Ambling around Bristol Harbourside in 2015 and the sharp colours and pristine lines of modern regeneration are washed over the remnants of the city’s hulking industrial and maritime past. It is all rather visually alluring and sensually captivating; a smooth but heady blend of the present and ages past.
Wander slightly off the beaten path. Skip over the train lines outside the Mshed (don’t try and slide down them…. it doesn’t end well), pick over the cobbles beneath Redcliffe Parade and you quickly find the atmosphere changes, the colours rather muted and the quiet is somewhat heavier. Keep heading down Redcliffe Street, cut left to Redcliff Back* and it is a kind of no man’s land with an air of dereliction and invisibility. An area usually glossed over by busy persons on their daily commutes, it lurks in the shadow of St. Mary Redcliffe and watches the constant flow down Welsh Back, craning to peer down a bustling King Street on the opposite side of the river.
Walk down here and amongst the building works, and the mix of buildings that stand empty or have been re-appropriated into city centre flats you will soon come to this.
A piece of modern art? The twisting metal structure a metaphor for the socio- emotional state of humanity through the passing of time? The deep blue undulations riveted together alluding to Bristol’s industrial and maritime past?
Well I suppose it could be, but no.
Rather it is actually part of a metal chute that was used to transport goods from their lofty warehouse stores back down to ground level.
The majority of the adjacent buildings actually merchants warehouses (a large number of them late nineteenth and early twentieth century Grade II listed structures). Peering down along the water front the buildings ago straight down into the river. While now small pleasure boats park up alongside the little jetty from Bristol’s very beginnings this had been a busy harbour – think the Bristol’s morning traffic is bad today? Imagine this little patch of river on a tidal change. Bigger vessels no longer squeezed up this far after the Floating Harbour had been built in the 1830’s but it still remained an important point for the unloading of goods well into the twentieth century.
Mooring up on private jetties along the harbour wall heavy goods could be winched straight up into the storerooms above. Much of this were sacks of grain used in the (thriving) brewing industry. Indeed Bristol’s chief purveyor of ales was based a matter of metres away along the same stretch of water frontage at the base of Bristol Bridge opposite (what is now) Castle Park.
Straight out of the windows and hatches, that will hit you on the head like the proverbial bag of spuds and (perhaps more importantly to a lot of business owners) probably going to break or spill your product everywhere.
Unless a straight chute had a gradient that was so shallow it pretty much extended to Temple Meads before it reached ground level a straight chute would still send heavy items down very fast. So by having a spiral chute it both slowed down the goods down and was space efficient. Much like slides in parks…..**
*Yes it is Redcliff Back rather than Redcliffe. Who knew?
**Disclaimer – 1) Don’t climb on it or slide down it, it is trespass, you could hurt yourself and cause damage. 2) I didn’t do it. Totally photo shopped for effect…..