There has been occupation at Sea Mills since the Iron Age, but notable the Roman port of Abonae. Various artifacts have been discovered during building work and some excavations, including the tomb stone of a Roman woman which can be seen at Bristol Museum.
There were attempt to reserect the harbour for commercial purposes in 1712 when the merchant Joshula Franklin constructed a dock at Sea Mills upon the remains of the original Roman Harbour. This was a failure from the start. The requirement to transfer cargo to barges negated any advantage of keeping vessels afloat at low water. The harbour was found useful to fit out privateers and for unloading whaling ships. By 1779 the dock had been abandoned for several years.
“In 1712 a company of adventurous Bristolians, of whom the most prominent was Joshua Franklin, a merchant, resolved upon constructing a dock for the accommodation of shipping at Sea Mills. The vanity of human aspirations was exemplified in the terms of the lease of the required land, which (by virtue of a special Act of Parliament) was transferred to the undertakers by Edward Southwell, of £81. The site adjoined a Roman station, of which some vestiges still remain, and in the course of excavating the dock the workmen came across an ancient gateway, and a quantity of coins of Nero, Constantine, and Constantius.
With the exception of a dock at Liverpool, commenced in 1709, but not finished until 1717, the Sea Mills dock was the first mercantile basin constructed in England. The adventure was divided into thirty-two shares, on which upwards of £300 each are said to have been called. Franklyn sank a large part of his fortune in the undertaking.There is no record of the opening of the dock. In a financial point of view, the place was a failure from the outset, the necessity of transhipping cargoes into barges overriding the advantage it possessed of keeping vessels afloat at low water. The dock was found useful however, for the fitting out of privateers, and the discharging of whaling ships,Rudder, in his History of Gloucestershire, published in 1779, stated that the dock had been “utterly abandoned for several years,” and that the shares had only “an ideal value.” One of the latest attempts to turn the property to account was made in January, 1798, when the dock, with its “spacious warehouses” and some adjoining tenements, was offered to be let.
1752 An attempt was made about this time by a joint stock company of local merchants to establish a new branch of commerce – the whale fishery. The concern was divided into 99 shares, the whole of which were apparently taken up.
Felix Farley’s Journal of July 18th, 1752, stated that the Bristol and Adventure, two ships fitted out by the company, had just arrived, “having had the good fortune to catch five whales, and ‘tis said they are valued at £2000, which with the bounty money of 40s per ton, make their voyage a very successful one.” The odoriferous cargo was landed at Sea Mills dock.
The Bristol journal of March 22nd, 1761, contained a notification that the Whale Fishery Company had been disolved.
Modern Sea Mills
Sea Mills in it’s present form did not exist until the 1920’s when as part of the “Homes for Heroes” a new housing estate was established. Each house had a privot hedge and either a cherry or an apple tree, and there was a recommendation that there should not be more than 12 houses per acre.
Like many modern estates, the Sea Mills developments were not universally liked at the time.
‘No suburb has suffered more from the ‘levelling hand of the builder than Sea Mills… ...today the fields which a few months since gleamed with wheat like burnished shields are covered with brick dwellings; the lark no longer rises from the coppice, and giant after giant from the woods is carted away to make chairs and tables for the prosaic needs of man.’ – Frederick C Jones, 1928