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Guided Visit and Walking Tour – Underfall Yard & Bristol Docks

Railway & Canal Historical Society, SW Group

Guided Visit and Walking Tour – Underfall Yard & Bristol Docks

10.30am to 3.00pm, Sunday 24th July 2022

The visit will begin with a guided tour of the Underfall Yard, including one of the only surviving Victorian dock workshops in the world, which will feature several historic workshop machines in action. Following a break for lunch, a walking tour of part of the City Docks will be led by local R&CHS member Steph Gillett with assistance from Sal Allman (BIAS).

We meet at the Underfall Yard for 10.30am –

– and expect to finish the visit by 3.00pm. This would leave time for a visit to Brunel’s S S Great Britain (open until 6.00pm) – – or Bristol Museums’ M Shed (open until 5.00pm) – – M Shed tells the story of the city and its unique place in the world.

There is a small charge of £5.50 per person (£4.00 for concessions) to cover the guided tour of the Underfall Yard.

Pre-booking essential, numbers limited to maximum 18 participants (first come first served basis – in the event of oversubscription a waiting list will be held with priority given to SW area members). Please complete booking form and payment at – Friday 15th July 2022.

The Underfall Yard

Since the creation of the Floating Harbour in 1809, Underfall Yard has been crucial to its operation and maintenance. Before this time, much of the site was under water: the original course of the River Avon ran through Underfall Yard.

In 1809, as part of the creation of the Floating Harbour system, William Jessop developed the Overfall dam across the River Avon allowing surplus water from the harbour to flow into the New Cut. The water of the River Avon carries lots of silt (mud). The water enters the Floating Harbour, slows down and is unable to carry the silt any longer. The silt settles in the harbour, which eventually builds up and reduces the depth making it difficult for ships to navigate. The Overfall Dam had sluices next to it, which could be used to remove silt. However, the main method was to empty the harbour and dig it out.

Digging the mud out was hugely disruptive to shipping and trade. In the 1830s, Isambard Kingdom Brunel was asked to propose a solution. He suggested further developing the original sluices and recommended the use of dredgers to remove the silt. The sluices have been changed and renewed several times since and today’s system was installed in the 1880s.