‘Far below her former station’: Jessop, Brunel and Bristol’s Floating Harbour

By Peter Maplass

Issue 19, Spring, 2009 pp.30-35.

The opening of the Floating Harbour on 1 May 1809 was followed by an open-air feast for 1,000 of the workers who had laboured for five years to create the world’s largest area of impounded water for shipping. Unfortunately, this happy event soon degenerated into an unseemly drunken brawl apparently involving groups of English and Irish labourers, resulting in numerous arrests and personal injuries. In a sense the working class were simply standing in for rival factions among the city’s elite, who were taking a breather after half a century of argument about how to modernise the ancient port of Bristol, and who would soon be at it again, once the consequences of the new harbour began to emerge. Peter Maplass retells the story of ingenious civil engineering, crediting William Jessop, and reframing Brunel’s contribution. 

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