A 1000 Years of Bristol Docks

SS Demarara runs aground Nov 1851(Home)

A Chronological List of Key Events in the History of Bristol Docks

The Tenth Century to the Seventeenth Century

Bristol Castle c 1500

1066 – The only crossing over the Avon River at Bristol is ‘The Bridge’, a wooden structure, where Bristol Bridge is today.

1088Bristol Castle built as a wooden structure with a moat.

1100 – Bristol Castle rebuilt as a Norman stone fort.

1140 to 1148 – St Augustines Abbey built.

1145 The Temple Fee was the eastern part of the marshland from the manor of Bedminster given in 1145 by Robert, Earl of Gloucester to the Knights Templar. Now the Temple Area adjacent to the Floating Harbour.

1188 John was King of England from 1199 until his death in 1216. A charter granted in 1188 by John while Count of Mortain, protected the Bristol trade in wine, cloth, leather, and corn from competition.

1200Rownham Ferry known to be operating.

1240 to 1247 – River Frome diverted from roughly along St Stephens Street and Baldwin Street to the Avon, South of Bristol Bridge, to its current route and called The New Channel or St Augustines Trench.

1300sBristol Bridge rebuilt in stone.

1349 – The Plague Black Death reaches Bristol via its port.

1373 – Redcliffe and Bedminster incorporated into the City of Bristol by proclamation of Edward 111. Bristol is the first town to be given the status of a County.

1415 – Eight Bristol ships carry soldiers to Northern France for the battle of Agincourt.

1445 Redcliffe Church original spire damaged in a gale.

1497 – John Cabot sets of from Bristol on his voyage to North America.

1552 – Edward V1 grants a Royal Charter to the Merchant Venturers to manage the port of Bristol.

In answer the king granted a charter, incorporating the old fellowship with the title of the Merchant Venturers of Bristol, giving the company self-government, providing that no artificer or any other person should engage in commerce beyond seas, unless he was admitted into the company, and that right to admission should only be obtained by apprenticeship to the mistery of the merchants. One effect of this grant was, to shut out men of small means from making little ventures on their own account. From henceforth the foreign trade of the city was to be under the control of a society, which naturally opened its doors to few save the rich and the sons of its members.

Historic Towns Bristol – William Hunt – 1889

1552 – First voyage from Bristol to trade with Africa (Morocco) – source Historic Towns Bristol – William Hunt – 1889

Bristol Map 1643-5 from Hunt-Freeman Historic Towns; Bristol. Third Edition 1889

1643 – Civil War- Royalists capture Bristol.

1645  –  Civil War – Parliamentarians recapture Bristol.

1655Bristol Castle and its defensive walls demolished by order of Cromwell.

Lime Kiln Dock

1662Lime Kiln Dock built.

1662– City Corporation put a tonnage limit of 60 on ships because of the number grounding on the passage up the Avon. The fine was £10.

1673 – According to Millerd’s Map, Broad Quay called ‘The Key’, Narrow Quay ‘The Wood Key’ and Welsh Back ‘St Nicholas Back’.

Sugar Refinery

1681 –  First sugar refinery built at Finzels Reach.

The Eighteenth Century


1700 Slave Trade arrives in Bristol.

1735 What is now Mud Dock West constructed.

Great Crane at Mud Dock

1737 Bristol overtakes London as the number one slaving port in England with 37 voyages that year.

1742 Wapping Dockyard constructed.

1745 Lime Kiln Dry Dock created from tidal dock built in 1662.

1747 Liverpool overtakes Bristol as the top slaving port with about 49 voyages to Bristol’s  average of 20.

1753 Clifton Suspension Bridge planning begins.

1775-6 Old Powder House was built to store gunpowder at Shirehampton.

1760 Tombs Dock built at Deans Marsh.

1760s Port Walls demolished.

1762 Champions Dock built as a wet dock by William Champion.

William Champion – Bristol City Council Museum Collections

1762-8 Bristol Bridge rebuilt in stone.

