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Shipshape and Bristol Fashion?

A Journey through History!

Chris brings Bristol Harbourside to life!
The fact that we almost had a 100% turnout of members for our meeting was testament to the popularity of the subject matter as well as the fact that our Zoom meetings remain an important part of our planned programme for many. Chris Biggs was booked to give us a talk on the history of “Bristol and its Harbourside” over the centuries and his presentation was packed with interesting facts and illustrations drawn from a wide number of sources, not least his own portfolio.

Chris’s introduction showed how long and varied his interest in photography has endured, and we were led through a series of shots of cameras with which he has worked over the years from the ever popular Brownie 127 through the models produced by Zenith, Pentax, Canon and Panasonic and his intriguing Sony mobile phone. He has in the past dabbled in larger formats and set up his own dark room, and many of the images he shared were from his own archives as well as from artists and other photographers, who share his love of all things Bristol. A love of aviation got Chris himself into photography, and we saw evidence of bi-planes and Mustangs as well as the Bristol based Concorde. However, the main part of his interesting presentation centred on the city, its water and relationship with it over the years that has shaped its history with boat building, industry, the slave trade, and he emphasised the impact of the relentless rise and fall of the tide in the estuary. Through his eyes we saw how the passage of time and invention has forced the change of purpose of the city, that housed the shipping industry at its heart for so long, to the more modern constructions, with their increasing focus upon recreation that we witness today.

Historic colour paintings of Bristol, its bridges and buildings together with images of John Cabot before he embarked on his epic journey, emphasised how the city centre has been dominated by the waterways for so many years. The city’s association with the Slave Trade and Colston, now contentious, was illustrated by facts and figures (500,000 slaves passed through Bristol Docks between 1696 and 1807)and by inscriptions on local graves. These contrasted starkly with photos old and new of the statue that stood at its centre, until it was toppled and thrown into the docks, in disgust, at the time of the recent “Black Lives Matter” Campaign. There was much evidence of the curse of the tides that grounded or destroyed so many ships whose Captains failed to heed the advice to spread their cargoes evenly. “shipshape and Bristol fashion” . We saw clearly why the basins were drained and filled, and the course of the Avon was altered by "cuts"to minimise the tidal differences.

The wars changed many things for Bristol, destroying its iconic buildings and forcing a new focus, whilst alongside these epic historical events steam power took over from sail, and the steam cranes, still in evidence today, changed the Bristol skyscape, whilst container ships replaced the barges, and the railway made its indelible mark. Chris’s photos celebrated shipbuilding and the construction of bridges through the work of Brunel, and we witnessed the build, demise and eventual return to Bristol of the SS Great Britain that had languished in the Falklands for so long.

It was a fascinating talk and one that will undoubtedly lead to a club outing in the not too distant future, where we will all look again at Bristol with a new understanding, thanks to Chris.

Next week we look forward to an evening led by Graham Nicholls, always a delight! Members are also urged to send in their entries for the upcoming Triptych competition two mono and two colour entries!

Jenny Short. 02.11.2023