You almost certainly won’t have heard of Jerry Hicks.He died, aged 86, earlier this month but, if you live in Bristol (or are just enthusiastic about the city’s many charms), I thought you might like to know that this man, along with his wife Anne, effectively saved the city’s floating harbour in 1969.
The docks were no longer economically viable and the City Docks Parliamentary Act proposed taking up of large areas by roads crossing the harbour (including an extension of the M32 into the city and, ultimately, linking with the M5), the construction of three bridges to carry motorways and the decking or filling in of parts of the docks themselves so that these could be given over to other uses.
When this became public knowledge, there was an outcry and the Bristol City Docks Group, of which Jerry Hicks was a leading member (he was also an executive member of Bristol Civic Society), was formed to fight the ratification of the Parliamentary act in order to maintain the use of the docks both by smaller vessels – yachts, dinghies and launches – and by tall ships coming up the river and tying-up in the centre of the city.
Strangely, I became aware of the motorway proposals during my last year as an architectural student in 1972/73 – when I was using Bristol as the geographical focus for my final-year thesis. I came across initial plans showing the proposed new motorway routes through the city centre and remember feeling absolutely horrified by what I saw. It was only a week or so later that I realised that these plans had in fact been rejected – thanks to a passionate and vociferous fight by a local campaign group (which obviously included Jerry Hicks).
To many people at the time, the road scheme no doubt made sense – an opportunity to purchase substantial tracks of land at relatively low prices. It was, after all, largely run-down industrial properties and land associated with the docks plus the large sections covered by water (which, of course no one would ever want again!).
I’m afraid it was another case of a city being re-planned by highway engineers (my own home city of Birmingham was another case in point in the 1960s).
These days, I occasionally take sixth form groups of budding urban designers/planners/architects/geographers around the city and highlight how the city has evolved during the course of its history and, particularly, since the final demise of the docks in the early 1970s. Needless to say, as we wander along the vibrant harbourside and try to imagine what MIGHT have been, it seems almost unreal that people could have been so short-sighted.
Thank goodness for visionaries like Jerry Hicks.
Photo: Jerry Hicks on Bristol Harbourside (acknowledgement: The Bristol Post).