The Estuary

Industrial AD 1600 - Present

Daniel Defoe, c1720 described Bristol as
“…the greatest, richest and best port of the trade in Great Britain, London only excepted.”

The “trade” was the Africa Trade, - goods to Africa, slaves from Africa to the New World, and the return to Bristol with sugar, rum and tobacco. Bristol gained great wealth from its lucrative trade triangle and rose to prominence as a major seaport. After the terrible trade was banned, Bristol continued to develop, and it was joined as a major seaport in the C19th by the South Wales ports of Cardiff, Newport and Barry, burgeoning from the exploitation of coal from the South Wales Valleys. The estuary was busy with vessels of all sizes in probably one of the most dangerous shipping lanes in the world. Incoming vessels would be met by the pilots, who sailed in fast and seaworthy Bristol Channel Pilot Cutters. The pilots would sail westward in search of ships heading for ports along the channel, before setting a pilot on board and being sailed back to port by an young apprentice. Also growing in size was the port of Gloucester, due to its important inland canal links, and the industrialisation of the midlands.

Smugling in the estuary became rife, with several famous smugglers and smugging stories coming from the 17th and 18th Centuries.

Alongside this development, the population around the estuary continued to increase, and development created many towns, villages and communities around the estuary. The estuary also started becoming popular for holidays by the sea, peaking in Victorian times in seaside resorts such as Weston-super-Mare, Burnham, Severn Beach and Penarth.

The C20th has seen huge changes to the estuary, including the industrialisation of farming practices on the levels, commercial dredging of marine aggregates, and the building of new factories, motorways, and housing estates in the technological age. Perhaps the greatest testament to the way the estuary has changed is by our method of crossing it, and the time that it takes. The two Severn bridges offer a quick easy route across the treacherous channel, taking just a few minutes to cross.

Smuggler's Britain- this great site has information on the history of smuggling around the estuary.