Friday, 14 January 2011

Bristol - Maritime history and a bit more

Bristol in the south west of England has a rich and famous maritime and Engineering history based on travel, made from its location and links with the sea. The city has done well to preserve this heritage and there is evidence for these links not just on the water....

"Sailing South" !!
When visiting any location, the famous people are usually local to the area, but the first man to make his mark on the city was an Italian 15th century trader and explorer.

John Cabot had an unusual background as there was some confusion over his place of birth due to the translation of his name. He lived in Venice for a while and consequently was able to trade in the Mediterranean at a time of great prosperity. Due to later financial difficulties, he was forced to move to Spain looking for work which turned out to be unsuccessful in both Valencia and Seville. Christopher Columbus had just discovered North America about this time and he tried to gain funding and backing to replicate the trip from both Seville and Lisbon. The authorities wouldn't entertain the idea and eventually he arrived in London where he got his wish.
He relocated to Bristol which was the second largest English seaport at that time to prepare for the voyage with The Matthew. The first trip didn't work out well as the crew underestimated on 7 months supplies and had to return before embarking on a second trip and eventually landing in Newfoundland in 1497. The details after this point are a bit vague but in the following two years, he organised another unsuccessful atlantic crossing which was affected by the weather and some of his fleet were lost. It is not known whether he died in England or at sea in 1499, but with the lure of conquering the Ocean once..... I'll let you make up your mind !!

The Matthew "replica"
Anniversaries of the event have been commemorated down the centuries and a replica boat was built which successfully crossed the Atlantic in 1997 which was met by the Queen, Canadian and Italian dignitaries.
When not on tour, the vessel does sedate and peaceful selected evening trips around the harbour.... nice experience, although I was struck by the fact during the sail that it is difficult to believe that it crossed the Atlantic both in the original form and the replica.

Tall things... ancient and modern !!
In 1897, Cabot's Tower was built out of red sandstone on a prominent hill seen here between the Cathedral Tower and an industrial harbour side chimney. It is poignant that my time in Bristol was at a time of significant redevelopment and a crane seemed to be always part of the skyline. It was unfortunate when I visited the Tower on several occasions that it is in a slight state of disrepair due to underfunding with temporary fencing around the area.... that's another story though.

During the 19th century, Isambard Kingdom Brunel was at the forefront along with other builders constructing the railways of Britain. Brunel originally from Portsmouth, had more than just an interest in railways and I'm not just talking about his fashion !! .....

Little man syndrome ... Tall hat !!
There is so much to this man, it is difficult to know where to start. He had great and grand plans that were largely successful but like all inventors and builders, some prototypes didn't stand the test of time.

He was given the task of building a railway initially from London to Bristol which terminated at the magnificent structure of Bristol Temple Meads railway station.

The building had a dedicated platform as a terminus which is unfortunately now a mix of station car park, Commonwealth museum and Nursery. Brunel extended his railway and bridge work further into South West England to continue his "Great Western Railway" project and the need for the terminus platform to the west of the station was reduced.

"Now where did I leave my bike ?!"
Like all great cities of our day, travelling and commuting are a problem. This was the view inside the station on many of the day trips I took to local towns nearby.

SS Great Britain in dry dock
Brunel had plans for people to travel from London to Bristol by train and then cross the Atlantic by boat. The three famous ships were the SS Great Western (the longest ship in the world at that time),

SS Great Britain (the first non wood ship / first propellor driven ocean ship) and the unsuccessful  Great Eastern (the longest ship, once again, of its time). It is unfortunate that the Great Eastern was well ahead of its time and ran into budgetary and technical problems as a passenger ship. It eventually ended up for industrial use. Not quite what Brunel had in mind.

Gateway to America 1840's
Lastly, there was a competition to build a bridge ( first photo of this set and also in the background of the above to the right ) and although I'll not go into the underhand tactics used in the competition !! , but Brunel's design for the Clifton Suspension Bridge was the eventual winner. Sadly he did not see the completed structure as he died from illness, aged 53.

These days, passengers can still leave Bristol harbour (when the tide time is suitable for the River Avon) for trips in the Severn Estuary / Bristol Channel. I once had the opportunity to travel on the Balmoral from Clevedon to Illfracombe and it was an awesome experience passing all the ships at a speed of 20 knots.

As I said earlier, Bristol has done well to preserve the maritime heritage in a modern city. Cranes line the harbourside in front of the Industrial museum (currently closed long term for upgrading) while at the same time the view to the left is one of postcard beauty...

St Mary Redcliffe church

The harbourside is accessible for both the commuter in the morning and the tourist throughout the day from the above landing stage by a fleet of various boats and the Bristol Ferry company....


Modern Engineering ... Pero's bridge
Some aspects of the harbourside such as the footbridge may seem modern but on examination reveal a small glimpse of Bristol's infamous past with the slave trade saga.

Boat Restaurant
 It may seem unusual but boats in the harbour have different uses other than their intended purpose and each have to pay rent for the right to dock.

house .... and garden
 Like all modern city riverside developments, living accommodation is highly sought after and old grain stores are converted into top class apartments as is evident from the above photo. However, as construction is an on going process, some sights are difficult to take in......

"I can't get my boat parked outside my house"...... La Rochelle indeed !! 


  1. my fiends just came back from bristol in sept, her pics all her with food, hence i kept wondering how bristol looks like. now i know!!! so quint.

  2. This is a fascinating post, J. I'm just itching to get to England, and all the information that comes with your posts helps me see that there's more to love about England than Yorkshire. :-) I went to Google Maps because I wanted to see if it was the Clifton Suspension Bridge that goes over the Bristol Channel. I see that there are two bridges with M4 and M81, I think, that go over the channel and I wonder why two bridges so close together.

