shipshape and Bristol fashion

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The saying in today's form has been recorded as early as 1827 (see the quotation; "shipshape" alone being about 200 years older).[1]

Bristol was the most prosperous port of west-coast Britain, and its ship chandlery was of the highest quality.[2]

The term may have developed in view of the port of Bristol which had (before the Floating Harbour was constructed) a very high tidal range of 13 metres (43 ft), the second highest in the world.[1][3][4] Ships moored in this area would be aground at low tide and, because of their keels, would fall to one side. If everything was not stowed away tidily or tied down, the results were chaotic and cargo could be spoiled.


shipshape and Bristol fashion

  1. (nautical, traditional) Tidily tied down and secure.
    • 1827, [Walter Scott], chapter VII, in Chronicles of the Canongate; [], volume I, Edinburgh: [] [Ballantyne and Co.] for Cadell and Co.; London: Simpkin and Marshall, →OCLC, page 111:
      When we set out on the jolly voyage of life, what a brave fleet there is around us, as stretching our fresh canvas to the breeze, all "shipshape and Bristol fashion," pennons flying, music playing, cheering each other as we pass, we are rather amused than alarmed when some awkward comrade goes right ashore for want of pilotage!
  2. (figuratively, or by extension) Properly and neatly organised or arranged.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Gary Martin (1997–), “Ship-shape and Bristol fashion”, in The Phrase Finder.
  2. ^ “Shipshape and Bristol fashion”, in Oxford Reference[1], accessed 15 October 2018
  3. ^ “Severn Estuary Barrage”, in UK Environment Agency[2], 31 May 2006, archived from the original on 2007-09-30
  4. ^ “Coast: Bristol Channel”, in BBC[3], accessed 2007-08-27