Way back in 1698 the Royal African Company was a monopoly trading company based in London, but most of its ships were built in Bristol and the larger proportion of its trade in gold, ivory, dyes, spices and slaves was centred on the West Country port. That year the Company’s monopoly was broken by pressure from smaller ports like Liverpool and Lancaster, but it had little effect on trade at Bristol, to the extent that 2,108 ships left the port for Africa by the year 1807.
Profits from the slave trade made Bristol a very prosperous city, and not least three generations of the Teast family, who were ship builders at Sidenham docks between 1750 and 1841. These ships had the highest reputation for being well-crafted and exceedingly sound. Seamen who plied the waters of the Bristol Channel and the River Avon had to deal with fast flowing waters and 12 metre tides.
Because of their excellence, Bristol boat builders and seamen where given the highest respect, and hence the term ‘Bristol Fashion’ was applied to well-built ships under the command of proficient seamen. Today the true significance of its meaning has been lost and downgraded, being defined as ‘shipshape’, which simply means ‘orderly’. This contemporary meaning of ‘Bristol Fashion’ is not to be disparaged because there’s great merit in a vessel being kept ‘shipshape’.
On a ship where there’s a place for everything and everything is kept in its place, all aboard can lay their hand upon it immediately, and who knows if that life-threatening situation may arise when an item is needed instantly, perhaps a fire extinguisher, a whistle, a searchlight or a distress flare?
Untidiness, slovenliness and disorder are counterproductive in the smooth running of life aboard ship. For your own safety and well-being make sure you never sail on a boat unless she is ‘Bristol Fashion’.