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BIAS Bulletin September 2023



By Geoff Wallis (BIAS member and Brunel Swivel Bridge Group, Hon. Project Manager)

For a century and a half before the Suspension Bridge was built, The Tongue was Bristol’s westernmost road-crossing of the River Avon.

‘The Tongue’ is the spit of land adjacent to the Entrance Lock at the west end of Cumberland Basin. Here Dock Engineer Howard’s vast north entrance lock with its floating caisson gates is still in use, and the dock office and quaintly leaning toll-house with adjoining lean-to weigh-house still survive, although none of these structures is protected by statutory listing.

It is an amazing, historic place, sited at the confluence of the mighty New Cut, (excavated by navvies), the dramatically tidal Avon, and the vast Entrance Lock. The views are exceptional – a remarkable and unique mix of maritime, urban, transport and rural landscapes, each with its own history – evidence of when Bristol was second only to London in trade, and this was our mariners’ gateway to the rest of the world.

The Cumberland Basin area is the last part of the city to be redeveloped. Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees proposed the Western Harbour Development some years ago, and master-planning is now taking place. A completion date for construction is proposed lor 2032 subject to funding.

A wall of one of Jessop’s original locks, Victorian cast iron mooring bollards, signal light-posts and capstans survive, including several once driven by hydraulic power from Underfall Yard.

Large hydraulic ‘jiggers’ which operated in pairs pulling chains to open and close the gates, and the paddles that filled and emptied the lock, still exist under steel plates. These are relatively rare and would be of great interest to visitors if made visible under reinforced glass plates.

Along the south of the Tongue in the nearby thicket of grass and timber are the barely-visible remains of the gridiron where ships settled on the falling tide to allow simple maintenance tasks to be carried out. The grid was formerly jetted free of mud monthly, and it still survives complete under silt.

Much more in the Bulletin, available to members.