The Society of Merchant Venturers
The Bristol Merchant Venturers dates back to the 14th century. It was during this century of great trade that a group of Bristol merchants set up the Merchants Guild, to share the burden of entertaining visitors who came to set up trading links and to share any risk attached to setting up such new trade.
This Guild developed in strength and wealth throughout the next 200 years. But the Guild of Merchants, the Merchant Adventurers, whose initiative and cash had opened up so many sea trade routes, were determined to keep out strangers. They pleaded to King Edward VI to grant them their own charter, which he did in 1552, authorising them to to form themselves into a guild to be called The Merchant Venturers' Society of Bristol.
No other person could now engage in commerce beyond the seas, unless he had been admitted to the Society. This meant for centuries to come they would have control of the shipping entering and leaving the Port of Bristol.
In 1694, the Merchant Venturers Society organised protests against the monopoly the Royal African Company enjoyed in the slave trade, leading to the ending of this monopoly in 1698.
Throughout the 18th century many society members profited hugely from the slave trade and established fine homes for themselves in the city. They included the Pinney's, who built the Georgian House, and the Bright family both of whom made their fortunes in sugar.
With the decline of Bristol as a major port in the 19th century, the Society lost much of its influence. However there are still many reminders today of the influence these powerful merchants once had on the development of Bristol as a major trading city.
» A pictorial tour of Bristol, including the 'Merchant Venturers'