A History of Portishead
History and Heritage
Portishead’s history dates back to Roman times with its name deriving from the ‘port at the head of the river’. The town was built at the mouth of a small tributary, with the water once reaching as far as the High Street. Portishead has a long history as a fishing port and the iron rings that can be seen on the stone wall at the beginning of the High Street are evidence of where the old fishing boats used to moor.
The dominant architecture in ‘old’ Portishead is early Victorian, with many buildings maintaining their original features. An exploration of the town will uncover many fine old buildings and quaint cottages, a contrast to some of the more modern architecture of recent years.
Early in the 19th century Portishead began to develop as a seaside resort, as well as a retreat for Bristol businessmen. At the same time industry began to expand in the area, which is when Portishead first began its growth into a thriving town and tourist attraction.
Around 1836, at the height of the iron and steel era, a deep-water dock was built to facilitate the large ships that brought valuable cargoes from across the globe and carried exported local products overseas.
The Victorian period saw day trippers visiting Portishead from Bristol using paddle steamers as transport and then rail, when in 1907 the light railway reached Portishead. Tourist attractions were developed with the Approach Golf Course opening in 1908 and the Lake Grounds in 1910.
In 1911 Mustad's nail factory was built in Portishead and in 1926 work on the first of two power stations started at the dockside. Portishead Radio was born in 1928 which saw the creation of a telephone control centre for non-direct dialled calls to maritime vessels.
Commercial enterprise continued and saw the building of the Albright and Wilson phosphorus plant and a paper mill.
Industry began to decline in the late 1970s. Portishead Radio Station sent its last message in 1978 and the power stations ceased working in 1980. The Portishead landscape, dominated by four large chimney stacks belonging to the power stations, changed dramatically when the final two were demolished in 1992 marking the end of an era in Portishead.
As the old industries closed, housing developments replaced them, new business centres unfolded and a selection of new bars, cafes and restaurants sprung up close to the dock area. The dock has been well preserved and is now the centre of a new and exciting marina development attracting interest from all over the country. The marina currently provides around 300 pontoon berths for a range of sailing and leisure craft, it has 24 hour staffing and has been awarded Five Gold Anchors, the highest award given to a marina by The Yacht Harbour Association.
The mouth of the dock sits on the edge of the deep water shipping channel of the Bristol Channel where large ocean going super-tankers and coasters, plus a host of pleasure craft can be seen regularly sailing the waters.
Avon and Somerset Constabulary has built its headquarters in Portishead making it the town’s largest employer.
Portishead has, without doubt, become an attractive commercial centre and shopping destination in its own right.