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Home Brunel sketch of feeder sluice at Bristol docks (University of Bristol)

  Brunel sketch of feeder sluice at Bristol
  docks (University of Bristol)
Isambard Kingdom Brunel
Brunel, Bristol and the South West
Through his involvement with the competition to design a bridge across the Avon Gorge, Brunel was brought into contact with well-placed local citizens who wished to propel Bristol into a new
The Clifton Suspension Bridge
Bristol Docks
Great Western Railway
commercial and industrial age. Many would remain lifetime friends and colleagues, and Brunel would rely on Bristol capital and enterprise for a number of his ventures.
ss Great Britain
University of Bristol's Brunel Collection
Brunel and the Rest of the South West
Brunel in Context
The Brunel Legacy

In 1832, his professional link to the city was strengthened when, at the request of the Bristol Docks Company, he submitted a report on improving the flow of water and stability of the banks in the Floating Harbour. He would be involved with the docks for the next 15 years. His contributions included a dredging and sluicing system, an enlarged and improved entrance lock, a tubular wrought iron footbridge and the engine house for the Black Rock water pumping station.

In the long term, Bristol proved unable to compete with ports that could provide room for large ocean-going vessels. Writing on the history of the city docks, author Bryan Little wrote:

It should long have been evident that the port, eight miles up so drastically tidal a river, and above the tortuous, rocky channel of the Gorge, was unsuitable for the regular calls of large vessels. Years of controversy and half-fruitful proposals were needed before the lesson was finally learnt which had been an axiom in the days of Diocletian or Carausius.

Artist’s impression of Brunel’s proposed Floating Pier for Portbury (Private collection)

Artist’s impression of Brunel’s proposed Floating Pier for Portbury
(Private collection)

Brunel himself proposed new port facilities at Portbury, and this path was eventually taken. After decades of neglect and abuse, Bristol’s old docksides are now being revitalised to form a focal point for the regeneration of the city centre, putting the waterfront at the heart of the city once more.

Bristol’s Industrial Museum, situated in the Floating Harbour, tells the story of the port through models, paintings and fascinating artefacts.



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