The Modern Bristol Bridge 1764 to 68 Museum
The Modern Bristol Bridge Built 1764 to 68

1765 William Champion builds Hotwell Dock, what is now Pooles Marina.

1770 Champions Dock becomes Merchants Dock on bankruptcy of William Champion.

1770 Hotwell Dock made into a dry dock in Stotherts Shipyard.

1780 Froome Gate Bridge became St Johns Bridge.

1780 Hilhouse’s Redclift Shipyard in operation between 1780 and 1786 to the South and East of the mouth of Colliters Brook.

1788 Georges Bristol Brewery, founded at Finzels Reach.

1791 The House of Commons rejects a call by William Wilberforce to introduce an Abolition of Slavery Bill. There are celebrations on Brandon Hill.

William Wilberforce

1793 William Bridges unveiled a proposal for a new bridge that would pay for itself at site of Clifton Suspension Bridge.

1794 Redcliffe Backs Ferry starts operating.

The Nineteenth Century

IK Brunel

1804 Jessop’s Floating Harbour project began construction.

1807 Houses of Parliament abolish British slave trade. Last slave voyage from Bristol.

1807 Harfords Bridge built – now Bedminster Bridge.

1809 Floating Harbour completed.

1809 Hillhouse and Sons move from Hotwells to New Yard/Chatham Yard (site of current Albion Yard).

New Yard/Chatham Yard (site of current Albion Yard).

1809 Hills Bridge built – now Bath Road Bridge.

1809 Bathurst Basin built on site of Trin Mills.

1809 Prince Street Drawbridge was built.

1815 the Commercial Road Swing Bridge joined Redcliffe to Spike Island across Bathurst Lock.

1820 Graving Dock built at Chatham Yard (site of current Albion Yard).

1820 New Gaol opens at Wapping.

New Gaol, Wapping.

1820s Mylnes Culvert built to divert sewage from River Frome to The Cut.

1831 Building of Clifton Suspension Bridge begins.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

1831 Bristol Riots stops Clifton Bridge building.

1834 The Underfall replaces the Overfall to regulate the Floating Harbour depth.

1837 Launch of Brunel’s SS Great Western 19th July from Wapping Wharf.

Launch of Brunel’s SS Great Western

1838 Gaol/Coronation Ferry begins operating.

1839 Great Western Dockyard built.

1839 Avon (Temple Meads) Rail Bridge built, designed by IK Brunel.

1840 Clifton Bridge building stops again – this time for lack of funds.

1840 Railway from London comes to Bristol.

1841 St Phillips Bridge built and Counterslip Ferry ceases.

1841 Meads Reach rail bridge opened.

1843 SS Great Britain launched.

ssgb launch.jpg_tmp
SS Great Britain launch

1844 First known photograph of a ship – SS Great Britain at Cumberland Basin April  by William Talbot.

SS_Great_Britain_by_William Talbot April 1844 Wickipedia
SS Great Britain at Cumberland Basin

1844 Brunel commissioned to design a replacement for Southern Junction Lock.

1844 Exeter joined to Bristol by rail.

1845 Hillhouse and Sons (Albion Yard) becomes Charles Hill and Son.

1845 Jessops Junction Lock (1809) much enlarged by IK Brunel to allow the SS Great Britain to leave Bristol.

1848 Conrad Frinzel rebuilds the sugar refinery to become one of the largest in England.

1848 Bristol connected to Plymouth by rail.

Train from Exeter to Bristol about 1844

1848 Bristol Corporation takes over management of the port from the Merchant Venturers.

1848 Charles Hill and son becomes Albion Dockyard.

1849 Brunels South Junction Lock fitted with a swivel bridge.

1850s Timber Yards created on Baltic wharves.

1851 SS Demerara paddle steamer goes on the rocks at Sea Walls.

SS Demarara runs aground Nov 1851
SS Demarara runs aground Nov 1851

1852 Stotherts Shipyard starts in what is now Pooles Marina.

1855 Hills Bridge falls down ‘like a pack of cards’ as it is hit by 180 ton coal barge ‘John’ and two are killed on the 22 March.

Bath Road Bridge fell down 20 March 1855
Bath Road Bridge fell down 20 March 1855

1856 The Patent Heave-Up Slipway was built in Underfall Yard replaced by the current slipway in the 1890s.

1858 The Dock Masters House built at Cumberland Basin. It had to be demolished in 1964 to build Brunel Way and Plimsoll Bridge.

