The Bartender Hire Company

Bristol Harbour Festival and How the Port Gave us Rum

Although we work all across the UK our hometown is Bristol – this is where the Bartender Hire Company was born. This weekend (20th-22nd July 2018) we celebrate the Bristol Harbour Festival, one of the UK’s largest free festivals which sees over 250,000 visitors descend on the centre of Bristol to celebrate its rich maritime history.

Now in it’s 47th year, the Harbour Festival was started as a means to actually save Bristol’s harbour! In 1802, a famous architect called William Jessop proposed installing a dam and lock at Hotwells to create a floating harbour- the very same floating harbour we still love today. However, there was a time when Bristol’s docks weren’t in so much favour and people didn’t know what to do with the waterway and land alongside it, so in the 1960s the Port of Bristol Authority decided to close the city centre docks. Local groups got together to save the docks and an early tool they used was the first Harbour Festival in 1971- and look at it today!

Of course, Bristol’s maritime history goes much further back, and into some fairly muddy waters! As a West-Coast port, Bristol was in an ideal location to gain exploration and colonisation of the New World. This is unfortunately also why Bristol is so closely tied to the slave trade. In the 18th century, Bristol was the principle British port for trade with the American colonies and the West Indies. Goods from Bristol were shipped to Africa, where people were captured to become slaves and picked up for transport to the West Indian and American plantations. Ships then went on to return to Bristol with sugar, tobacco, cocoa and rum. These imports fuelled the development of related industries in Bristol: sugar refining, chocolate making and cigarette making. And although we didn’t start producing rum in Bristol, we certainly got a taste for it- one which we’re doing our best to keep going. What would some of our favourite cocktails be without the sweet stuff?

In fact, we were so good at running our port and ships that the phrase “ship, shape and Bristol fashion” was coined. Basically it meant your ship was good to go and done as well as from the port of Bristol. And that’s how we feel about the Harbour Festival. It’s a great event to celebrate our maritime history to recognise the good and the bad and to demonstrate how we’ve moved forward (and say thanks for all the rum).

30 July 2018