route. Between Bristol Temple Meads railway station and Hotwells, the harbour and the River Avon run parallel at a distance of no more than convert|0.65|mi|km|1|abbr=off apart. At Bristol Temple Meads railway station, the floating harbour occupies the original bed of the River Avon and meanders through Bristol city centre, Canon's Marsh and Hotwells. To the south, the tidal River Avon flows through an artificial channel known as the "New Cut". This separation of the floating harbour and the tidal River Avon reduces currents and silting in the harbour and prevents flooding. At Hotwells, the floating harbour rejoins the tidal River Avon via a series of locks and flows into the Avon Gorge.

The harbour today

Bristol Harbour was the original Port of Bristol, but as ships and their cargo have increased in size, it has now largely been replaced by docks at Avonmouth and Portbury. These are located 3 miles (5 km) downstream at the mouth of the River Avon.

The harbour is now a tourist attraction with museums, galleries, exhibitions, bars and nightclubs. Former workshops and warehouses have now largely been converted or replaced by cultural venues, such as the Arnolfini art gallery, Watershed media and arts centre, Bristol Industrial Museum (closed throughout 2008, for refurbishment) and the At-Bristol science exhibition centre, as well as a number of fashionable apartment buildings. Museum boats are permanently berthed in the harbour. These include Isambard Kingdom Brunel's SS Great Britain, which was the first iron-hulled and propeller driven ocean liner.cite book | last= Becket | first= Derrick | year= 1980 | title= Brunel's Britain | location= Newton Abbott | publisher= David & Charles | isbn= 0-7153-7973-9] and a replica of the Matthew in which John Cabot sailed to North America in 1497. The historic vessels of the Industrial Museum, which include the steam tug Mayflower, firefloat Pyronaut and motor tug John King, are periodically operated.

The Bristol Ferry Boat operates at the harbour, serving landing stages close to most of the harbour-side attractions and also providing a commuter service to and from the city centre and Bristol Temple Meads railway station. Two other independent ferry companies, and Number Seven Boat Trips, offer similar services. The Bristol Packet boats offer regular harbour tours with commentaries and also river cruises up the River Avon to Conham, Hanham and Bath and downstream to Avonmouth. In late July each year, the Bristol Harbour Festival is held, resulting in an influx of boats, including tall ships, Royal Navy vessels and lifeboats.

Sections, quays & harbourside features

History of Bristol docks

Bristol grew up on the banks of the Rivers Avon and Frome. Since the 13th century, the rivers have been modified for use as docks including the diversion of the River Frome into an artificial "deep channel" known as Saint Augustine's Reach, which flowed into the River Avon. [cite web | title=Picturing the Docks | work=Responses: Andy Foyle | url= | accessdate=2007-01-28] Watson, Sally (1991) "Secret Underground Bristol". Bristol: Bristol Junior Chamber. ISBN 0-907145-01-9] Saint Augustine's Reach became the heart of Bristol's docks with its quays and wharfs. The River Avon within the gorge, and the River Severn into which it flows, has tides which fluctuate about convert|30|ft|m|0|lk=on between high and low water. This means that the river is easily navigable at high-tide but reduced to a muddy channel at low tide in which ships would often run aground. Many ships were deliberately stranded in the harbour for unloading, giving rise to the phrase "shipshape and Bristol fashion" to describe boats capable of taking the strain of repeatedly being stranded. [cite web | title=Ship-shape and Bristol fashion | work=The phrase finder | url= | accessdate=2006-08-25] [cite book |last=Wilson |first=Ian |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=John Cabot and the Matthew |year=1996 |publisher=Redcliffe Press |location=Tiverton |isbn=1900178206 ]

As early as 1420, vessels from Bristol were regularly travelling to Iceland and it is speculated that sailors from Bristol had made landfall in the Americas before Christopher Columbus or John Cabot.cite book |last=Brace |first=Keith |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=Portrait of Bristol |year=1996 |publisher=Robert Hale |location=London |isbn=0709154356 ] After Cabot arrived in Bristol, he proposed a scheme to the king, Henry VII, in which he proposed to reach Asia by sailing west across the north Atlantic. He estimated that this would be shorter and quicker than Columbus' southerly route. The merchants of Bristol, operating under the name of the Society of Merchant Venturers, agreed to support his scheme. They had sponsored probes into the north Atlantic from the early 1480s, looking for possible trading opportunities. In 1552 Edward VI granted a Royal Charter to the Merchant Venturers to manage the port. [cite web | title=Bristol harbour history | work=Tangaroa Bristol | url= | accessdate=2007-05-26]

By 1670, the city had 6,000 tons of shipping, of which half was used for importing tobacco. By the late 17th century and early 18th century, this shipping was also playing a significant role in the slave trade.