1859 Brunel dies at the age of 59.

1859 Mardyke Wharf constructed.

1860 The first Bedminster Bridge (Harfords Bridge) was rammed by the Fanny Chapman and badly damaged.

Langton Street Bridge

The Fanny Chapman

1860s The culverting of the Frome from Wade Street St Judes begins and continues down to the Stone Bridge in the latter part of the 19 Century.

1860/1 East side of Bristol Bridge widened by 12 feet and ironwork added.

1861 Mayflower steam tug built in Bristol. She is the oldest Bristol-built ship afloat and is believed to be the oldest surviving tug in the world.

Mayflower steam tug

1863 A new swivel bridge, 77 feet long, ordered to cross Jessops Northern Junction Lock.

1864 Severn Shed – the oldest remaining shed on the docks – built when it was called The Hide

1864 Merchants Road Bridge replaced.

1864 Clifton Suspension Bridge opened.

1865 Port and Pier Railway Station opened at Hotwells.

1866 Portishead Railway built.

1867 Clifton Bridge Railway Station opened.

1868 Work starts on a new larger North junction Lock (Howards Lock).

Possibly Howards junction lock 1873
North Junction Lock

1868 The 1863 swivel bridge from North junction Lock was removed, shortened, and used to span the entrance to Bathurst Basin (Commercial Road Bridge).

1868 The Drawbridge was installed in St Augustines Reach.

1870s Princes Wharf created from Wapping Dockyards.

1872 St Mary Redcliffe Church current Spire built.

1872 Bathurst steam powered bascule bridge built.

1873 The Pump House Built.

1873 Rownham Ferry moved South away from North Junction Lock.

Rownham Ferry c 1875 R W
Rownham Ferry

1873 Howard adapts Brunels South Junction Bridge swivel bridge to use across North Junction Lock which opens on the 19th July.

1873 West side of Bristol Bridge widened by 12 feet and ironwork added.

1875 St Phillips Bridge which replaced a ferry at Counterslip in 1841, stops being a toll bridge.

1875 A new swivel bridge fitted to South Junction Lock to replace Brunels bridge and a temporary wooden construction – the so-called replica bridge.

1876 Upper Railway Wharf built, subsequently called Bathurst Wharf and then Merchants Quay.

1877 Avonmouth Docks completed.

1878 The Fairbairn Steam Crane built by Stothert and Pitt to a design by William Fairbairn. It could lift 35 tons.

Fairbairn Steam Crane Wapping Railway Wharf

1878 Prince Street drawbridge rebuilt as a swing bridge.

1879 Portishead Docks completed.

1882 Harfords Bridge (later Bedmister Bridge) rebuilt as it proved not to be strong enough for horse drawn vehicles.

1882 Grove/Guinea Street Ferry commences.

1883 New Gaol Wapping closes and Horfield Prison opens.

1883 Langton Street Foot Bridge built ( Banana Bridge).

Langton Street Bridge

1883 Last shipbuilder on St Augustines Reach closes.

1884 Bristol Corporation takes over Avonmouth and Portishead Docks.

1885 Hills Bridge rebuilt as Bath Road Bridge.

1888 The Pump House replaced by a steam pump in Underfall Yard.

1888 Bristol Corporation Granary at Princes Wharf was built  (bombed 1941).

1890s Canons Marsh developed as wharves and E and W (Watershed) Sheds constructed.

Cannons Marsh Wharves

1893 Clifton Rocks Railway opens.

1893 River Frome culverted from Stone Bridge down to the junction of Clare Street and Baldwin Street.

1895 New Gaol was sold to The Great Western Railway. Most of the buildings were demolished and replaced with a coal yard and railway sidings.

1896 The Drawbridge was replaced with St Augustines Bridge.

1898 Kings Wharf becomes Avonside Midland Railway Wharf.

1899 Tramway Generating Station, a Grade II listed building built at Counterslip Wharf which operated as the power station for Bristol Tramways until 1941.


