Once a year the Bristol docks are revived. What was once an essential component of a city built on trade, the docks closed in 1976 after the port was downsized and the maritime trade relocated to the more convenient outskirts of the city. Still operational, every year a team of volunteers return to resurrect the cranes and rail network that contributed such a major role in shaping the city’s identity.
The success of Bristol’s maritime past, however, was largely built upon its participation in the slave trade, the presence of which continues in the city with prominent slave merchant, Edward Colston, providing the name to schools, street names and a concert venue. As a result, the wisdom of celebrating Bristol’s maritime past in the annual event known as ‘Heritage Weekend’ raises questions in a city that continues to struggle with its past and the unsavoury foundations of its success.