    I wonder how many independently wealthy or retirees live on those narrowboats and travel the canals and rivers. Wouldn't that be cool!

    Thanks for great photos and a very interesting post! I'll be waiting for your post on north Cornwall. ;-)

  3. Thanks for that - I used to have an office in Bristol some years ago. This brought back lots of pleasant memories.

  4. Oh, my! Suspension Bridge! And what cute statues appeared in Bristol! I've been there twice in the nineties, stayed one week each time and enjoyed it a lot. Thanks, J_on_tour!

  5. Such beautiful photographs and the one that struck me the most is the photo of the bicycles! I don't think I have ever seen so many parked together at once.

  6. Thanks for the tour of Bristol! Love the pictures of the railroad station and Pero's bridge.

  7. I'm a sucker for the sea! This was a fun post :D

  8. Well, how to get to Bristol today?
    Just landing on that pirate ship listening to your voice telling stories about local history....
    Anyway, here is saturday, and the only voices I can here now ( 6 AM) is about mondial crisis, dead birds on the Black Sea coast, floods in the North and bankruptcy!
    Eh, it is a mad world, I think.
    Better to stay here with 'Matilda' listening to U2 songs!
    Hope you will be back soon and safe!
    I wish you a great weekend!
    Bye for now, J!

  9. That's a lot of history! I learned something and enjoyed the photos--my favorite is the weathervane.

  10. Oh wow! Thank you for sharing this interessting history lesson with us! I`ve been in Bristol in the summer 2008 and I liked it! I visited some location you have posted now but my images are very different from yours. I think, I should post them at next, than you can see my view on this nice place?! Isn`t it a good idea? And please forgive me my terrible english:-oooo Have a nice sunday and nice dreams tonight. Hugs from Luzia.

  11. What interesting photos! Loved Cabot's Tower and Cathedral Tower--both beautiful. I like the way you really learn the history of the place you are visiting. I would always visit a place and be all excited about coming home and looking up more info on it--you can probably guess how that went. Good intentions just not a lot of follow through. You, on the other hand, really do gather vast quantities of historical and interesting facts- it enhances your trips a great deal I would think. Always nice to read your blogs.

  12. You're a very good guide, providing the reader not only with pictures of the place , but also with its history and "a bit more" as your title indicates.

    All the pictures in your post on Bristol, are just great! It's difficult to single out any picture. I'll mention, however, the bronze little man with the tall hat, the railway building, the "Matilda" ferry.

  13. I love the third photo. That's a very informative details about John Cabot.

    Your caption on bikes made me smile.

    HAVE A GREAT WEEK AHEAD, my friend. :)

  14. nice combination of the modern city with the history. very nice caught.

  15. Well hello and I see you have lots of info here for me to catch up on in the future with lots of ideas of places to go. That is the thing about England, so much to do and see.

  16. Lily Riani... Thanks, this is just a snapshot and probably the more interesting part of the city. Hopefully the next few posts will complete the picture a little bit more.

    Cranberry Morning... Thanks. I don't think life is all that smooth for those living on the boats as they have massive rents to pay. I often saw the struggles they had of painting the exterior of their home to avoid the rust. Those with the pleasure cruisers lived in the posh riverside apartments. The Clifton Suspension bridge is the B3129. The two other bridges is a bit long and complicated... I'll send you an e-mail tomorrow.

    VertAnge... Thanks, there is a lot of variety here and this is the first of a few posts.

    Trevor Woodford... Thanks. It's good to know that it was pleasant because work might have been otherwise.

    Traveling Hawk... Thanks, It was a surprise to know that you have been here as well. I think the statues are fairly new particularly the Brunel one which is near and on a more direct route from the railway station into town.

    Farmchick... Thanks, railway stations always seem to have lots of bikes parked. Oxford and York are famous for that as well but the scenes are not as dramatic as Oxford is a small station where the pikes are parked outside in rows. York station is slightly better but there is a dramatic curve and the camera viewpoint is from a lower level, so the scene which I have a photographic record of, is not so effective.

    Sweet Virginia Breeze... Thanks, Brunel did build great and grand things. I often used to refer to Pero's bridge as The Horned Bridge.

    Kae Lani... I love boats too. Something exciting about travelling on rivers and the sea.

    Wind... I am pleased you could join me in a parallel world for a short time away from reality. The gliding of the sleek boats through the calm waters like the swan sailing below the bridge a world away from the confusion and disharmony ... of the bicycles at the railway station !!

    JoLynne Lyon... Thanks, I thought it was only going to be a Brunel post, but there were too many Cabot pictures .... not to talk about him. I thought that would interest people on your side of "the pond".

    Luzia... Thanks, I found that in my time here, the architecture and structures were always changing.

    forgetmenot... Thanks, I do try and mix the blog about a bit for the benefit of the variety of people following. However as I spent so long here, a lot of this came naturally.

    DUTA... One of the main secret purposes of this post and indeed re visiting a bit of history at the moment is to demonstrate some of the right hand side bar photos that have not been explained before. This post is all about Matilda !!

    Rizalenio... Thanks, what I did not say that hit me when I photographed it was that the third photo was Cabot looking in the direction of harbour travel to the sea.

    pharaonx... Thanks, that was well said and concise... I must learn from that and not write as much !!

    Midwest to Midlands... Thanks, I hope you are enjoying life in England and it's nice to see you here. I hope you find as much interest on these pages as I hope to find on yours.

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