Vintage Film of Bristol Docks In The 1930s

Bristol local history; vintage film and old photos of Bristol

“Bristol, 1930’s — Film 32026” from YouTube Channel HuntleyFilmArchives

Mixing together history, aerial footage, and dynamic illustrations, this 1930s short film was created to raise awareness about the importance and economic reach of the Bristol Docks.

This 1930s film from the Huntley Film Archives is both silent and in black and white. However, the images are quite clear, if a little darkened by the (necessary) watermark. 

 Starting at the port, which holds a wide range of ships, there’s a slow scan across the waters.

History Of The Bristol Docks

The title card tells us the Port of Bristol has a history of over 2,000 years.

“It was the terminal place for Phoenician traders, and later, the Navigators of Ancient Rome” adds the next title card. 

“John Cabot sailed in 1497 with Bristol sailors, in the Matthew under Letters Patent from Henry VII. On June 24th of the same year he discovered and landed in America”.

In reality, North America was, of course, ‘discovered’ by the indigenous population about 15,000 years ago. And both the Vikings and Welsh may have ventured across the Atlantic hundreds of years before John Cabot. In 1492 Christopher Columbus landed in the West Indies, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, though not mainland America. 

When the Venetian captain John Cabot dropped anchor at Cape Bonavista, Newfoundland, on June 24 in 1497, he and his English crew stayed on land long enough to pick up some fresh water. They also discovered the tools, nets and remains of a fire left by native people, who remained out of sight. He then headed back to present the new land to Henry VII who had commissioned the voyage, and received a £10 reward.

The next title card tells us “John Washington, ancestor of George, sailed from Bristol to America”.

The Economic Reach Of The 1930s Bristol Docks

“BUT…Bristol does not live in the past…her distributing and collecting area extends over a radius of more than 100 miles..with a population of over 12 millions, or one fourth of the population of Great Britain”, says the title card.

To back up this astonishing claim, we see a map plot the numerous counties focused on the city. It goes as far as Birmingham, with the two cities reached by railway, canal and road. London is then added, with the information card that Avonmouth to London is 120 miles or 2 hours.

A Plan Of Bristol’s Docks In The 1930s

A title card announcing “Plan showing the position of all the Docks within the Port” is followed by a rudimentary illustration of the shape of the docks. City Docks, Portishead Docks and then Avonmouth Docks are each plotted in turn.

“Bristol’s modern ocean docks at the mouth of the River Avon” appears over the image of a small plane. Next, we see the film recorded from the plane as it flies over the docks. Lots of ships can be seen.

“From Avonmouth seven miles up the River Avon are the Bristol City Docks”.

Now we see the small plane taking off. Next, footage from the plane shows a ship sailing down the river. The riverside is open countryside, but a couple of shots along there’s smoke, and traffic, and a lighthouse-type structure, before open waters.

Bristol’s Motto

Finally, we see the Clifton Suspension Bridge. The message on screen says 

“Bristol’s Motto: 

Pride in the Past

Provision for the Present

Preparation for the Future”

And then the film ends with a lovely shot of the river, a hillside of buildings and the Clifton Suspension Bridge in the background.

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