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Boat yard is keeping harbour tradition afloat

By The Bristol Post  |  Posted: January 26, 2012

  • David Abels at the Albion Dry Dock

  • The Medway Queen paddle steamer at the dry dock early in its renovation

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DIRECTLY opposite the Mardyke pub and wharf is the Albion Dry Dock.

Presently home to David Abels, the boat builders, it's 540 feet long and 43 feet wide.

Continuing a two-hundred-year-old tradition on the same site, Abels can turn their hand to anything from small working boats to pleasure boats.

At present the company are renovating the Medway Queen paddle steamer.

Until 1977/8 this was part of a busy ship building and repair business which had been run by Charles Hill's since the 1840s

Next door is a marina, now full of small boats but also once part of Hill's extensive yard.

Consisting of two wet docks, a dry dock and building berths, the yard (once known as the "New Dockyard") was first established by Hillhouse ship builders (Hill's forerunners) in 1820.

A West Indiaman christened Weare was the first ship to be launched here, the last being the Miranda Guinness for the Irish drinks trade in 1976.

Their first iron ship was built very late, in 1881.

Charles Hill also ran a transatlantic shipping line based at Avonmouth and the City Docks.

"The closure of Hill's was a watershed" bewailed John Lord and Jem Southam in their informative 1980s book on the Floating Harbour.

"Until that time the Floating Harbour, although moribund, still had the appearance and character of a working port.

"This illusion was maintained by the reverberant sounds of the shipyard, the flare of welding and the steepling cranes.

"Nowhere is the decline of the City Docks from port to marina more eloquently charted, nor the loss entailed by that process more apparent.

"It was Bristol's good fortune that (shipbuilding) should have been carried out in such a conspicuous place, open to public view, a daily drama and spectacle.

"The ships themselves, the clutter of sheds and workshops and the cranes on tall concrete piers are sadly missed.

"The new landscape.. is a pallid substitute."

Despite these misgivings perhaps we should be grateful that any remnants of Bristol's once proud ship building industry remain at all.

Read more from Exeter Express and Echo

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