ss Great Britain.
I had arranged to pick up a new four wheel drive near Bristol on Friday, the travel arrangements and timings meant I would have most of the day to kill in Bristol. The choices were Ikea or the ss Great Britain, I decided to go to the ss Great Britain first and Ikea afterwards. I didn't know much about the ship or the museum but would have plenty of time to find out. I had to use the satnav as I missed the turn somewhere after leaving the M5. The nice new shiny building close to the river was filled with gifts relating to the ship or the sea. I paid the £12.50 entry fee and walked out through the glass door.
The first thing I saw was the stern of the ss Great Britain, it was quite impressive. The small paper guide suggested a visit to the dry dock first, so into the glass room and down the stairs I went. The ship is lying in the original dry dock it was built 170 years ago. A glass flat roof had been built at the ships water line around it, a shallow layer of water trickled overhead. The glass roof sealed the whole area below the ships water line which has some large ducting connected to a huge dehumidifier. According to research, as long as the relative humidity was below 20% it wouldn't rust any more. It felt warm, dry air always feels warm. It also felt a little weird, I was under water albeit an inch on top of the glass, warm & dry and looking at the hull of a 170 year old 100m long ship. I have seen a lot of wrecks of various sizes in various states but this was complete and upright with the best vis you could want. I wandered around the hull, there were many holes that apparently started to appear whilst it was abandoned on the Falkland Islands. The humidity controlled environment would hopefully mean it would stay as it is without further corrosion. The ship had been fitted with a replica of the original propeller. There were information boards around the place explaining about the propeller, the bows and the dry environment. The next stop on the route was the museum.
The museum housed many items recovered from the ship, including the propeller and rudder that was fitted to the ship at the end of it's life. Described as a 'Journey back in time through the history of Brunel's great ship'. There were interactive pieces and a film show too. There were a lot of bits, which were all of interest, especially the bell. I did spend quite a while in there but wanted to board the ship. A gangway from the top of the museum lead across to the ship.
The ship has been restored to as close as they can get to the original 1843 version. I could hear a winch being operated and a cow was mooing! I eventually found the cow just behind the place where we could pick up the free audio companion. There was a choice of four settings depending on your level of interest, I chose 'Maritime Archaeologist'. The Maritime Archaeologist setting was supposed to be more technical. I wandered around the weather deck before making my way below deck. The middle deck was the promenade deck, I had come down the stairs next to the Captains Cabin and headed aft towards the promenade saloon. Off of the saloon there was the surgery with a couple of manikins, in the saloon another manikin sat at a table with a newspaper. There was also several passenger cabins, made up as they would have been 170 years ago with various scenes being played out. The audio companion was going off with long stories of people who had sailed on board, spoken quotes and comments of passengers played in various accents. Fore of the captains was the engine room. Although none of the original engineering components were left, most of it had been rebuilt and put into motion. The whole mechanism slowly rotated the same way as it would have originally, albeit under electrical propulsion and not steam. There were more cabins around the engine room with the galley fore of the engine room. The galley was fully fitted out with stove fires lit (electrically) and food being prepared. Fore of the galley was the steerage accommodation. Down stairs to the saloon galley where the splendid dining saloon was situated. Tables laid out with ssGB plates, cups & saucers ready for a meal. There were several locked doors around the saloon which may have been states room. Fore of the dining saloon there was a better view of the engine room behind perspex. Then there is another dining room that was closed to the public. Close to the bow was the cargo deck and a walkway to viewing the forward hold. That was about as far as we were allowed to go.
I slowly made my way back up to the top deck and handed back my audio companion. I had commented about the fact there were two cannon on deck, I was told that on trans-Atlantic voyages it never carried any but for the long haul to Australia, where it would return with gold, it would carry eight cannons and a hundred muskets.
Some modern additions to the ship included two lifts, one normal and one wheelchair, to get from the weather deck down to the promenade and saloon decks. Public toilets are available on the saloon deck.
I made my way back through the museum and around the rear to look at the masts that were fitted to the ship after it's last modifications, they were huge, the largest masts ever. I wandered around the Great Western Dockyard before heading back to the shop and exit. Whilst in the dockyard I had spotted Matthew, a 500 year old replica of a square rigged caravel, would be nice to get close but couldn't work out how. I went into the shop and bought the guide book and a couple of other bits, after all the ss Great Britain is a charity. I also asked how to get closer to Matthew to get some better photos than the ones I got at the Sea Shanty festival in Falmouth earlier in the year.
In summary, the whole site is both very interesting and fascinating. A must for anyone who has any interest in ships, especially divers. I am used to seeing the remains of old ships without any understanding of what the used to looked like close up, now I have some knowledge. As a charity the ss Great Britain needs all the help it can get to keep up the good work and look after the worlds first steel ship, the largest of it's day. So if you are near Bristol and have a few hours spare, find the ss Great Britain and enjoy.