Princes Wharf, Wapping Road, Bristol, BS1 4RN
1948-51. 1977-8. 2007-11.
City Council Architects’ Office Docks Engineer N.A. Matheson and the M Shed redevelopment by LAB Architecture Studio
Built from steel and concrete, with some brick walling.
Closed Mondays, except Bank Holidays
Weekends and Bank Holidays: 10am-6pm
In summer 2011 the ambitious ‘M Shed’ museum opened on the dockside. This was originally two transit sheds named M Shed and L Shed, completed by the early 1950s to store goods and cargo. The steel, concrete and brick buildings were plain and functional, reflecting the hard years after the Second World War. Bristol City Council closed the docks to commercial shipping in 1973–4 and such buildings lost their original use.
In 1978, what is now M Shed became the Bristol Industrial Museum and this in turn closed in 2006 to make way for the current museum. This latest remodelling is sympathetic to the buildings’ past. For example, the original corrugated iron sliding doors to the quayside have been kept (which let goods go straight from a ship’s hold into the building). A partial rooftop storey has been created for temporary exhibitions and events and glass planking added on the west and south frontages.
Transport links were vital for the original buildings, so they could function properly. Outside M Shed, the sunken rails once allowed steam trains to remove goods, while permanent electric cranes (still there today, refurbished) loaded and unloaded shipping cargo. The two sheds were connected on the first floor but separated at ground level in order to provide access from the quayside to the road beyond.
LAB Architecture Studio’s multi-million-pound makeover includes a spacious entrance foyer with a striking staircase. The interior spaces remain pretty plain, in keeping with the buildings’ functional history. LAB has also made full use of the great position. Visitors can admire impressive views from an outside terrace at the top and a huge viewing window inside, and there are also small window slits in some of the gallery walls, giving glimpses and reminders of the dockside setting.