Industrial & Maritime History

Bristol Museum & Art Gallery has been collecting material to reflect Bristol’s industrial and maritime past since its earliest days, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that a dedicated curator was appointed.

The collection now numbers over 10,000 objects and over 60,000 photographs. The majority of these are housed in the store adjacent to M Shed, which can be seen on regular tours. Individual items can be seen by appointment.

Much of Bristol’s wealth was provided by a few select industries such as printing, engineering and tobacco, and its role as a major port for incoming goods, but there were very many smaller industries at work. At one time, the city boasted 300 separate trades, and the Industrial & Maritime History collection contains material from many of them.

The collection is rich in transport-related items, many constructed in the city, supported by an archive of drawings and plans, publicity and maintenance brochures and photographs. Particularly important are the Lord Mayor of Bristol’s state coach, the oldest surviving Bailey caravan, Bristol bus chassis from the 1920s and 1970s, a half model of Brunel’s first ship Great Western, 18th century models of ships built in Bristol, the mock-up of a Concorde cockpit used during its development, and parts of the ill-fated Bristol Brabazon aircraft.

Notable large collections include the Wills Collection of Tobacco Antiquities, put together by the company and including their Guard Books of over 100,000 tobacco packages; the York and Keen and the Port of Bristol’s collections of shipping photographs, documenting the city’s trading past from about 1870 to 1980; and the Berger/Hall collection of paint samples, including early cans of Brolac, the first ready-to-use house paint.

Browse the Industrial & Maritime history collection