The Joy of Box

Posted on by Lauren MacCarthy.

by Andy King, Senior Curator for Industrial and Maritime History

At first glance (and second and third!) there’s nothing very sexy about shipping containers.

Big, anonymous (apart from the name of an equally anonymous shipping company on its side), and so common, it’s hard to think of these as the motor of global trade and the way we all live now.

But that’s what they are – without them and the transport system that they facilitate, almost everything that we take for granted would be scarcer and more expensive. 90% of Britain’s imports arrive by sea and about 90% of these come in ‘boxes’.

This year at Docks Heritage Weekend, we’re marking the 60th anniversary of the world’s first modern container ship and the 50th anniversary of the first purpose-made container berth in Bristol.

Black and white image of the first purpose-made container berth in BristolBy happy coincidence, this was at the end of
M Shed in what is now Museum Square. It only lasted a few years, until a bigger berth became available at Avonmouth, but that’s where the start was made.

Bristol hasn’t become a major container port, partly because of the massive increase in the size of the ships in the trade, but there is regular container traffic between Avonmouth and Ireland and a future proposal for a deep-water terminal in the river Severn outside.

There’s still evidence of containers everywhere – they’re reused as offices at Temple Meads,
shops in the new Wapping Wharf CARGO development behind M Shed and even as homes. In this guise the glamour of them becomes more apparent.

So why not pop down to Docks Heritage Weekend and find out more, alongside the more traditional ways of handling cargo in the old City Docks.

Docks Heritage Weekend takes place on 1 – 2 October at M Shed and Underfall Yard.

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