Visit to SS Great Britain – 12th June 2017

On a very pleasant morning a coach party of 50 members travelled to Bristol to visit the historic SS Great Britain. Brunel’s SS Great Britain is one of the most important historic ships in the world. When she was launched in 1843 she was called ‘the greatest experiment since the Creation’. There was much to see and do in the Dockyard Museum. It was alive with sights, sounds and even smells.

The ship has been painstakingly restored inside, and also the upper deck and rigging to show how she looked in her heyday and to recreate life on the world’s first great luxury liner. Sitting on her glass ‘sea’, Brunel’s SS Great Britain dominates Bristol’s historic waterfront, adorned with flags and ready for departure, just as she looked after her launch in 1843.

Moisture is the enemy of the ss Great Britain and her iron hull is extremely vulnerable to corrosion. To keep the air as dry as possible the Dry Dock has been sealed by a huge water-line glass plate. The plate surrounds the ship, flooded with a shallow layer of water to give the illusion of being afloat. This also acts as an insulator, helping to save between 10% and 20% in energy bills. Beneath the plate the air is kept dry by a giant dehumidification plant (its sister plant lies inside the ship’s hull), which ensures the atmosphere around the hull, is maintained at a relative humidity of 20%. This means that the air in the Dry Dock is now as arid as that of the Arizona Desert!

The upper deck, known as the Weather Deck, looks today much as it did in 1845, when the very first passengers went aboard at the start of their voyage to New York. The deck space was divided into different areas for passengers travelling first, second class, and steerage. Only passengers travelling first class were allowed to cross a white painted boundary line into an area behind the mainmast especially reserved for their use. Those that are brave can climb the rigging. Our very own Wendy Atkinson stepped into the shoes of a Victorian sailor and climbed the huge mainmast to the acclaim of us all.

The Promenade Deck was a playground for the passengers who were able to pay for first class, luxury travel. Here they could walk, dance, flirt and socialise without having to get wet or windswept on the upper deck. We explored the cabins, located on either side of the Promenade Deck. We met some of the passengers who travelled first class on the SS Great Britain between 1845 and 1875. There was also the chance to dress in Victorian Costume and have photographs taken as though you were a real passenger. Ken and Jean Braddick took this opportunity. (see photo)

Eating and drinking was a big part of life on board. As soon as 1st class passengers got over their sea-sickness they came to the Dining Saloon to enjoy the best that the ship’s galley could offer.  2nd class and steerage passengers food was very rough and ready to say the least. The ship often carried more than 600 passengers and crew. The galley staff had to be able to keep all of those stomachs full without the opportunity to buy any extra supplies during the voyage.

Steerage, also know as third class, is where most passengers lived during the voyages. It was the cheapest accommodation and located on the lower decks in the forward end of the ship. Accommodation was certainly cramped but the biggest problem for most people was not the food or beds, but the noisy neighbours.

The forward hold looks today much as it did in 1970 when the salvage team brought the ship back from the Falkland Islands. This is one of the best places to see important features of the ship’s construction and how horses were carried when the ship was used to transport soldiers to the Crimean War.

The engine seen today is a full-scale working model constructed using modern lightweight materials. Visitors can see the engine turning, hear the sounds of stokers shovelling coal, and also smell the engine room and its oil and coal.

The harbour-side was lovely to stroll along with many coffee houses, boat trips, and the M shed museum which tells the story of Bristol.

Tied up to Wapping Wharf was The Matthew, which is a replica of the 15th Century caravel that John Cabot sailed from Bristol to Newfoundland in 1497. In 1997 she sailed across the Atlantic once more to mark the 500th anniversary of the original voyage. Today, The Matthew is a much-loved part of Bristol’s maritime heritage and is currently being refurbished

To end our visit we were treated to tea/coffee and cake in the Hayward Saloon (2nd class). Both our journeys were very good and we arrived back in Carterton happy, after having had a very enjoyable day.  Pam

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