Port of Bristol

The Port of Bristol comprises the commercial docks situated in and near the city of Bristol in England. They are now operated by the Bristol Port Company, which owns both Avonmouth and Royal Portbury Docks. Until 1991 the Port of Bristol Authority, part of Bristol City Council, operated Bristol City, Avonmouth, Portishead and Royal Portbury Docks.Headquartered in Bristol, United Kingdom, The Bristol Port Company is a full service logistics company. They offer a full range of shipping, distribution and logistics services.


The Port of Bristol grew up on the banks of the Rivers Avon and Frome, at their confluence upstream of the Avon Gorge which connects the city with the Bristol Channel. This part of the port was known as the Bristol City Docks, and is now more usually known as Bristol Harbour. The Avon and Frome are small, shallow rivers incapable in themselves of accommodating ocean-going ships, even those of the age of sail, as can still be seen by inspecting the branch of the Avon known as the New Cut at low tide. The harbour depended on the extreme tides (14 metres) experienced in the Bristol Channel. Ships that wished to enter the harbour waited for the tide to begin to rise and floated up the river, through the Avon Gorge, and into the harbour on the tide. Ships leaving the harbour set out at the high tide, and floated down to the sea with the ebbing tide. In the 1800s the harbour was enclosed by locks, together with a diversion of the River Avon, resulting in its alternative name of the Floating Harbour, the Float, taken from the fact that the ships were able to float at all times, rather than resting in the mud at low tide, as had previously been the case.

Shipping Masters appointed under the Merchant Shipping Act included Henry Hellier Peters.[1][2]

The navigation of the Avon Gorge always presented a challenge, and became more and more difficult as ships got larger. In 1877, Avonmouth Old Dock, the first of the Avonmouth Docks, was opened, and in 1884 the Bristol Corporation acquired both the Avonmouth and Portishead Docks.[3] In 1908 the Royal Edward Dock was built at Avonmouth to the north of the mouth of the River Avon and with direct access to the Severn estuary and Bristol Channel.

In 1972 the large deep water Royal Portbury Dock, across the river mouth from the Royal Edward Dock was constructed, again with direct access to the Bristol Channel.

These developments rendered the old Bristol City Docks in the Floating Harbour redundant as a commercial dock, and they have since been redeveloped as the centrepiece of many leisure, residential and retail developments in and around Bristol city centre. A sand company was the last to use the docks commercially in 1991.[4]

The closure of the power stations at Portishead also made the Portishead Dock redundant, and it was finally closed in 1992.

In 1991 Bristol City Council sold a 150-year lease of the Avonmouth and Royal Portbury Docks to First Corporate Shipping Ltd,[5] a private company owned by Terence Mordaunt and David Ord. The business trades as The Bristol Port Company (BPC). Since then over £600m has been invested in the docks and the annual tonnage throughput has increased from 4m tonnes to 14m tonnes.

Up to 2014 the company made several applications to buy the site's freehold but these were rejected. Following a referendum in 2012, the city voters created the role of Mayor, subsequently electing George Ferguson. In March 2015 he and his cabinet decided to sell the freehold for £10 million but retain a 12.5% non-voting stake in the company. The city's council members voted on 2 June to object to the decision on the grounds of poor value for money, and referred it back to the mayor.[6] Two weeks later the Mayor's cabinet resolved to sell the freehold.[7][8] Following criticism by the editor of Money Week magazine,[9] George Ferguson told the Financial Times the deal was exceptional value for the city.[10][11]

First Corporate Shipping donated £25,000 to both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt during the 2019 Conservative party leadership contest.[12]


The Port of Bristol is one of the six sites Boris Johnson has proposed for a Freeport, saying they were an “excellent” way to boost investment in left-behind parts of the country.[13] The Bristol Port Company welcomed the news, seeing it having the potential to boost investment opportunities in and around UK ports.[14] However some port and trade experts predicted the main effect would be to divert activity into the port from the surrounding region rather than create new jobs.[15]

New container terminalEdit

A new deepsea container terminal is planned in Avonmouth.[16]


  1. ^ "Notice of Adjudications and First Meeting of Creditors". The London Gazette. 14 October 1862. p. 4912. Retrieved 18 December 2012.
  3. ^ Elkin, P.W. Aspects of the recent development of the port of Bristol
  4. ^ "New Housing – Pooles Wharf" (PDF). Bucknall Austin. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 November 2006. Retrieved 19 December 2008.
  5. ^ "FIRST CORPORATE SHIPPING LIMITED". Dun & Bradstreet. Retrieved 9 February 2020.
  6. ^ "Meeting documents, Full Council, Tuesday, 2nd June". 2 June 2015. Retrieved 7 February 2020.
  7. ^ "Bristol City Cabinet Meeting Agenda". Bristol City Council. Retrieved 9 February 2020.
  8. ^ "Avonmouth and Portbury Docks freehold sold for £10m". BBC. 4 August 2015. Retrieved 9 February 2020.
  9. ^ "The balance of power is shifting away from property owners". Money Week. 29 June 2015. Retrieved 9 February 2020.
  10. ^ "Mayor defends port deal in Financial Times". Bristol 247. 4 August 2015. Retrieved 7 February 2020.
  11. ^ "Bristol Port deal is exceptional value". Financial Times. Retrieved 7 February 2020.
  12. ^ "MPs and the oil industry: who gave what to whom?". The Guardian. 11 October 2019. Retrieved 10 February 2020.
  13. ^ "Bristol Port 'very strong contender' to become free port, says Boris Johnson". Business Live. 15 November 2019. Retrieved 10 February 2020.
  14. ^ "Free Ports – an opportunity to boost Bristol's global gateway". Bristol Port Company. 8 August 2019. Retrieved 10 February 2020.
  15. ^ "Experts sceptical on Johnson's plans for regional freeports". Financial Times. 5 July 2019. Retrieved 10 February 2020.
  16. ^ "Site investigation underway for Bristol box terminal Avonmouth,Bristol, Bristol Port Company, Container terminals". 13 December 2010. Archived from the original on 18 July 2011. Retrieved 13 December 2010.

External linksEdit

Coordinates: 51°30′12″N 2°42′58″W / 51.50329°N 2.71621°W / 51.50329; -2.71621