Probably the most popular attraction in Bristol, and deservedly so, is the S S Great Britain, the restored iron steamship designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It’s history is nicely summed up on Wikipedia
(built for) …… service between Bristol and New York. While other ships had been built of iron or equipped with a screw propeller, Great Britain was the first to combine these features in a large ocean-going ship. She was the first iron steamer to cross the Atlantic, which she did in 1845, in the time of 14 days.
When launched in 1843, Great Britain was by far the largest vessel afloat. However, her protracted construction and high cost had left her owners in a difficult financial position, and they were forced out of business in 1846 after the ship was stranded by a navigational error.
Sold for salvage and repaired, Great Britain carried thousands of immigrants to Australia until converted to sail in 1881. Three years later, she was retired to the Falkland Islands where she was used as a warehouse, quarantine ship and coal hulk until scuttled in 1937.
In 1970, Great Britain was returned to the Bristol dry dock where she was built. Now listed as part of the National Historic Fleet, Core Collection, she is an award-winning visitor attraction and museum ship in Bristol Harbour, with 150,000–170,000 visitors annually.
I can remember watching the ship being towed down the Avon in 1970 on its way back from the Falklands on the TV.
The hull, which remains substantially complete from the time of her construction in Bristol, is of wrought iron riveted plates on wrought iron frames ……….. The interior of the ship has been reconstructed and replicated to the highest research standards using primary sources to interpret different parts of the ship at particular times in the vessel’s long life. The promenade deck, adjacent cabins, and dining saloon have been replicated to represent what was there in 1843. The original steam engine and chain drive have been replicated and, along with the ship’s galley, are from that period too. (National Historic Ships website)
On a nice sunny day we had a pleasant walk along the waterside from the city centre to take a look at the ship berthed in the very same dry dock where it was built..
Visitors are brought in at the rear of the ship.
and then walk along the starboard side
and then descend down some steps to inspect the hull. There’s a specially constructed air tight chamber formed by a glass plate fitted around the ship at the waterline. The air inside is conditioned, maintaining a relative humidity of 20% by special dehumidification units to minimise corrosion. Jets direct the dehumidified air along the hull.
The hull was already quite badly corroded when it was brought back to Bristol
but the dehumidification should minimise further damage.
Once inside the chamber visitors can walk right round the hull. It was particularly interesting to look at the reconstructions of the porpellor and rudder.
Here’s a copy of the original anchor
Looking at the bow
After climbing back up to ground level we were taken through an exhibition about the history of the ship, working backwards in time, until we arrived on the deck.
There were free audio guides available – four different ones providing different perspectives and viewpoints. I decided I’d take the one focussing on Steerage class passengers. So I wouldn’t really have been allowed past here
although I did sneak past to have a look at the ship’s wheel.
Descending below deck we were able to see the Steerage passengers’ accommodation
and their mess
First Class cabins (which were still very small – the bunks were tiny)
the Saloon deck
where Mr Brunel himself was taking a rest
and the First Class Dining Room
Here’s the ship’s surgeon
somebody feeling sea-sick
and here;s the Captain giving one of the crew his orders.
Fancy taking a bath?
All mod cons available!
Cargo and passengers’ belongings are all ready for loading on the ship on the port side
Our visit lasted just over two hours and we could probably have spent a little longer looking round, but time was against us as the attraction closed at 5:30.
Feeling tired after a long day, we took the ferry back down the Floating Harbour to the city centre