Avon Stories Podcast #17: The Underfall Yard and its balancing acts

The Underfall Yard sits at the western end of Bristol’s Floating Harbour, a cluster of Victorian redbrick buildings, reminding us of the Harbour’s industrial history.   Over the last few years, more and more of it has been opened up, from the Visitors Centre to providing new walking routes around the end of the docks.  It can seem a bit chaotic, full of skips, piles of wood and metal, with whatever’s been dragged out of the Harbour recently – but that, to me, is part of its charm.

I’ve loved getting to see more of it during the Docks Heritage Weekend, Bristol Harbour Festival and Doors Open Days, but I always want to know more – and I was delighted when Sarah Murray, the Underfall Yard Trust‘s Community, Learning & Volunteering Manager, took me on a bespoke tour.

You can join us, as Sarah showed me some of the backstage and hidden sides of the Yard, including the Sluice Room, Engine Shed and Visitor Centre, and told me about the history of how the Yard came to be, and has changed over time, as well as showing me some of her favourite things.

A lot of our conversation was about the different ways the Yard’s work involves balancing.  It has an important role in keeping the Harbour level, protecting the City from flooding, but there are other day-to-day balancing acts, between being a Heritage site and the base of the Harbour Master and Docks Engineers; hosting tourists and businesses with very physical work; being open for commuters, walkers and joggers, while needing to close for safety reasons; and wanting to attract a good number of visitors, but not too many.  I’ve been thinking a lot about how to run a site as a living, working space, while showing off the heritage aspects, ever since.

I took some photos of things we talked about – they’re mostly January photos, grey and dull, with a few others I’ve taken over the last few years (mouse over or click on the photo to get to the slideshow)

Underfall Yard

For more information about the Underfall Yard, head to their website – and follow their excellent instagram and twitter, for day-to-day glimpses into the Yard and their work.   There’s a lot of information there, about their history, events that they run, visits for schools and colleges and other groups – as well as how to volunteer at the Yard, in different roles.

If you want to know more about boat building at the Yard, I have a mini-podcast with John Raymond-Barker of RB Boatbuilding, with photos of what it’s like inside The Big Shed, over here.

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You can download this podcast directly from the Avon Stories Soundcloud, and sign up for all the future podcasts via the Avon Stories RSS and subscribe on iTunes or Soundcloud to make sure you hear all the future stories.  You can also follow the project on twitter and instagram, for regular photos of the rivers and water in Bristol.

 

Avon Stories Podcast #16: Exploring the New Cut, and finding out about its Friends

Back in August, Roy Gallop, one of the founders of the Friends of the Avon New Cut, took me for a walk along the Cut, down the Chocolate Path and back along Coronation Road, and told me all about this man-made river route – the huge trench that takes the tidal river Avon through the city of Bristol.

The Cut was built to enable the river route to be turned into the fixed-height Floating Harbour, to try to keep Bristol as one of the most important ports in the UK.  Now, the Cut is an urban nature reserve, a green corridor that’s home to a wide range of flora and fauna, and the Friends of the Avon New Cut (FRANC) have worked to celebrate and protect it.

Map used with kind permission of the Friends of the Avon New Cut

But this is a sad podcast for me too, because it reminds me what we’ve lost.  Roy and I spoke about how the Cut has been neglected, and left to gradually collapse, and since we took our walk, the whole of the Chocolate Path has been closed for the foreseeable future, due to erosion.  It’s so depressing that this fantastic car-free route has been lost to the city, but I’m very glad we recorded this while we could.

Please do check out the FRANC website, and join them on their walks and talks, events and litter picking days.  You can also buy the book about the Cut that Roy published and download their walking guides.  And of course, follow them on facebook.

You can also explore the New Cut throughout history, with maps of Bristol before and after it was built, and photos and drawings and much more, on the Know Your Place website.  You can find out more about KYP in this podcast and post.

Here’s the route of our walk – and I’ll add photos to this post tomorrow, too.

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You can download this podcast directly from the Avon Stories Soundcloud, and sign up for all the future podcasts via the Avon Stories RSS and subscribe on iTunes or Soundcloud to make sure you hear all the future stories.  You can also follow the project on twitter and instagram, for regular photos of the rivers and water in Bristol.