Construction of the floating harbour

In the 18th century, the docks in Liverpool grew larger and so increased competition with Bristol for the tobacco trade. Coastal trade was also important, with the area called "Welsh Back" concentrating on trows with cargoes from the Slate industry in Wales, stone, timber and coal. [ cite book |last=Pearson |first=Michael |authorlink= |title=Kennet & Avon Middle Thames:Pearson's Canal Companion |year=2003 |publisher=Central Waterways Supplies|location=Rugby |id=ISBN 0-907864-97-X ] The limitations of Bristol's docks were causing problems to business, so in 1802 William Jessop proposed installing a dam and lock at Hotwells to create the harbour. The £530,000 scheme was approved by Parliament, and construction began in May 1804. The scheme included the construction of the Cumberland Basin, a large wide stretch of the harbour in Hotwells where the Quay walls and bollards have listed building status. [cite web | title=Quay walls and bollards | work=Images of England | url= | accessdate=2006-08-18]

The tidal new cut was constructed from Netham to Hotwells, with another dam installed at this end of the harbour. The Feeder Canal between Temple Meads and Netham provided a link to the tidal river so that boats could continue upstream to Bath. However, the new scheme required a way to equalise the levels inside and outside the Dock for the passage of vessels to and from the Avon, and bridges to cross the water. Jessop built Cumberland Basin with two entrance locks from the tidal Avon, of width convert|45|ft|m|1|abbr=on and convert|35|ft|m|1|abbr=on, and a convert|45|ft|m|1 wide junction lock between the Basin and what became known as the Floating Harbour. This arrangement provided flexibility of operation with the Basin being used as a lock when there were large numbers of arrivals and sailings. The harbour was officially opened on 1 May 1809.cite web | title=The creation of Bristol City docks | work=Farvis | url='s%20locks.htm | accessdate=2006-08-18] Patterson's yard within the harbour was used for the construction of many ships notably Brunel's SS Great Western in 1838 and the SS Great Britain in 1843. They were some of the largest ships to have been built at the time, and ironically hastened the decline of the city docks by proving the feasibility of large ships. The SS Great Britain was to be towed away from her builders, to have her 1,000 hp engines and interior fitted out on the River Thames, but her convert|48|ft|m|1|abbr=on beam was too big to pass through the lock. Thus the SS "Great Britain" was moored in the Floating Harbour until December 1844, before proceeding into Cumberland Basin after coping stones and lock gate platforms were removed from the Junction Lock.

19th century improvements

The harbour cost more than anticipated and high rates were levied to repay loans, reducing any benefit the new harbour had at drawing companies back from Liverpool. In 1848 the city council bought the docks company to force down the rates. They employed Isambard Kingdom Brunel to make improvements, including new lock gates, a dredger and sluice gates designed to reduce siltation.

By 1867, ships were getting larger and the meanders in the river Avon prevented boats over convert|300|ft|m|0|abbr=on from reaching the harbour. A scheme to install a much larger lock at Avonmouth to make the entire river a floating harbour, and to straighten the sharper bends, was dropped after work began on the much cheaper docks at Avonmouth and Portishead. The present entrance lock was designed by Thomas Howard and opened in July 1873. This has a width of convert|62|ft|m|1|abbr=on and is the only entrance lock now in use at the City Docks.

From 1893 until 1934 the Clifton Rocks Railway provided an underground funicular railway link from the western end of the harbour, which is close to the locks, into Clifton.

Underfall Yard

The docks maintenance facility was established on the land exposed by the damming of the river to construct the harbour and remains sited at this location to the present day. William Jessop had created a weir in the dam at Underfall to allow surplus water to flow back into the New Cut, this was known as the 'Overfall'. By the 1830s, the Floating Harbour was suffering from severe silting. Isambard Kingdom Brunel was, however, able to devise a solution to this problem. In place of the Overfall he constructed three shallow sluices and one deep scouring sluice between the harbour and the New Cut, together with a dredging vessel. This drag boat would scrape the silt away from the quay walls. When the deep sluice opened at low tide, a powerful undertow sucked the silt into the river to be carried away on the next tide. The shallow sluices enabled adjustment of the dock water level according to weather conditions. [cite web | title=Underfall Boatyard history | url= | accessdate=2006-08-18]

Several old buildings, which date from the 1880s, remain at Underfall Yard and have listed building status. The octagonal brick and terracotta chimney of the hydraulic engine house dates from 1888, and is grade II* listed, [cite web | title=Chimney of hydraulic engine house | work=Images of England | url= | accessdate=2006-08-18] as is the hydraulic engine house itself. It is built of red brick with a slate roof and contains pumping machinery, installed in 1907 by Fullerton, Hodgart and Barclay of Paisley, which powers the dock's hydraulic system of cranes, bridges and locks. [cite web | title=hydraulic engine house | work=Images of England | url= | accessdate=2006-08-18] The former pattern-maker's shop and stores date from the same period and are grade II listed, [cite web | title=former pattern-maker's shop and stores | work=Images of England | url= | accessdate=2006-08-18] as are the Patent slip and quay walls. [cite web | title=Patent slip and quay walls | work=Images of England | url= | accessdate=2006-08-18]


