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  • Writer's pictureGVHeritage Group

Treen Mills to Bathurst Basin

Just next to the old Bristol General Hospital (built in 1859 and now being developed for luxury accommodation) is Bathhurst Basin.

Bristol General Hospital overlooking Bathurst Basin Photo via Paul Townsend

It is linked to the Floating Harbour (by a now disused lock) just opposite the Thekla and River Station and next to the Ostrich Inn (which itself was built around 1745 and was a favourite with sailors, shipyard and dockside workers and merchants who worked in the Port of Bristol during the time of the slave trade). Bathurst Basin is named after Charles Bathurst (known as Charles Bragge until he changed his name in 1804), who was an MP in Bristol in the early 19th century and as Chairman of Bristol Docks Corporation was very much in favour of slavery.

Built on an area of an old mill pond, Treen Mills (also Trin, Trimm or Trim Mills) supplied by the River Malago, from Bedminster to the South. Tide mills were in operation here, possibly in Roman times when it has been suggested that they were used for Christian baptisms. They were certainly in place in the late Middle Ages and Latimer's Annals of Bristol in the 17th century records that in 1641 the Corporation concluded a perambulation of the city boundaries with an open air banquet and a duck hunt at Treen Mills.

When the New Cut was created in 1809 at the time when the Floating Harbour was built, Treen Mills lost its water supply as the Malago now emptied into the New Cut.

Originally Bathurst Basin was also connected to the New Cut via a second set of lock gates. Small boats could sail up the New Cut and enter Bathurst Basin without having to navigate the lock gates at Cumberland Basin. The lock to the New Cut was blocked at the beginning of World War II to ensure that in case of damage by bombing, the waters of the Floating Harbour could not drain into the river and the gates were shut permanently in 1952.

The area used to be an industrial dock with warehouses and numerous shipyards at the adjoining Wapping Shipyard and Docks, including Hilhouse (a shipbuilder during the 18th and 19th centuries that subsequently became Charles Hill & Sons in 1845), William Scott & Sons (an early producer of steamships in the 19th century) and William Patterson (an assistant to William Scott who took over the boatyard when Scott became bankrupt. Patterson won the contract to design and build the SS Great Western with Isambard Kingdom Brunel and was also one of the designers of Brunel's SS Great Britain the world's first ocean-going ship to have an iron hull and a screw propeller).

The Southern quay has never had any substantial buildings on it and for many years was used by Holms Sand & Gravel Co. (the last commercial users of Bathurst Basin) as a depot for building materials, brought in by boat and offloaded into road vehicles. A travelling crane on an overhead gantry was used to handle these.


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