Avon Stories podcast #15: The unloved landscapes of Sylvia Crowe, with Wendy Tippett

The Cumberland Basin to Ashton Gate road system is this complicated tangle of roads passing above and below each other, with endlessly confusing ways over and through it for cars and pedestrians alike.  It’s generally seen as a brutalist concrete nightmare, but back in the 1960s, when it was built, it was seen utopian and futuristic, full of exciting new ways to live in a city, with vibrant spaces and an urban park.  These included a market place and piazza on the Northern edge, a service station, a new hill, playgrounds under the roads, and of course, the viewpoint up the River Avon to the Clifton Suspension Bridge, all designed by Sylvia Crowe.

Despite having no formal schooling after leaving school at the age of ten due to TB, Crowe was an important British twentieth century landscape architect, working on everything from vast Forestry Commission schemes, New Towns, power stations and reservoirs, down to private gardens.

These Bristol spaces must have been incredible to see at the time, with a giant fountain spraying up between the raised lanes of traffic, and a nautical-themed playground overlooking the Entrance Lock.  The problem was that no one had predicted how fast car ownership would increase, turning what were vibrant spaces into discarded concrete no-man’s-lands.

Sylvia Crowe Cumberland Basin Bridges, Landscape Plan. Coloured up by Wendy Tippett, with our Avon Stories walk marked up in red line. Ref. Landscape Report, Cumberland Basin Bridges & Ashton Gate Junction, April 1964, University of Bristol Library

Sylvia Crowe Cumberland Basin Bridges, Landscape Plan.
Coloured up by Wendy Tippett, with our Avon Stories walk marked up in red line.
Ref. Landscape Report, Cumberland Basin Bridges & Ashton Gate Junction, April 1964, University of Bristol Library.

Landscape Architect Wendy Tippett took me walking through the northern parts of the road scheme, and told me about how the spaces would have looked in the 1960s, including the design elements that are taken for granted these days, and why, ultimately, it failed.

You can join us on the podcast we recorded on the walk, with photos and lots of links to old photos and plans below.

Sylvia Crowe Cumberland Basin Bridges & Ashton Gate Junction, Aerial View.
Ref. Tippett, W., Unloved Landscapes Dissertation, 2014.

Wendy Tippett is the Landscape Director at Andrew Kenyon Architects in Bristol and Conservation Trustee of Avon Gardens Trust, and you can follow her on her twitter.   I highly recommend her guided walks, they made me see familiar spaces with new eyes – if you’d like to arrange one for a group, or talk to her about Sylvia Crowe’s work in Bristol, you can contact her on wendy [at] andrewkenyonarchitects [dot] co [dot] uk.

If you’d like to know more about Sylvia Crowe, there’s a brief biography on the Landscape Institute website, and there’s a description of the Cumberland Basin site on Parks and Gardens.

Since we recorded this podcast, Bristol 24/7 has reported that there are plans to sell off and re-develop a lot of the site, so this is likely to change again in the future.

I retraced the walk Wendy took me on in December, and my photos (DSLR, 35mm and 120 film) are in this flickr album – click on the first photo and a slideshow should start.

Continue reading “Avon Stories podcast #15: The unloved landscapes of Sylvia Crowe, with Wendy Tippett”

Avon Stories podcast 12: Abona and the Romans in Bristol

Bristol isn’t a city famous for links with the Romans, like Bath, York, Gloucester or London, but the Romans were here for around three hundred years, and built a port on the Avon, Portus Abonae, which became the town of Abona, which is now Sea Mills.

In this podcast, Gail Boyle, the Senior Curator for Archeology at Bristol Museums, told me about Abona, the other Roman sites in the city, and what we know about who the Romans in Bristol were, where they came from, and why they were here.

She told me about the Roman remains in Sea Mills and the Kingsweston Roman Villa, and how a lot of what we know is thanks to teenage archeology enthusiasts in the 1950s, and how local teenagers were involved in the recent interpretation of the site.  She also told me what we can visit today, and I’ve included links below, and photos of what they look like.

Continue reading “Avon Stories podcast 12: Abona and the Romans in Bristol”

Avon Stories podcast 11: How Bristol nearly lost the Harbour, and other Planning stories

One of the main features of Bristol is the Floating Harbour that meanders through the city, lined with boats, from tatty barges to three-masted sailing boats, right up to floating nightclubs and restaurants.  But did you know that in the late 1960s there was a plan to close the Harbour to navigation, and build giant roads over it? And that a City Docks Act was passed in Parliament to make it possible, and it was only the global recession of the 1970s that prevented it?