A large number of warehouses were built around the harbour for storage and trade. Many survive today and some are being converted into apartment blocks but many have been demolished as part of the regeneration of the area. One which has survived is the "A Bond Tobacco Warehouse", which was built in 1905 and was the first of the three brick built bonded warehouses in the Cumberland Basin, and is a grade II listed building. [cite web | title=A Bond Tobacco Warehouse | work=Images of England | url= | accessdate=2006-08-18] B Bond Warehouse dates from 1908 and was the first in Britain to use Edmond Coignet's reinforced concrete system. [cite web | title=B Bond Tobacco Warehouse | work=Images of England | url= | accessdate=2007-09-08] Robinson's Warehouse built in 1874 by William Bruce Gingell, [cite web | title=Robinson's Warehouse | work=Looking at Buildings | url=
] and the Granary [cite web | title=The Granary and attached area walls | work=Images of England | url= | accessdate=2007-05-19] on Welsh Back are examples of the Bristol Byzantine style with coloured brick and Moorish arches.

The Arnolfini art gallery occupies Bush House, a 19th century Grade II* listed tea warehouse. [cite web | title=Bush House | work=Images of England | url= | accessdate=2006-08-18] and the Watershed Media Centre occupies another disused warehouse.

20th century improvements

In 1908, the Royal Edward Dock was built in Avonmouth and in 1972 the large deep water Royal Portbury Dock was constructed on the opposite side of the mouth of the Avon, making the Bristol City Docks in the floating harbour redundant as a freight dock.

Amey Roadstone (formerly T B Brown and Holmes Sand & Gravel) sand dredgers worked from Poole's Wharf in Hotwells until 1991. Occasionally coastal trading vessels enter the Cumberland Basin to be loaded with large steel silos manufactured by Braby Ltd at their nearby Ashton Gate works. [cite web | title=BRABY MAKE LIGHT WORK OF MAMMOTH SILO DELIVERY | work=Braby Ltd | url= | accessdate=2007-01-28]

The old Junction Lock swing bridge is powered by water pressure from the Underfall Yard hydraulic engine house at convert|750|psi|bar|0|abbr=on|lk=on. The new Plimsoll Bridge, completed in 1965, has a more modern electro-hydraulic system using oil at a pressure of convert|4480|psi|bar|0|abbr=on.

Regeneration of the harbourside

Since the 1980s, millions of pounds have been spent regenerating the harbourside.In 1999, Pero's footbridge was constructed, linking the At-Bristol exhibition with Bristol tourist attractions. In 2000, the At-Bristol centre opened on semi-derelict land at Canon's Marsh and some of the existing Grade II listed buildings were refurbished and reused. It was funded with £44.3 million from the National Lottery, the Millennium Commission, South West of England Regional Development Agency, and a further £43.4 million from Bristol city council and commercial partners, including Nestlé.cite web | title=Development areas in Bristol | work=Bristol City Council | url= | accessdate=2007-05-27] Private investors are also constructing studio apartment buildings.cite web | title=Bristol - Harbourside Management | work=BERI Virtual Masterplan | url= | accessdate=2007-05-27]

The regeneration of the Canon's Marsh area is expected to cost £240 million. Crest Nicholson were the lead developers, constructing 450 new flats, homes and waterside offices. [cite web | title=New Harbourside development given the green light | work=BBC News | url= | accessdate=2007-05-27] It is being carried out under the guidance of The Harbourside Sponsors’ Group, which is a partnership between the City Council, key stakeholders, developers, businesses, operators and funders.

The Cumberland basin is used by a variety of small boats from sailing clubs and is surrounded by tourist attractions. The old hydraulic pumping station has been converted into a public house and is a Grade II listed building. [cite web | title=The Pump House Public House | work=Images of England | url= | accessdate=2006-08-18]


Bristol Harbour hosts the Bristol Harbour Festival in July of each year, attended by tall ships and hundreds of ships and boats of all kinds. About 200,000 visitors view the boats, and watch live music, street performances and other entertainments.

In 1996, the harbour was the setting for the first International Festival of the Sea. A larger version of the annual harbour festivals, this was attended by many tall ships, including the "Eye of the Wind", "Pride of Baltimore", "Rose", "Kaskelot" and "Earl of Pembroke". The key theme was John Cabot's pioneering voyage of discovery to the Americas and a replica of Cabot's ship, the "Matthew", was dedicated prior to its reenactment of Cabot's voyage the following year.cite web | url = | title = Eye of The Wind - Newsletter | publisher = WebRing Inc | accessdate = 2007-07-31 ]


External links

* Bristol City Council: [ Harbour events and attractions] [ Marine and waterway services]
* [ Bristol Harbourside website]
* [ EDF Energy Bristol Harbour Festival]
* [ About Bristol: History of the Harbour]
* [ A history of the docks]
* [ Bristol Packet Boat Trips]
* [ Bristol City Docks]
* [ Panoramic look-around the Floating Harbour]
* Maps of Bristol Harbour c1900 - [ West] , [ East]


* [ The Floating Harbour]

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