Restore McArthur's Warehouse and turn it into a community asset

Next to the Great Western Dockyard on Gasferry Road is one of the few remaining buildings associated with Bristol Harbour’s past: McArthur’s Warehouse. Here’s what it looks like today:

This idea is to restore the exterior of this historic building to its original glory, and to keep the building in the public domain, rather than to turn it into private accommodation, as is proposed.

In its heyday, McArthur’s Warehouse was an extremely handsome building. It was built in 1897 as a malt house. It was badly damaged by fire in 1938, and since then it has been used as a warehouse, and for furniture sales, amongst other things. It has been empty for over twenty years, and allowed to fall into serious disrepair while the Council and a succession of developers argued over what to do with it. Mostly, the developers wanted to demolish it and put modern buildings in its place. Despite involvement at different times by the Secretary of State, the Government of the South West, English Heritage and the Conservation Advisory Panel (all opposed to demolition), the fabric of this building has been allowed to continue to deteriorate. This is an absolute disgrace.

I argue for restoration of this historic landmark and use appropriate to its location in the midst of a modern and thriving ship building and repair industry.

A summary of some of the recent planning fiascos can be seen here, and more can be read from links on this page:

You can see a picture of this building before the fire, partly obscured by the Albion Dry Dock:

And here’s what the developers are currently proposing:

Thank goodness for Bristol Industrial Archaeological Society, Clifton and Hotwells Improvement Society, Bristol Civic Society and others who opposed the demolition of an historic and beautiful building, one of the small number of remaining links to the area’s industrial history.

Bristol Civic Society has been instrumental in opposing some of these demolition schemes, and has also in the past developed its own scheme to retain the warehouse designed to “set the scene for Brunel’s masterpiece nearby” – the SS Great Britain. As a significant tourist attraction, and a tribute not only to Brunel but to those who had to vision to rescue and restore the world’s first iron clad ship, isn’t it appropriate that we also protect and restore its historic setting?

McArthur’s Warehouse is just about the only original warehouse in the city docks area. It is in a conservation area, which should, but which apparently does not, confer protection upon it. It was only a handsome building in its prime, but also a very prominent one. Even today it can be seen from Brandon Hill.

Maggie Shapland, of the Clifton and Hotwells Society, in her 2005 letter opposing demolition of this building (, stated that:

“There are far too many new buildings in this area already, destroying Bristol’s past. This area should be left as a shipbuilding and repair area, and the McArthur warehouse should be renovated to be workshops, antique stalls, and a museum area.” She also suggested the building could be used as an exhibition area.

Linden Homes are proposing yet more of what is effectively privatisation of the historic dock area. What they want to do is to convert the building to “mainly a residential development with commercial space to provide employment and services for the growing local community”. In other words, to make the usual huge profit (they wouldn’t be interested otherwise) with the sop to the community being to provide some unspecified number of jobs.” Previous planning applications were turned down in part because planning guidances have countermanded residential development. What is different now? Linden Homes and its partners do not care for the heritage value of this site, nor for its potential for community use. All too many of the few remaining historic buildings are being turned into private residences, instead of community assets. This is what is happening right now to the Canon’s Marsh Gas Works.

Why should so much of Bristol’s harbour effectively be privatised, denying Bristol citizens access to it?

The bombing of Bristol’s city centre in World War Two robbed Bristol of so much of its heritage. Let’s not needlessly destroy what the Luftwaffe missed.

Why the contribution is important

I say no to Linden Home’s plans. Instead, let the exterior of the building be fully restored to its grandeur of 1897. If the Russians can restore the Bolshoi Theatre, and the Italians La Fenice, why can’t we restore the McArthur Building?

I say no to more privatisation of Bristol’s historic harbour area. Develop Macarthur’s Warehouse as a community resource, as Maggie Shapland outlined in 2005. I feel that in Bristol we need more space for theatre and all manner of cultural events, some of which have been proposed in this Ideas Lab. The McArthur building could accommodate this, while at the same time providing space for the entrepreneur hub, proposed in another submitted idea.

Restoration and community use of McArthur’s Warehouse is also compatible with improving the coherency of Bristol’s historic assets to promote tourism, as seen in other idea lab ideas; for example:

by user412750 on January 06, 2014 at 03:59PM

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Average rating: 4.2
Based on: 7 votes


  • Posted by user712392 January 13, 2014 at 14:41

    It is a disgrace that this building should have been allowed to get into this state. It always seems to be cheaper to redevelop rather than reuse. Yet it is buildings like this that add character to the place. You only have to look at the old gas buildings across the docks to see what can be done, and the Carriageworks consultation, and the Paintworks. Then look at the characterless buildings on the north side of the docks to see what never must be allowed to happen again.
  • Posted by user918322 January 13, 2014 at 14:55

    Great idea, hope it may come to fruition. With all the housing development in that area it would be an excellent use for such an historic building and also a visual indicator of the historical role of the area.
  • Posted by user675375 January 13, 2014 at 15:04

    What a great idea! I saw a picture of it when I did one of the M Shed's historical walks, and it was a very imposing building in its prime. Such a shame it has been allowed to go to rack and ruin. I agree that Bristol's remaining dock heritage should be preserved, and especially that it should be developed for the public to use. And if restoration can be done in other countries, as you say, why can't we do it here?
  • Posted by user394898 January 23, 2014 at 15:47

    When a city restores and rejuvenates an architecturally admirable building whose history is intertwined with that of itself, the city enhances its distinctiveness and thus its position in the global competition for prosperity.

    In contrast, when a city destroys notable examples of such buildings it decreases its distinctiveness, making competition more difficult.

    With Venice and Milton Keynes occupying opposite ends of the "distinctiveness spectrum" few would wish Bristol to become more like Milton Keynes and less like Venice, even if this might permit developers greater short-term profits!
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