The River Avon rises in Acton Turville a small village about 18 miles to the east of the city of Bristol. The river is about 75 miles long making it the 19th longest river in England. It flows to Avonmouth where it enters the Severn Estuary. As the crow flies the distance from Acton Turville to the Severn Estuary is only about 15 miles. So you can imagine how much it meanders through the countryside before getting to Bristol.
Acton Turville is on the southeast slope of the Cotswold Hills. The Avon runs through Malmesbury and then through Chippenham, Melksham, Claverton, Bradford on Avon, and then Bath (a city which was occupied and developed by the Romans. Known as Aquae Sulis Minerva) continuing on through Keynsham before reaching Bristol.
THE FLOATING HARBOUR
As a boy in Bristol, I took the river and the docks for granted. I never really questioned the fact that there was an harbour and that ships were there from different countries. Once, I recall, there was a Russian submarine paying a goodwill visit. The most regular ships to unload belonged to Elder & Fyffes Shipping Co . Their ships, the first to be equipped with special refrigeration transported bananas from central America and the Caribbean to the U.K. The Fyffes ships also carried deck cargo and even passengers from time to time.
All of the Fyffes ships had names which inspired me to dream of a life at sea. See if these names do anything to conjure up a vision of far away places: Chirripo, Corrales, Martina, Turrialba, Changuinola, Tilaka, Tenadores and Zent.
Terrifying stories became legendary and part of the dockland mythology about huge spiders that stowed away in the banana stems; attacking and even killing unwary stevedores employed to unload the fruit.
The area around the wharves was also very interesting. There were magnificent town houses, the Old Vic Theatre in King Street, founded about 250 years ago and a park called Queen’s Square, named for Queen Anne as well as a few public houses. The square was also home to a statue of William III King of England and Scotland. He’s mounted on a horse with one hoof raised which would indicate he was wounded in battle. However, as romantic as that may sound he fell off his horse. The fall broke his collar bone and he later died from pneumonia caused by an infection.
Along King Street there is a place called the Llandoger Trow. Built in 1664, the Llandoger is probably the oldest public house in Bristol. It was owned by retired sea Captain Hawkins. He came from the small village of llandogo, on the river Wye in Monmouthshire South Wales. A Trow is a type of flat-bottomed barges which captain Hawkins used to transport goods from Llandogo to Bristol.
ADVENTURES STARTED HERE
Robert Louis Stephenson wrote Treasure Island and is said to have modeled the Admiral Benbow Inn on the Llandoger. Another author, Daniel Defoe is also said to have met a Scottish sailor by the name of Alexander Selkirk at the Llandoger and it is upon Selkirk that he based his novel Robinson Crusoe. However, there is no evidence to support this. Defoe did write extensively about pirates. Bristol happened to be the birthplace of Edward Teach otherwise known as” Blackbeard”.
My family lived to the east of the city center and in order to get into the heart of the city your journey took you across the Avon via Bristol Bridge. With a port in the middle of the city there were numerous bridges to cross various bodies of water created when the Floating Harbor was built.
PLACES ALONG THE RIVER
KEYNSHAM and Somerdale
Upriver from Bristol, the Avon runs through Keynsham. There were two events in my life which took place there. The first when Ii was about 3 or 4 years of age. My family all went on a pic-nic on the banks of the river. We situated ourselves in a meadow on the right bank of the river near the bridge which carried the A4 to Bath. Bristol had a pretty good bus service provided by the Bristol Omnibus Company. We did not own a motor car in those days, in fact I don’t think that dad knew how to drive. At least I never saw him drive. Anyway, our day out started with a bus ride to Keynsham. Mother carried a wicker basket with pre-made sandwiches and a bottle of lemonade. Dad brought one fishing rod as he liked to fish. Mother always brought along her Kodak box camera.
The reason I remember this event so well is that after we had eaten my brothers and sister went about their activities. I was left pretty much to my own devices as I did not fit in with my older siblings. So I decided to look at the flowers growing in the marshy bank of the river. Unfortunately I approached a little too close to a swan’s nest and the ferocious bird chased me deep into the marshy area where I lost my balance and fell into about 6″ to 8′ of water. What a day trip that turned out to be!
Some 10 years later I found myself back in Keynsham again. This time with the sacred Heart Scout Troop 45 of which I was a member. We were in Keynsham to visit J.S. Fry and Son’s Chocolate factory. Fry’s was at one time the largest chocolate maker in the world. Reaching its zenith it was acquired by Cadbury’s Chocolate Company and eventually it was moved to Canada.
The day that we were there was memorable. Not only were we educated about the fascinating chocolate making process we were sent on our way at the end of the tour with a large selection of the Fry’s product.
BATH – Aquae Sulis
The city of Bath was originally established and settled by the Celts when arriving from Central Europe. For them it became a religious center as were other locations nearby such as Averbury, Woodhenge and Stonehenge. The Saxon invasion eventually drove the Celts out of the southwest of England. A later Roman invasion drove the Saxons deep into the countryside and Briton became Romanized. The city of bath was renamed Aquae sulis Minerva, literally the waters of the Goddess Minerva. Apparently the Romans anxious to subdue any fears they may have created as conquerors and occupiers combined the existing ancient residual Celtic religion of the Druids with their own brand of worship of the Goddess Minerva.
SEA MILLS – Portus Abonae
Sea Mills was founded by the Romans possibly as one of the closest sites to their garrison at Gloucester. Gloucester, originally named Nervia Glevensium in A.D.97 after the emperor Nerva. The town one of only four in Britain to be established as a Colonia, a special town of high status especially established to accommodate retired Roman legionnaires who opted to remain instead of returning to their country of origin. This was probably because they had accumulated wealth from plunder and possibly acquired land. It certainly was not for the weather.
Gloucester was later known as Glevum Colonia before the Saxons renamed it Gloucester after the old English name for fort.
Sea Mills was given the name Portus Abonae, literally – Port on the river. The old port is still there. It stands at the mouth of the river Trym where it joins the Avon. The name Sea Mills is said to come from Saye, a serge-like material which was manufactured in local mills. The Saxons did little to develop the area for commerce preferring to move up river to Brigstowe (the place of the bridge) which later of course became Bristol.