The Twentieth Century

St Phillips Bridge 1941
St Phillips Bridge 1941

1900 Vauxhall Bridge built by Lysaght Ltd Engineers, Bristol to replace the ferry.

1903 Lime Kiln Dock covered in for the Docks Railway and Great Western Railway Wharf.

1905 A Bond Tobacco Warehouse, Cumberland Road, built.

1906 Ashton Avenue Bridge built for the docks railway with a roadway overhead.

Ashton Avenue Bridge

1907 Underfall Yard Pump House converted from steam to electricity.

1907 The Royal Edward Dock at Avonmouth completed.

1908 B Bond Tobacco Warehouse, Smeaton Road, built.

1919 C Bond Tobacco Warehouse, Clift House Road, Bedminster built.

1920s The Commercial Road Swing Bridge was built.

1922 Port and Pier Railway Station (Hotwells) closed.

1925 Merchants Road Bridge opened.

1928 Mud Dock East built.

1930 Redcliffe Backs Ferry stops operating.

1932 Rownham Ferry ceased operating.

1934 Temple Bridge buit.

1935 Gaolferry Bridge built to replace the ferry.

construction of goal ferry bridge 1935 rw
Gaolferry Bridge

1935 Ashton Avenue Swivel Bridge fixed closed.

1938 Redcliffe Bascule Bridge built.

1938 Frome culverted from St Augustines Bridge down to the bottom of Park Street.

1939 Totterdown and Bathhurst Locks decommissioned to reduce risk to the docks from bombing.

1941 St Phillips Bridge bombed and rebuilt.

1941 Bristol Corporation Granary Princes Wharf, built 1888, was bombed.

Bristol Corporation Granary Princes Wharf

1942 Redcliffe Bridge bombed and rebuilt.

1942 Steamship House Great Western Dockyard bombed.

1947 Bristol twinned with Hanover leading to the naming of Hanover Quay.

1952 Bathurst Lock Dam replaced.

1959 Another carriageway added to the Bath Road Bridge. Opened 1960.

1960s Another carriageway added to Bedminster Bridge.

1964 Clifton Bridge Railway Station closed as part of the Beeching cuts.

1965 Bathurst Rail Bridge replaced by pedestrian swing bridge.

1965 Plimsoll Bridge and Avon Bridge opened on 14th April.

Cumberland Basin Road system 1966

1965 Overhead roadway removed from Ashton Avenue Bridge.

1968 Mardyke Ferry closed.

1968 Temple Way/Bridge built.

1970 Clifton Bridge Railway Station demolished.

1970s Midland Railway Wharf became Phoenix Wharf.

1970 SS Great Britain returned to Great Western Dock in July.

1972 the Mardyke Ferry ceased operating.

1972 Building of Royal Portbury Dock began.

1972 First Bristol Power Boat Race.

Bristol Power Boat Race

1975 Closure of Bristol City Docks to commercial traffic.

1976 Miranda Guiness last ship launched from Charles Hills Albion Yard.

1977 Royal Portbury Dock opened.

1977 Charles Hills Shipyard business closed.

1980s Rownham Mead housing development built over Merchants Dock.

1980s Merchants Landing housing development built at Bathurst Wharf.

1980s Bristol/Baltic Wharf Marina built.

1980 David Abel takes over the Albion Dockyard.

1984 Porto twinned with Bristol leading to the naming of Porto Quay.

1990 Last Bristol Power Boat Race.

1990s Inlet Marina dug out from Gas works site.

1998 Pooles Bridge opened.

Pooles Bridge

The Twenty-first Century

St Augustines Reach and Peros Bridge
St Augustines Reach and Peros Bridge

2000 Valentines Bridge opened.

2000 Peros Bridge built.

2008 Meads Reach Bridge opened.

2016 Albion Dockyard stopped trading after the retirement of David Abel.

2016 Brooks Bridge finished.

Brooks Bridge

2017 Prince Street Bridge refurbished and made one way to road traffic (South).

2017 Castle Bridge opened.

Castle Bridge

2017 Ashton Avenue Bridge upgraded for Metrobus.

2018 Commercial Road Bridge new carriageway (West) to facilitate metrobus.

2018 SS Great Britain Trust takes over responsibility for Albion Dockyard.

2019 Harbour Inlet was re-badged Brunel Quay.

2020 Chocolate Path Collapses into The Cut in January.

Chocolate Path Collapses