"The trade which made Bristol prosperous was also valuable to the English government. About half the Parliamentary revenue of the Crown came from Customs duties and Bristol contributed around £50-60,000 of it, perhaps up to ten percent of the whole". Jonathan Harlow looks at smuggling through Bristol's port, and various attempts made to lessen the amount of criminal activity".
Five hundred years ago, Bristol was the second or third largest town in England ( only London, York, and possibly Norwich outstripped it in wealth and population), but was finding it difficult to maintain this position in the face of increasingly difficult economic conditions. Bristol shared in the problems besetting many of its rivals: population growth was held back by recurrent epidemics, with the result that levels of trade and demand for manufactured goods remained low, while the shortage of tenants meant that houses fell empty and soon decayed; the increasing competition from rural clothiers hit the urban textile industry, and the town's elite showed growing reluctance to volunteer for burdensome and costly civic office. Peter Fleming offers an insight to life in Bristol in the last decade of the fifteenth century.
During the eighteenth-century, Britain was the hub of the international market in iron. Although the British Isles could boast a well-established domestic iron industry, native ironmasters were unable to meet the rapidly growing demand for iron in the major metalworking districts of the Midlands and the north. As a result, large quantities of bar iron had to be imported from the Baltic to meet the shortfall. Much of this iron, destined for the West Midlands, was shipped through Bristol. In this article, Chris Evans looks at Bristol’s iron trade through the business records of Graffin Prankard, a Bristol merchant who played an important role in this commerce in the first half of the eighteenth century.