Known as Merchants Quay since the 1980s when Merchants Landing housing was built. It was originally built as a wharf in 1876 and known as Upper Railway Wharf before becoming Bathurst Wharf.
Bathurst Basin from the Grove
Note there is only a footbridge on the site of the Commercial Road Bridge.
Fire at Bathurst 21st November 1888
Bathurst Basin today is a quiet dock with little maritime activity; but not on the morning of 21st November 1888. That day a Jersey schooner, the “United”, was moved from her overnight berth in the entrance lock outside the “Ostrich” to a position just inside the basin itself. She had been left in this unaccustomed position because she was loaded with 300 barrels (some 50 tons) of naphtha, a highly flammable product closely related to petroleum spirit and obtained by the distillation of coal tar. The authorities were well aware of the danger. Her four crew members were Master Henry Cartwright, Mate Joseph Cartwright, seaman Joseph Basle and a young lad Toby.
Cartwright intended to depart for London as soon as the strong winds eased. The Master had banned any flame so there was no smoking, cooking or even tea-making. A constable from the river police paid a visit early that morning but, aware that the master was keen to depart, soon left. Just after 11 a.m. a tremendous explosion occurred in the United. Parts of the ship were flung into the air accompanied by “a wall of flame of appalling fierceness”. The burning naphtha floated on and spread over the water surface. It was driven towards other ships in the basin. These too were soon on fire. All the lower windows of the adjacent General Hospital were blown out as were those of the Ostrich and the houses in Guinea Street.
Robinson’s Oil and Cake Mill on the west side of the lock was also affected and indeed its numerous clerks were blown off their stools but one had the presence of mind to run to the nearby river police station and call for assistance. A squad of policemen soon arrived to help as did the city fire brigade with its horse-drawn fire engine. The docks water-float also arrived and all were pumping water onto the burning vessel. Naturally in no time at all a large number of spectators accumulated. They also needed controlling.
All in all it took three hours to bring the inferno under control. The human cost of the incident was high. The Master, Mate and lad Toby all lost their lives. Seaman Basle was blown 40ft through the air but survived with a broken leg. He was picked up from the water by a boat from another ship.
The General Hospital had lost most of its lower windows on the side that faced the basin so to protect the bed-ridden against the elements there was clearly an urgent need for glaziers. The response in 1888 was to send out a call for glaziers and they arrived from all over the city. By nightfall it is said that all the windows in the General Hospital had been replaced. I think we may have trouble doing that today. Surely today’s bureaucracy and/or Health & Safety Regulations would get in the way somewhere.
The whole incident lasted for some three hours, time enough even in 1880 for the press to hear about it and dispatch a photographer who recorded the scene for posterity. It shows the naphtha blazing on the water outside what is now Byzantine Court and is really quite spectacular.
Based on Gordon Faulkner’s article on the Merchants Landing website.
JOHN SEBASTIAN was built in 1885 as a Light Vessel (LV 55) as a batch order of three (LB54, LV55 and LV59) by Charles Hill & Sons, Albion Yard, Bristol, for Trinity House. The hull type was wood with iron beams. She was sold out of service in 1954 to Portishead for scrap where her lantern and metal work was removed. She is now owned by Cabot Cruising Club, Bathurst Basin, Bristol. When the Light Vessel was on Bristol Channel duty moored 12 miles out from Avonmouth, there was a tradition for members of the Cruising Club to visit taking newspapers and other gifts for the crew.
At the end of her useful life, she was sold for scrap. Her lantern and other valuable parts were removed and, with no residual value, was set alight. She burned for days but did not succumb. She floundered, wounded and abandoned where she lay.
Just a deck and hull remained, but they had the vision of a cosy clubhouse if they could just obtain the hull. For £275.00 (this was 1954 so this was quite a sum for an old wreck) it was theirs. Working throughout the seasons, begging and borrowing tools and materials, they gradually turned her from an empty, blackened shell to a usable space. Working by torches and doubtful electrical supplies, a bar was born.
She finally opened her doors in 1959. She has evolved. She has been maintained and improved by members throughout the years and work continues. They called her John Sebastian after the father and son who left these shores some 462 years earlier and who the Cabot Cruising Club were proud to be named for.
She is now the last remaining wooden lightship still afloat in the world.
The lock was sealed off from The Cut in 1939 for fear bombing would empty the harbour.
When in 1868 work started on a new, larger North Lock in 1868 (‘Howard’s Lock’) the 1863 Jessop Lock bridge was removed, shortened and re-erected over the entrance to Bathurst Basin. This is now known as the Commercial Road Bridge.
The steam powered bascule bridge built in 1872 for the dockyard railway was replaced by the pedestrian bridge in 1964.
The bridge’s steam-driven machinery was fortunately saved and is held in the reserve collection of M Shed Museum.