The harbours of Bristol and Copenhagen and the re-envisaging of urban port communities in Northwestern Europe from 1400 to the 1680s

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This research investigates urban development between 1400 and 1680s in Northwestern Europe by studying the complicated relationships between ports and towns. This project is undertaken using a comparative approach to studying port communities in Bristol and Copenhagen. In this period, harboursides were complex areas where domestic, commercial, industrial and maritime industries were based. They were inhabited by port communities, people who lived around harboursides. These communities comprised craftspeople, mayors, merchants, servants, seamen and ship fitters. It was also a meeting zone for various groups of people; residents, citizens from other parts of town, immigrants, sailors, tradesmen, visitors and travellers.
The role of port communities was studied by analysing the material remains, archaeological features and structures around the harbourside. A new methodology was created from a bottom up approach to identify the change in the communities known as the Port Community Ceramic Functional Model. This model uses reclassified ceramics to focus first on the function of objects rather than their appearance. In this process, the identification of social practices can be studied. The ceramic results are then analysed alongside historical sources and maps to assess societal change, trade, and cultural diffusionism. The effect of increases in worldwide trade on society and the environment is viewed by studying the emergence of new objects and cultural practices.
The effect of relations and change in material culture in households was investigated by creating the Port Community Housing Model. Yentsch’s Functional Group Table, consisting of artefacts and their location in homes (1991), inspired this model. The new Port Community Housing Model provided an opportunity to analyse how everyday life may have changed by comparing the location and use of new artefacts in transforming households in the timeframe.
After the harbour zones were examined, the analysis was broadened to acquire a greater understanding of harbourside transformation at Bristol and Copenhagen and throughout Northwestern Europe. The Renaissance Port Phase was developed and added to Milne’s Development Model for English Ports (1999) to increase the longevity of the study in a period missing deep analysis (1400s-1680s). In this process two new categories were created to reflect later harbourside change; maritime and other Industry, and harbour administration. The Renaissance Port Phase identified many close links between harbourside and urban transformation, which resulted in the creation of the Renaissance Port Town Development Model.
This model identified six factors related to the harbourside and urban transformation; harbourside development, increased administration of towns, fortification growth, suburban change, industrial activity and the changing socio-cultural aspects and structural transformation on the harbourside. This project concluded by identifying that over time, port communities became increasingly interconnected through trade and diffusion of ideas, and transformed alike through the consumption of similar material culture and everyday practices within households.
Date of Award3 Oct 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SupervisorStuart J Prior (Supervisor), Ben Jervis (Supervisor) & Tamar Hodos (Supervisor)


  • Community
  • Trade
  • medieval
  • Archaeology
  • early modern
  • historical archaeology
  • urban
  • Pottery

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