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Ports of the Bristol Channel 1893

Book Title: Progress Commerce 1893: The Ports of the Bristol Channel; Wales and the West
Author: Anon
Publisher: The London Printing & Engraving Co.
Booktype: Hardback, Binding: Brown cloth with black decorative border
Size:28 x 22 cm

Pages 30-273, has lists of merchants and tradespeople, illustrated with line drawings and some photographs, includes Cardiff, Swansea, Neath, Briton Ferry, Port Talbot, Merthyr Tydfil, Pontypridd, Aberdare, Newport, Abergavenny, Pontypool, Bristol, Bath, Wiltshire

247 companies loaded.


The special interest which attaches to our great seaport towns, by reason of the important parts they have one and all played in establishing and maintaining our national maritime supremacy, is particularly marked in the case of the City of Bristol – the ancient and wealthy metropolis of the West Country. To Bristol belongs the special distinction of equally interesting in both its historic and its mercantile aspects.

How wonderful has been its record in each instance, how prominently has it always figured in English history English trade! Some of the most thrilling events in the West Country have transpired in or around this busy part of the Avon, and many of the boldest and most effective commercial enterprises on which the skill and capital of early merchants have been embarked, were planned and carried out here. Nor has any very marked change come over Bristol in these modern times, save that its undertakings are upon a vastly larger scale, and its influence as a seat of trade industry and as a centre of vigorous social and political vitality increased proportionately.

The Bristol of history we instinctively associate with certain reminiscences about which there is a well-defined flavour of romance, and as we walk through some of the city’s quaint old assets today, or stand in the shadow of its storied cathedral there flits across our mental vision a long panorama of scenes – a dream of Roman warriors and Norman knights, potential ecclesiastics and scheming barons, of kings and Cavaliers and Roundheads, merchants and mariners, and venturers on unknown ocean highways, who have carried the flag of England at their mastheads into the ports of every land under the sun.

We think of the ambitious but politic Henry ” Curtmantle,” of the long line of England’s Plantagenet kings, signing his charter to the burgesses of Bristol, and indicating thereby importance of this ancient city even as far back as the middle twelfth century. We imagine valiant Sebastian Cabot sailing from Bristol on that eventful day in 1497 when he started on the westward voyage that gave to Britain her oldest colony. To conjure up in the mind’s eye a long array of distinguished famous in art and letters and science ; nor do we omit the munificence of those old-time citizens who, out of the measures of their good fortune, bequeathed to the city and its for all time a system of charitable institutions of which the community might be justly proud.

From every point of view, at all periods of her history, and in ere of her comprehensive civic, social and commercial Bristol presents to the thoughtful mind a subject of infinite fascination ; and even in the stress and turmoil of modern age the great, busy city, with its thousands of toilers, its huge warehouses and factories, its railways and telegraphs, and its river-harbour full of shipping of every conceivable type and description, still retains a certain antique charm, and still reminds us at every turn of a past record, the glories of which are not to be readily dimmed even by all the prosperity and advancement of the present.

At the same time a large and ungrudging need of praise is due to the powerful spirit of progress and enterprise that has kept Bristol “abreast of the times,” and brought the ancient city into line with every new requirement of modern affairs. In many respects the progress thus achieved has been very remarkable, and has shown conclusively that the old Western energy still lives in the hearts of a people who have ever been among the foremost to step out and onward in the march of improvement. Many new and handsome buildings appear in the streets from year to year, and these, contrasting with the ancient edifices that still remain, impart to the place that agreeable variety of structural aspect that is so often lacking in our great mercantile and manufacturing towns. Well governed by public-spirited men who have the general interest and welfare of the city at heart, and possessing a wealth of local institutions whose tendency is all in the direction of advancement, Bristol stands as a fine type of a thriving British community, with a great past, a prosperous present, and a promising future. Immense and increasing activity is manifested in numerous trades and industries of a most important character ; and the improvements carried out in late years in the harbour and dock accommodation and arrangements have attracted a large amount of shipping to the port. Bristol has splendid railway facilities, too, and this fact has not escaped the notice of shippers and importers. The industries of the city and district are in a flourishing condition, and the range of articles and commodities turned out of the local works and factories is a remarkably wide one. Cocoa and chemicals, soap and sugar, shot and snuff, tobacco and turnery, beer, boots and shoes, clothing and cables, anchors and pottery, engines and machinery, leather and calico, ironwares, flour, carriages, and -paper-these and a multitude of other widely diverse products are found in the output of Bristol’s busy industries, and in every instance the manufacturers of the city and district maintain an honourable reputation for the excellence of their wares. ” Virtute et Industria ” is truly an appropriate motto for such a place as Bristol, for by virtue great undertakings are promoted, and by industry they are carried to the successful issue that has so conspicuously crowned the various enterprises of our ” Western Metropolis.”

