If some romantic historical novelist was to set down the story of the S.S Great Britain it would undoubtedly be dismissed by the publisher as being too fanciful but the history of this craft which I will precis for you here is entirely true.
As they sing in the Sound of Music, "Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start." In the first place the SSGB, as I will call it for ease of typing, was never meant to look like it does now. It was originally designed as a paddle steamer but the plans were converted to screw propulsion by the famous engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel who seems to have had a hand in most of the great engineering endeavours of the 19th century from the Thames Tunnel (near where I live) through the Clifton suspension Bridge near Bristol, the Great Western Railway and Temple Meads Station (see seperate tip) and finally to ocean going liners.
The vessel was launched on 1843 to cater for the transatlantic passenger trade which was burgeoning at the time as the Americas were being opened up and many left to seek their fortune. At launch, she was the largest ship in the world, over 100 feet longer than the next largest. Unfortunately for the owners, the luxury market they were aiming for was not as healthy as they had expected and the venture failed soon when the ship ran aground on the coast of Northern Ireland (not far from my family home) in 1846.
New owneres followed and a new venture. The trips to North America were superseded by trips to Australia coinciding with the gold rush there and the vessel was duly altered now providing accomodation for 750 passengerss as opposed to the original 252. An early case of the low-cost carrier I suppose. This "pack 'em in and ship 'em" business model continued until 1876 with a brief sideline in 1855 when the Government commissioned her to carry 44,000 troops to the Crimean War and further troops to the Indian Mutiny. As a sporting sideline, she carried the first ever England cricket team to tour Australia in 1861. Eat your heart out Andy Strauss, Matt Prior et al.
We all get older, humans and ships alike, and by the late 1870's the vessel was no longer capable of carrying passengers half way round the world but the story does not end there. In 1882 they ripped out the engine and she served as a three masted sailing vessel, a windjammer, moving coal from Wales to San Fransisco around the ship's graveyard of Cape Horn. It couldn't last forever and in 1886 her luck ran out when she sustained damage rounding the Cape and had to run for shelter in the Falkland Islands where she suffered the ignominy of becoming a wool and coal hulk in Port Stanley surviving two World Wars until in 1937 the hull ceased to be watertight and she was towed a little way away from Stanley, holed, beached and abandoned. This was truly a terrible end for such an icon of the great age of British engineering.
The story still does not end, however. In 1970 there was a recognition of how important SSGB actually was, and she was remarkably refloated and towed back to her home in Bristol. she was towed into the Floating Harbour by the John King tug (see seperate tip) where she remains to this day.
Since that 1970 homecoming there has been a major restoration project including "floating" the vessel on a perspex sheet which is climatically controlled below to preserve the fragile hull. Within the craft has been restored to her former glory, including numerous tableaux of what life must have been like. I found the place fascinating and went on a bit of a "Kodak frenzy" to the extent that I cannot include all my images within this tip, so I would ask you to look at the travelogues on this page for a better visual idea of what you can expect. I shall only include one image here.
And now from the wonderful history of the SSGB to the more prosaic matters of how to visit the place.
SSGB is open daily except Xmas Eve and Xmas Day. It opens 1000 every day and closes 1630 31st October to 27th March. Other days it is open to 1730 hours. There are a range of ticket prices, see the website for details.
For disabled visitors there are excellent facilities which it would be pointless to list here. I would direct you to the very comprehensive webpage here.
I am loath to use the phrase "must see" but it really does apply here.
The SS Great Britain is one of those 'something-for-tourists-to-do Experience Centre' thingies and I can easily understand why some VT tips list it as a tourist trap. It isn't cheap at £10.50
for a single adult (there are deals). This buys you 'membership' for a year, meaning you can visit for free, but that's only really of use if you're fairly local.
However, if you have any real interest in such things there is a huge amount on offer here, presented with brio. The ship is housed in the dry-dock in which she was built, and from the quayside at first she appears to be afloat. A cunning illusion: look closer and there is a rubber seal running round the waterline. The water is only a few centimetres deep. Enter the glass-walled entrance cubicle and descend into the dry dock and you are below the water, a skin of ripples across the glass ceiling.
You are now in a climate-controlled environment engineered to preserve the frail plating of the hull. Below the waterline this has largely been left as it was, in places rusted clean through, although at the stern the original screw and innovative balanced rudder have been recreated.
After a good look at what came back from the Falklands you're ready to board the ship herself . Here a large amount has been restored including much of the accommodation, the magnificent first-class dining salon, and replica engines.
Although a giant in her time the Great Britain is small compared to today's ocean-going ships. The cabins are tiny, with berths a mere 50cm across, and should stop any whingeing about conditions on aircraft.
Lastly there is the museum, which has various chunks of the ship - most impressively the main yard, a wrought-iron construction the length of the building - as well as memorabilia and some rather unconvincing 'interactive' exhibits to provide children with handles to turn.
I'd say great if you're really interested. If you just want a gander at the vessel, she's best viewed from across the water on the Hotwells Road or from one of the river boats.
SS Great Britain was built and launched in 1843 and was the world’s first ocean-going, propeller driven iron ship, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel for the Great Western Steamship Company she served as the transatlantic trip between Bristol and New York.
At times of war SS Great Britain was used as a troopship, serving in both the Crimea and India. Later she was converted to a sailing ship carrying coal from Wales to San Francisco. Following storm damage off Cape Horn in 1886, she struggled to the Falkland Islands where she was used as a storage hulk for wood and coal. She was beached in Sparrow Cove in 1937. She was salvaged in 1970, towed back to Bristol and has now been restored to her former glory.
