New Cut

The tidal waterway just over Commercial Road from Bathurst Basin is entirely man-made. It was dug out over the period 1805-9 to divert the river Avon and allow the creation of a “floating harbour” along the route of the rivers Avon and Frome. Ask almost anyone in Bristol and they will tell you that the Cut was dug out by French Prisoners of War. There is some element of truth in the tale, but not a lot.

As this was the time of the Napoleonic wars there were French prisoners in this country Many were incarcerated in a prison in Fishponds, a building still existing in the Blackberry Hill complex on Manor Road. Some were brought over to help in digging the Cut and lodged in buildings which still exist in Willway Street, close by Park Furnishers in Bedminster. They were NOT held in Redcliffe Caves. In fact the vast majority of the excavating was done by English & Irish labourers (navvies); men who earned their living travelling the country digging the canals that enjoyed a brief heyday as the preferred means of transport before the railways. We know this because when the work was complete the contractors laid on a big celebration, with food and drink for their workers. It finished up with a riot between the English and Irish.

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