The importance of the commercial and industrial interests centred in Bristol and Clifton may be gauged from a perusal of the following articles, in which we have endeavoured to review concisely and accurately the operations of many of the city’s best-known business firms.

Almost from the dawn of mercantile enterprise in Britain Bristol has stood among the foremost of our great trading ports, and its merchants have frequently led the way in undertakings of great moment. Everybody has heard of the Merchant Venturers of Bristol-the name of this potent and influential guild has long stood as a synonym for the highest commercial enterprise.

The company’s hall is one of the city’s notable buildings, and stands in King Street. In the reign of Henry II. it is recorded that Bristol had a large trade with the north of Europe, and about the middle of the thirteenth century the general business of the port had become so extensive that the burgesses found it necessary to considerably increase the accommodation for shipping. Edward III. made Bristol one of the wool staple towns, a great advantage in days when wool was undoubtedly the chief commodity in our internal commerce. In those times, also, Bristol was doing a flourishing trade in leather, wine, salt, and cloths.

Subsequently the activity of the port increased by leaps and bounds, and in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the trade of Bristol attained gigantic dimensions. Then it was that the vast American and West Indian trade with which the name of this famous city has so long been associated was built up and established on a firm basis, and then it was that princely fortunes were made by the Bristol merchants who were wont to congregate in the colonnade known as the ” Tolsey,” near All Saints’ Church, in Corn Street. In those “good old days” no small amount of privateering was done by the merchant princes of Bristol, who found this a convenient method of swelling the profits realised in legitimate trade. Many a vessel sailing from this port at that period, ostensibly as a perfectly harmless and peaceable trader, was sufficiently manned and armed to more than hold her own in an encounter on the Spanish Main with any richly-laden galleon whose cargo it might be worth while to overhaul.

Bristol privateers are a thing of the past; the Tolsey has vanished; and the stately old merchants of a byegone age, with their ruffles and their periwigs, sleep a sounder sleep than ever they knew of in the days when fortunes depended even more largely than they do now upon the caprices of wind and wave.

But the commercial spirit of Bristol still lives, and the energy of its people is as alert and active as ever. Thousands of laden ships still come and go in the Avon; tons of foreign merchandise still enter the port to be distributed throughout the land, while tons again of our own products leave it agin en route for many a distant market. The docks of Bristol are a wonderful sight, and have been formed by excavating a new course for the river to the south of the city, and converting the whole of the old channel through the city, into one floating harbour, several miles in length. Today, more than at any time in the past, one can be here impressed by the strange interest of a city whose maritime life extends into its very heart, and it is easy to understand how Bristol appeared to Pope as a place having its “streets full of ships”. Later changes and enlargements have made the harbour and docks capable of accommodating a very large amount of shipping, and the shipping facilities have been much improved by the construction of fine docks at Avonmouth and at Portishead. These two ports (the former on the north side and the latter on the south side of the mouth of the Avon) are in direct communication with the city by rail. In carrying out these improvements a vast amount of money has been expended, but every penny may be said to have been employed with real intelligence and foresight, and the port is reaping the advantages of its enterprise in many ways. During the last forty years the shipping has greatly increased owing to the establishment of new dock charges, calculated to attract vessels to -he port. In earlier times the dock rates on vessels and goods greatly exceeded the corresponding rates at London, Liverpool, and several other ports. Among the many advantages which Bristol now offers to shipping, not the least are her splendid railway facilities, which afford every convenience of rapid transit to all parts of the kingdom. The Great Western and the Midlanu Railways, with their many connections and local branches, provide a system of railway transport equal to that existing at any other English port. A large coasting trade is carried on by regular steamers between Bristol and the following ports:Cardiff, Swansea, London, Cork, Dublin, Liverpool, Belfast, Glasgow, and Newport, and there is also regular steamship communication for trading purposes and passenger traffic with Antwerp, Bordeaux, Cadiz, Charente, Hamburgh, Havre, Nantes, New York, Oporto, and Rotterdam.

