1. Bristol docks and Bristol's development.

On one thing most critics agree: that before the docks were taken over by Bristol Corporation in 1848, the port of Bristol was badly mismanaged, to the detriment of local trade and industry. Not much was done in the eighteenth century to improve facilities, and, in all essentials, the docks remained much the same as in medieval times. The winding Avon was difficult to navigate, or even, at low tide, impossible. Ships lying alongside the quays had to rest on the muddy bottom at low water. Attempts to improve matters were frustratingly half-hearted. A Floating Harbour (in which ships could float regardless of the state of the tide) was first proposed in the 1760s, but it was not until 1804 that work started, to plans prepared by William Jessop, a pupil of Smeaton. And when this was completed in 1809, the Bristol Dock Co. straightway sought to recover the cost (about 600,000) by imposing high port charges, with the result that more and more traders opted for other ports, particularly Liverpool. More competitive dues were fixed following the municipal takeover of 1848, and the city docks enjoyed a substantial trade until well into the twentieth century, even though the Floating Harbour could accept only the smaller types of steam-powered vessel. The seemingly obvious way of overcoming this limitation was to build docks at the mouth of the Avon which could accommodate the largest ocean-going ships. Not all Bristolians saw it that way, and for decades many clung to the notion that the best way forward was to improve the Avon navigation. New docks were eventually opened at Avonmouth in 1877 and Portishead in 1879, and linked to the city by rail. These were brought into municipal ownership in 1884.#4

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