November 1 to March 26: 10:00 am to 4:30 pm
March 27 to October 31: 10:00 am to 5:30 pm
Adult - £11.95
Child 16 & Under - £5.95
Child 4 & Under - Free
After Brandon Hill we decided to walk along the harbour. What a great idea! The sun was shining brightly and we just stopped from time to time just to take pictures of small canoe(pic 2), of waters taxis or the famous SS Great Britain and Matthew ships (pic 3) before returning back to the city center (pic 5). I always liked the cities that have a river right in the middle and in Bristol this is Avon River. The floating harbour created at the beginning of 19th century so the ships to float without risking to get stacked in the mud.
There are two ships that worth to see. They are moored near Anchor Road so you have to pass the other side to take a close look but if you are not interested to go inside you can skip this step and just take free photos as you walk along the harborside and the dock area.
The SS Great Britain is an iron ship, actually the first of this kind and the largest of that era(about 98 meters long) designed by the famous English engineer Isambard Brunel in 1843 (he also designed the Clifton Suspension Bridge and the train station). After carrying millions of passengers around the world it now stands back in the dock where it was first built.
Next to SS Great Britain you can also see the Matthew, a replica of John Cabot’s Matthew, the ship he used back in 1497 for sail to America. It looks very small comparing to the SS Great Britain next to it but it was built 350 years earlier.
The entrance fee for both ships is £7.50.
This museum costs £10.95 (as of February 2008), for which you are given day membership. Strangely, 'day' membership entitles you to visit the museum for one year. I disagree with some of the other tips posted here, as the museum experience is good, and I felt it was worth the money.
The SS Great Britain was an ocean liner designed by one of the most celebrated British engineers, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and launched in 1843. I believe it was the first to have an iron hull, a screw propeller and a balanced rudder, for those of you who are interested in such things!
Having completed many circuits of the world as a liner, troop ship and emigration ship, before becoming damaged by fire and taken out of service, the ship is now in dry dock in Bristol, where it is the centrepiece of the SS Great Britain Museum.
The museum has 3 sections - a cleverly designed below 'water' level, an external gallery with details of the ship's history, and the ship itself. The ship, being made of iron, was liable to corrode, so a glass sheet was built at water level, and the air below this is dehumidified to prevent the hull rusting. As a result, you can walk around the hull, which gives you a good idea of the scale of the ship. The gallery has quite a few interesting exhibits, although not all are directly related to the ship itself, with some being very tenuous indeed (eg. the Rolls Royce gas turbine engine). After this, you can walk on and below decks, to see what first and steerage class travel would have been like. Cramped, basically.
You can actually rent out the ship for events, as they have a function room on the lowest deck.
Next door to the SS GB is the Matthew, a square rigged sailing ship based on one from the 15th century. This is free to look at, or you can sometimes pay for a jaunt around the harbour. Unfortunately, this was not available when I visited.
A brand new addition in 2004 to the SS Great Britain tour is its clever glass 'sea'. This massive 160+ year old ship is back in the dry dock where it was first built. To preserve the iron structure a glass ceiling has been sealed around the ship's hull (at 'sea' level) and then a layer of water has been poured on top of that. So you can go below the sea to look at the hull from below. And its massive propellor and clever rudder.
I found out about this new attraction because the company I work for were project managers of the scheme!
It is a strange experience in this new area. A massive dehumidifying machine, called "Deep Thought II", keeps the humidity below 20% i.e. verrry low! It was a hot day when I visited but the dry, airconditioned environment was very pleasant. And very quiet too, I don't think most people realise the 'under sea' experience is there!!
Included in admision ticket to SS Great Britain. See website
Built and launched in Bristol in 1843 by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The vessel was the world’s first ocean-going, propeller driven iron ship.
After a life as a luxury liner designed for trans-atlantic crossings, troop ship, cargo vessel and floating warehouse, she was abandoned in the Falklands Islands in 1937. She was salvaged in 1970, towed back to Bristol and has now been restored to her former glory
Adult £8.95 child £4.95
This ship, the Matthew, is a faithful replica of the one that John Cabot sailed to the New World in 1497. She is docked near the SS Great Britain.
Cabot was an Italian explorer who, like Columbus, thought that he could reach Asia by sailing westward. Having settled in Bristol, he made overtures to local merchants, and persuaded them to finance his voyage. Cabot explored what is now Newfoundland, Labrador, and New England.
This was the first vessel of her kind. Designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, she was built in 1843. The Great Britain was the first steam-powered ocean liner, and the first one driven by Brunel's new innovation--the propeller. She was 322 feet long, and carried up to 252 passengers and 130 crew. Many years ahead of her time, this great ship is a must-see for anyone interested in the sea.
When it was launched in 1843, this early steam ship was the largest in the world. It had a working life of 90 years then spent 30 years beneath the South Atlantic. In 1970 it was re-floated and towed back to the city of its birth, Bristol.
Now the ship has been fully restored and re-opened, looking splendid. There is a large interactive museum and information shed next to the ship.
And you get an audio tour of the ship included in the ticket price... from the point of view of either a rich passenger, a steerage passenger, the ship's cat or... oh I can't remember the fourth option. The commentary is triggered at set points around the ship, very interesting but I advise you to stand still till each piece finishes. Several times I walked through a doorway and the commentary suddenly changed!!
The museum shed is full of information and pictures about the ship's colourful life, operating from Liverpool, South wales, San Franscisco, Sydney and finally the Falkland Islands. A few things to keep the kids amused too.
Ticket price in 2005 was 7.50 GBP for adults. This includes admission to the replica of John cabot's 1497 ship, The Matthew
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