Bristol still continues to be a great place of entry for West India produce, but the import trade has become very comprehensive during the present century, and a glance at the Board of Trade and Custom House returns show us that the imports at this port embrace such varied articles as tobacco, spirits (rum especially), wines, sugar, corn, fish, butter and eggs, cheese, bacon, hides, American and Colonial meats, live cattle, oils, ores, fruits, andtimber. The exports are almost equally varied, including nearly every standard article of British manufacture.

In the long list we find many products for which Bristol has long been celebrated. These embrace tobaccos and snuffs, pottery, refined sugar, shot, anchors and cables, paper, floorcloth, soap, mill gearing and various kinds of machinery, boots and shoes, calico, chemicals, engines, furniture, flour, carriages, leather, iron wares, etc. The various industries producing these different articles are conducted upon a large scale and with abundant enterprise, and they have the advantage of possessing an ample supply of coal close at hand, in the districts of Bedminster, Kingswoocl, Easton, and Long Ashton. One of the most celebrated products of Bristol is the widely known “Bristol China,” which was made in its highest perfection by Champion, between 1775 and 1780. Glassworking is also an industry of considerable importance, and soap-making has been largely carried on here since the twelfth century. The boot and shoe industry of Bristol has been in active and flourishing existence for over two hundred years, and it now gives employment to between 5,000 and 6,000 hands. The following figures show the importance of Bristol as a seaport, and the extent of its operations as a trading centre :-In 1847 the tonnage of vessels entering the port during the year was 546,753 tons.

In 1855 the tonnage had increased to 1,260,159 tons, and in 1886 to 1,285,090 tons. In 1884 the value of the total imports of foreign and colonial merchandise into the port of Bristol was £7,155,631 ; in 1885, £17,682,984 ; in 1888, £7,863,478; in 1890, £8,384,636. These figures indicate the great magnitude of Bristol’s import trade, as also do the figures for the gross customs receipts at the port, which were £914,108 in 1888,. and £1,191,955 in 1890. The value of the total exports of the products of the United Kingdom from Bristol in 1884 were only £541,767; but in 1886 they rose to £1,210,833, consequent upon the revival of trade ; and in 1890 the exports amounted to £1,689,113. The number and net tonnage of sailing and steam vessels registered under the Merchant Shipping Acts as belonging to the port of Bristol on December 31st 1888, were 197 vessels, aggregating 42,417 tons.

Modern Bristol is a monument to that sterling spirit of enterprise and commercial progress which, centuries ago, placed this port in the front rank, and which has not failed to maintain it in that prominent and honourable position. With “Virtute et Industria” in the lives and works of its people, as well as upon its heraldic escutcheon, this ancient and historic city may well regard the achievements of a glorious past as stepping stories to the higher attainments of a still more glorious and prosperous future.


The city of Bath has given its name to at least four articles which are familiar to the great body of the people, viz. Bath buns, Bath chairs, Bath bricks, and Bath chaps. The population of Bath (urban sanitary district) in 1881 was 51,814; in 1891, 51,843. The numerous business establishments of the city cater well to the requirements of residents and visitors alike, and there is no more delightful place in all England in which to spend a pleasant holiday. Bath can never fall from its high estate, as long as the superlative attractions and advantages with which nature has endowed it retain the character that has brought them such far-reaching celebrity.

Now that the historical and retrospective part of our work is at an end, we may invite the attention of our readers to some mon minute considerations respecting the special resources of the towns and cities above referred to in the matter of commerce and manufacture. These resources may be best illustrated by individual reviews of prominent firms engaged in various branches of trade, and the following pages will be found to contain historical and descriptive particulars, up to the most recent date, concerning the many mercantile and industrial enterprises which contribute so largely at the present day to the general prosperity of the extensive area comprised under the title of this volume.