The Fall of Bristol 

& the Rise of Liverpool

Bristol        Liverpool

From the end of the 17th century until almost the mid 18th century, Bristol established itself as the second city to London. At first, the London merchants of the Royal Africa Company controlled the trade, but independent traders were always more successful than the Company, and the Port of Bristol soon replaced London as the centre of the slave trade. This was partly due to its advantageous position on the West Coast of Britain. However, by the 1730's Bristol had been overtaken by Liverpool as Britain's second port. What were the reasons for this?


Venturers House

Charges: Bristol was a very expensive port to use. The Merchant Venturers of Bristol, who controlled the overseas trade, collected all sorts of payments from Bristol traders.  These included charges or anchorage, moorage, cranage, for upkeep of lighthouses in the Bristol Channel and for the right to use the quays. These charges were very unpopular with merchants from other cities. Bristol merchants themselves grumbled, but did nothing to get chargers reduced, even though many of them belonged to the Merchant Venturers.

Pilotage, the guiding of ships through the Avon Gorge, was difficult, which meant that pilots' charges were greater in Bristol than elsewhere.                           

    16 to tow out of port        

                 12 for journey up river and back                        

On top of this duties (tax) had to be paid on all cargoes and were in addition to ordinary customs duties.                                                                                    

            1 shilling (5p) on each hogshead of sugar

The Harbour. sunrisebristol.jpg (24865 bytes)Bristol's medieval harbour, with its huge difference between high and low tide, led to delays and dangerous overcrowding of ships. Vessels were left high and dry by the tide twice a day, which caused strain on seams as they lay on the mud at peculiar angles. In 1802 a plan was put in place to develop a 'The Floating Harbour' but it was not completed until 1809 and by then it was too late.

Larger ships: As ships grew larger and larger it became increasingly difficult to navigate the 'Horseshoe Bend' in the River Avon near Shirehampton.

Industry: Although business was booming in and around Bristol, there were no large industries to supply her with exports. Bristol was relying on one major industry - sugar.

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Charges: Liverpool's pilotage and other charges were very much lower than Bristol's.

Harbour/Docks: Liverpool, unlike Bristol, has a very large deep waterfront, easily accessible to ships of the day and not affected by tidal range. Ships could be unloaded and reloaded very much more quickly, which further reduced mooring/docking charges. By the time Bristol's Floating Harbour was completed, many merchants had made the move to Liverpool and did not wish to return to Bristol.

Larger Ships: Larger ships had no difficulties docking at Liverpool, so owners preferred to use the port.

Industry: Liverpool expanded rapidly with the rise of the Lancashire Cotton trade. When canals were built goods which had once been sent to Bristol from the north midlands down the River Severn were now sent to Liverpool instead.

Bristol v Liverpool

As a result of these advantages, Liverpool merchants were able to sell slaves 4 or 5 cheaper than Bristol merchants. The demand for slaves carried in Liverpool ships rose. By the middle of the 18th century Liverpool was sending twice as many ships to West Africa as Bristol; by the end of the 18th century, Liverpool had over 60% of the entire British trade and 40% of the entire European trade. No city was ever to so overwhelmingly control the trade again.

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