Not content with just railways, engineering giant Isambard Kingdom Brunel persuaded the company behind the Great Western Railway to consider transAtlantic luxury passenger travel.
The Great Steamship Company was formed, allowing Brunel to build steam ships to sail from Bristol to New York. His masterpiece, ss Great Britain, was built in 1843. It was the first screwpropelled, ocean-going, iron-hulled steamship – a revolutionary vessel that was the fore-runner of all modern shipping.
Nearly 170 years later, not exactly to the same scale but with the same spirit, James Stangroom, Business
Development Manager at Bristol Port, encouraged his bosses to extend their reach from cargo to cruise ships.
Stangroom said: “We had the space, where a fresh produce chill store was no longer needed.
“I was allowed a punt. The shareholders, chairman Terence Mordaunt and managing director David Ord, were very supportive, although they let me know it was my head that was on the line if there was any bad PR!
“We approached Cruise & Maritime Voyages (CMV) and their ship Discovery was the first ship to home port here in 2013. Next year we will have Marco Polo sailing from here and she’s a favourite with CMV passengers.
“The Bristol Channel is tidal but the tidal window is nowhere near as small as some companies fear. “We can take ships with up to about 1,000 passengers at Avonmouth but we can also talk to cruise lines about bigger ships coming into Portbury.
“Saga Pearl II sailed in last year and the guests went to Clifton village. They visited the suspension bridge and loved it.
“I always go down to the quayside when cruise ships come in and talk to the passengers. We only get a few transits and about 15 to 18 calls a year – it’s a slow burn but we will get there.
“We also have the backing of Destination Bristol, so although we are a private port we work well together.”
“We are now the UK’s fastest growing region for cruises, with routes to more than 20 destinations around the world.
Stangroom said: “The Bristol Port Company only entered the world of cruise in 2013 but everyone pulls together to ensure our passengers’ holidays get off to the best possible start – from our hard working security team to our baggage handlers and World Hosttrained team of dedicated volunteers.”
“Our layout at Avonmouth is simple; we are very slick and on a cruise day it is all easy as we have so much space.
“We are growing slowly year on year and the passenger numbers have grown. In fact, we have just welcomed our 25,000th passenger.
“We’re trying to take baby steps to do it right. Bristol is a fantastic city to visit, with the Brunel and Banksy trails. Bath is 20 minutes away, with Roman Baths and Georgian architecture and we are within 90 minutes of Stratford upon Avon, Stonehenge and the Cotswolds. We are close to motorways and have rail access direct to the port. No other UK port can compare to the attractions we have on our doorstep.”