The Underfall Boat Yard, Bristol Docks

The Underfall Yard was built between 1880 and 1890 for the maintenance of Bristol Docks and to service the dock machinery.  it includes the dock sluices, a hydraulic system for operating the lock systems together with a pump house, a vessel slipway and a complex of late Victorian dock buildings. The Pump House and workshops survive largely intact, together with the original machinery.  It is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and possibly the only surviving working water hydraulic system in the world.

The Underfall Yard Trust, which was formed in 1997, took over what was then the derelict parts of the Yard with support from Bristol City Council, the Heirtage Lottery Fund, the South West Regional Development Authority and volunteers.

Following the restoration, the yard was set up as a working boatyard with individual tenants and small businesses which now thrives and has developed a national reputation for the quality of its work in classic boats and in high tech applications. The workshops are unique and include a largely intact Victorian engineering workshop.

The Yard continues to serve its orginal purpose and is currently occupied by two organisations - Bristol City Council's Harbour Management which combines docks and maintenance and operation with management of the harbour area, and the Underfall Yard Trust to develop sustainable uses for parts of the Yard which had already fallen into disuse. This part of the area is now a thriving boat yard run by the Trust.

Plans for the Future - Heritage Lottery Fund project

The completion of the £12m investment in the renewal of the operating systems and gates at the entrance lock and the junction lock by the Council means that many of the spaces and functions at the Yard are becoming redundant.

The Underfall Yard Trust and the City Council have been working together to produce a vision and masterplan for the Yard. The first main phase of the project, which involves a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for funding, is focussed on the building repairs and encouraging public access to the Yard area.

The Heritage Lottery Fund bid

A round one pass from HLF has been awarded, which provides funding to develop the plan in detail and submit a napplication for full funding for the £4m project.

The vision

To create a Maritime Centre of Excellence within Bristol Harbour that seeks to preserve, for the benefit of the public, its historic assets and unique character through sustainable commercial, leisure, tourism and educational developments that reflects the longstanding maritime history of the area.

This will be taken forward through five strategic priorities. The proposal is that The Underfall Yard will be transferred from the City Council to the Trust through a Community Asset Transfer with the Council remaining as key tenants. The strategic priorities are:

- preserving historic assets
- retaining the unique character of the Yard
- nurturing traditional and new maritime skills and industries
- enhancing sustainability.

The plan

The project focusses on the Scheduled Ancient Monument Underfall Yard area:

- conservation of the buildings and spaces
- engagement and participation
- enable to progress further with later phased intentions to develop and promote maritime skills and industries.


- the buildings and machinery will be preserved and owned by a not-fo-profit organisation with a sustainable business plan
- the unique atmosphere of the place will be kept
- the yard will become more accessible and provide opportunities to engage with visitors, learners and volunteers
- the new spaces will increase employment and training opportunities
- new spaces and workshops will be available for new and start-up maritime businesses
- by working together, the organisations in the area can create in the future a 'Harbour Centre' which would be quite unique.

Information current at late Autumn 2012


Alfred Telling Award for Yard Boatbuider

Congratulations to Tom Nash, a boatbuilder at the yard who has been awarded The Alfred Telling Award.  Tom has worked at Underfall Yard since 2015 and worked for several yard businesses: Tim Loftus Boatbuilding, Star Yachts and RB Boatbuilding.

The Alfred Telling Award is a Scholarship awarded annually to a young person from the City of Bristol to further their education and development in their chosen career.


Workshop Manager Wins Volunteering Award 

Rachel, a mechanical engineer, started working at Underfall Yard Trust this year as our Workshop Manager.   Last year she began volunteering at Clifton Suspension Bridge and her experience there led to a career change, which brought her to the yard.  And it is for that volunteering that she has won the South West category of the prestigious ‘Volunteers for Museum Learning’ award. For the seventh year The British Museum and the Marsh Christian Trust have been working in partnership on the award which recognises the hugely valuable contribution that volunteers make in helping museums engage with their visitors.

Rachel was nominated for her work in for designing and delivering a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) resource pack for secondary pupils which focussed on the physics of bridges, giving purpose and meaning to maths and physics by applying them to real life situations encountered in daily life. She also led sessions with secondary students, many of whom lacked confidence in their abilities to complete maths and physics activities yet after the session showed real pride in their achievements.


Arrival of a new Visitor Centre at the Underfall Yard - March 2016

The arrival of a new Visitor Centre at the Underfall Yard has made Bristol's Floating Harbour even more interesting to visit – and admission is free.

Features to the centre include displays about the history of the Yard and of the Floating Harbour, as well as a number of fun interactive displays to play with. 

The centrepiece is a huge interactive map of the waterways in and around Bristol, but there's other fun stuff for children (and adults) to play with.

The Visitor Centre at the Underfall Yard is now open every day from 10am-5pm (shorter hours in winter). 

For more information visit the website.

Source: Bristol Post, March 2016


Restoration work update - July 2015

Great progress is being made to restore and repair the buildings at Underfall Yard, with scaffolding going up around the site, including the magnificent chimney!

