Albion Dockyard Poem

12 December 2022

Blog

12 December 2022

Blog

A new poem written by Aiysha Humphreys captures the essence of the historic Albion Dockyard and city docks, exploring Bristol’s working community of shipbuilders.

Aiysha is the SS Great Britain Trust’s second poet in residence, part of the national Boat Poets’ artist development scheme. They took on the big creative challenge of writing about a working dock with 200 years of history and community.

Aiysha has drawn on the history of the Albion Yard shipbuilders as well as the wider context of the working community around Bristol City Docks to create a poem which honours their skills and shared experiences. 

 

 

Poetry has always been a big part of Aiysha’s life. They began writing when they were just ten years old and they have performed spoken word for the past five years, building a reputation in Bristol with work foregrounding mental health and queer identity. 

 

“This residency gave me the chance to explore other people’s stories rather than just my own, and to reconnect with Cornwall’s maritime heritage, where I grew up. My grandad worked for the lifeboats in St Ives, but I had never known much about that, so the sea and ships have ‘almost’ been a part of my history that I didn’t know much about. For this project it has been especially rewarding talking to people who worked in that industry. I hoped to come out with a piece of work that feels fresh and not a usual subject area for me.” 

 

Aiysha was amazed that such a huge space was almost hidden in the city, waiting to be discovered. They spent time talking to the Albion Dock Company who repair ships in the dock, as well as to ship owners, and also listened to interviews with dockworkers which are part of the M Shed’s archive. 

 

“I think the first time I met Paul Beacham (manager of the Albion Dock); he told me about the keel blocks. I thought it was interesting that they were the same ones that have been used for many decades. This industry still has a lot of manual work that is done by the people. And it’s the same work that’s been done for hundreds of years which I think is really interesting. This industry also still has a lot of pride and tradition. Even though it’s a challenging work environment, everyone has pride in being part of it. 

 

Performing the poem in the dock today was quite nerve racking. I wasn’t sure how other people were going to experience it, if people were going to like it.  It was a really amazing thing to be able to do, in the space that it’s about. I just really hope the people like Chris and the other dock workers past and present, will enjoy it and see that I wanted to kind of, to talk about their stories.” 

Aiysha’s Poem

This is for the worker hands 

Those calloused with muscle memory hands 

You who learnt the rituals of the water from ancestors  

The knowledge passed on by grandads to dads to sons 

Those who show us how much pride you can have in your palms 

 

This is for the men bringing home the remnants of their working day  

Trousers covered in black, red, flour or clay  

Carrying timber back and forth for sixteen shillings  

Sometimes for nothing  

Some days told to drag themselves home with no guarantee of pay  

 

This is for those who striked for better pay and working conditions  

Bristol born and bred who’ve kept this city and industry afloat  

For the kids who’d one day work here too but for now are still all innocence and play  

Sneaking onto the dock floor after the sun has set  

Jumping over keel blocks  

 

One Sunday a man is found dead on the dock floor- must’ve tripped and fallen  

A mother sits at home praying he’s not her own 

She strokes her youngest hands, already sand paper rough before he’s turned sixteen 

By Monday, it’s back to work again  

Men sing a song for their lost friend as they tug tug tug 

 

I stand here now, feet treading two centuries of history 

Thinking about how a city changes shape so quickly  

But after all this time, Albion remains  

And working class stories are passed on from mouth to mouth  

Kept alive by the grandads, dads and sons  

We remember their worker hands 

Their calloused with muscle memory hands 

Those who show us how much pride you can carry in your palms.

 

 

OTHER POSTS THAT MIGHT BE OF INTEREST

6 June 2021

Albion Dock viewing area

Albion

1 November 2022

New researchers make great discoveries

Blog