Richard Holden worked in the Planning Department at Bristol City Council for 36 years, and he told me all about that, what would have happened if the road plan had happened, and more of the stories about the Harbour, including how the M Shed cranes were saved.

We also talked about the good, the bad and the ugly in Planning, how some of the developments came about, and how the best Planning work is essentially invisible.  He also told me about the current threats to the Harbour – nothing as extreme as a giant road, but developments that really do risk destroying some of the wonderful things that are emblematic of the city.  Scroll down for what everything can do to try to prevent these, and other, threats.

Richard sent me some photos of what parts of the Harbour looked like before redevelopment, and I’ve put them on this map, under the red icons, along with pictures I took about places we talked about, which you can also see in this flickr album.

Of course, you can find all kinds of other photos of the Harbour in the past on the Know Your Place website, and there’s more about that in my first Avon Stories podcast.

If you want to help shape the future of Bristol’s infrastructure and planning, there are things you can do:

Continue reading “Avon Stories podcast 11: How Bristol nearly lost the Harbour, and other Planning stories”

Avon Stories #4: Medieval Bristol part 2 – who were the Bristolians, and how did they live?

This is the second part of a conversation with Dr Peter Fleming, a professor at the University of the West of England, who specialises in Medieval History.

In Part 1, we talked about how Bristol became a superstar city, one of the most important in Western Medieval Europe. This time we talked about the people who lived in the city, from the Icelandic slaves to the Knights Templars, the Jewish communities, how women lived, and more; and how the city responded to the huge events of the era, including Plague and war.

Peter also told me about where the local seats of power were, and what Bristolians did for fun, including plays, sport and how Bristol has always been home to innovative music.

The map of the city, with photos of how sites we talked about look today, is here – and there are links to the Medieval maps in the post for Part 1 of the podcast.

If you want to know more about Peter Fleming, his UWE staff page is here, including the list of his articles and books he’s written and contributed to.   You can find more articles he’s written here, with links to read them.  And you can also follow Peter on his twitter.

We talked about books Peter has written, including:

  • Discovering Cabot’s Bristol: Life in the Medieval and Tudor Town, with Kieran Costello, which is out of print, but available in libraries and online retailers
  • His illustrated version of The Maire of Bristowe is Kalendar, written by town clerk Robert Ricart between 1480 and 1508, which you can buy from the Bristol Record Society.  Read more about it, with some of the amazing illustrations, on this blog by Peter.
  • Later this year, Peter’s latest book, Time, Space and Power in Fifteenth Century Bristol, will be published by Brill – tell your library to order it!

If you’d like to take a walk around Medieval Bristol, Bristol Old City has a Heritage Trail map with information about things you’ll see along the way, which Peter was involved in producing.  There’s also more information about Bristol’s town walls on Gatehouse.

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You can download this podcast directly from the Avon Stories Soundcloud, and sign up to the Avon Stories RSS and subscribe on iTunes, to make sure you hear all the future stories.  Make sure you’re also following on twitter and instagram, for regular photos of the river.

Avon Stories #3 – Bristol and the Medieval Avon, part 1 – the City and the Rivers

This is the first of a two-part podcast where I met with Dr Peter Fleming of the University of the West of England, who told me all about Bristol in Medieval times, and how the River Avon and the River Frome were integral in making it one of the most important cities of the time in England and Western Europe.

In Part 1, we talk about the physical city and the infrastructure, how the geography made Bristol so important, as well as how people lived, who had the power, and what the city would have looked (and smelled) like.

Part 2 looks at how Bristol survived some of the big sweeping events of the time, with more about who lived and worked in the city, including the Knights Templars, the Jewish communities, women in Bristol, and Icelandic slaves.  We also talked about what Bristolians did for fun, including music, plays, sport and drinking.  Listen to that one here.

Of course, I have maps to give you an idea of what things looked like, with lots more links below.  First, my own map, with my rough approximations of where the city walls were, as well as the path of the River Frome as it runs through Bristol.  All errors are my own!  I’ve also added photos of what the places look like now, and you can also find these in my flickr albums of walking the Frome line, walking the inside of the Medieval Wall, and what’s left of the Bristol Castle.

Continue reading “Avon Stories #3 – Bristol and the Medieval Avon, part 1 – the City and the Rivers”