It is the latest stage in a £3.8 million project, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.  The team have produced this video of the scaffolding on E and C blocks, highlighting the developments taking place.

In the meantime, the Underfall Yard is recruiting for a new Boat Yard Manager (part-time) and for Visitor Engagement volunteers.

Construction work begins in latest stage of £3.8m project - June 2015

Bristol based John Perkins Construction officially started on-site on 2 June.  Work will now begin to safeguard the red brick buildings, including the Grade II* listed landmarks the Power House and chimney, bringing abandoned workshop space back into use.  A visitor centre will also be built in the Power House, which is due to open Easter 2016.

The Heritage Lottery Fund is contributing £2.8m towards the total project costs.

Chairman of the Underfall Yard Trust, Ian Wilkinson said "This is a great day for the Underfall Yard and a great day for Bristol.  Underfall Yard is an historic gem, the heart of the Floating Harbour.  Our work, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, will see a period of dramatic change, giving vulnerable historic buildings a new lease of life and the people of Bristol a true understanding of its importance to the city's future as well as its fascinating past."

Heritage Lottery Fund project update - March 2015

Work carried out onsite recently has included:

  • The accumulator tower newly painted with the scaffolding now taken down.
  • The inside of the header tank in the Boiler Room is being coated with Stockholm tar to provide waterproofing and act as a preservation measure.
  • The original Victorician iron floor of the Pump Room will be back shortly, following off-site repair work.

The scaffolding for the next phase of the project will be up soon.  Updates to follow.

In the meantime, plans for the Visitor Centre are progressing, with an aim to open Easter 2016.  The team are beginning to gather memories, stories, feelings and thoughts about the yard and would like to hear from anyone with a tale to tell.

A team of volunteers are also being recruited to research the yard and assist with an Oral History project.  A Volunteer Information Session, to find out more about these roles, is planned for Wednesday 1 April.  More details on the website.

Update and image from Underfall Yard E-Bulletin, March 2015

Heritage Lottery Fund project update - Sept 2014

The project has been awarded just over £3 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and the team have raised nearly £1 million in addition both through the generous support of other funders and through donations from individuals and businesses.  At the time of writing, the appeal is still currently £100,000 short of its target.  You can donate through the website, or through Justgiving.

What’s next?

The team are currently at the start of the process of procuring a contractor to take on the capital parts of the project, with the aim to be on-site in January 2015. In the next few months they plan to recruit for a Community Learning and Volunteering (CLV) Officer who will be tasked with building on the contacts made so far within the community to make sure they are informed and involved in work as things progress.

Want to get involved?

The project team are keen to hear from anyone who wants to get involved: whether as a researcher, photographer, artist, guide or conservator – get in touch to find out more.

Upcoming Events

Saturday 4th and Sunday 5th October 2014 – Docks Heritage Weekend 10-4pm FREE

Together with M Shed, Underfall Yard will be hosting the 2014 Docks Heritage Weekend. With promenade theatre, historic diving and demonstrations of amazing Victorian machinery, plus a special ferry service, there’ll be lots to see and do for the whole family. Contact the team for more details, or turn up on the day and collect your map and programme.

Thursday 9th October 2014 – Coasting along with Mark Horton 6.30pm MINIMUM DONATION £15 to include wine

A very special evening of behind-the-scenes glimpses, anecdotes and entertainment from the presenter of BBC’s Coast as we have fun raising money for the Yard.  Email or call for more details and to book.

Taken from Underfall Yard News, E-bulletin, Autumn 2014

 Heritage Lottery Fund project - Aug 2013

Bristol City Council is preparing to pass the Scheduled Monument and associated structures to the Underfall Yard Trust for repair, maintenance, boatbuilding and maritime industry - and public access and benefit.

The Yard's aim is to explain the critical importance of the dam and the sluices to Bristol, explain how this maintenance and yard kept the harbour afloat - and share the history whilst still operating an unsanitised area of thriving maritime industries.

With financial assistance (following a round one pass from HLF in 2012), they have researched the buildings, the history, the machinery and th epeople who have worked at the Yard from Brunel to the present.

They now have plans for repairing the structures, making adaptations for a suistainable future and a range of mesaures to share the interest and importance of the place with tourists, schools and Bristolians.

Their second round of consultation is planned for September, with the final round two application being submitted in December 2013.

See Underfall Yard at their Doors Open event on 14th & 15th Sep 2013 10am - 4.30pm, part of the Heritage Open Days initiative.

Item posted 21 Aug 2013

3D Boat Build - May 2013

Bristol boatbuilder Tim Loftus currently has two major projects and one of them is being filmed for a 3D video documentary.

The filming is tracking Tim building a new 17ft (5.2m) centreboard yawl at the Underfall Boatard in Bristol. The resultant 30-minute Blu-ray disc will be part of a series on traditional boats being made by local film-maker Neil Richards.

The yawl is a new Paul Gartside design, No191, which is being built in sustainably grown and locally sourced larch on oark, for a Salcombe-based customer who plans to use it for estuary cruising. It's due for launch in mid-April 2013.

Item posted 10 Apr 2013, taken from Classic Boat May 2013

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