Where have we been today?
Yesterday, Tigger was asked to exercise her courier skills in Bristol. The pattern is now familiar: we bought train tickets on the way home from work and waited for the document to be delivered during the evening. Tigger left early this morning to allow for any delays or hold-ups along the way, and I followed later, with an off-peak ticket.
We are no longer strangers to Bristol, having been there several times, both on courier runs and on our own account. It was not cold or wet but it was a dull day when indoor activities seemed attractive. We decided, therefore, that we would visit Brunel’s SS Great Britain this time having missed the chance on previous visit. I have to say that the exhibition is magnificent. It serves a double purpose though both are, of course, interrelated.
The first purpose is to preserve an icon of British engineering history, and the second, to make it accessible to the public for its entertainment and education. By paying to enter the museum and making other donations, the public in turn helps to finance the museum.
The Great Britain was Brunel’s iron-clad passenger liner, in its day the largest in the world. It was a sailing ship but an auxiliary steam engine was added so that the ship could sail even when the winds were contrary or the ship was becalmed.
Built in Bristol, the Great Britain has returned to her home berth, never to sail again because the hull is too badly corroded and holed for it to be possible to restore her to sea-worthiness. She now lies permanently in dry dock, protected from further corrosion by a low-humidity atmosphere.
A pretend sea has been constructed to help imagine what the ship looked like when she sailed. Under the “surface” of this “sea” is dry space where the visitor can inspect the hull.
The interior of the ship has been restored and the visitor is allowed an unusual degree of access. We were able to enter cabins and state rooms and the beautiful dining-room and lounge area reserved in their day for first-class passengers.
You also get a glimpse behind the scenes at the captain’s cabin, the surgeon’s office, the galley and crew’s quarters. You get a very good idea of the cramped conditions endured by all classes – but especially steerage-class – during the 7-week voyage to Melbourne in Australia.
After serving as a passenger ship, the Great Britain became a cargo carrier for a while, its capacity and speed being most suitable for this purpose.
Later, the ship went to the Falklands and eventually ceased sailing, being used then as a floating warehouse and quarantine hospital. At last, the once proud monument to Brunel’s genius was declared surplus to requirements and was towed to Sparrow Bay (Falklands) and there grounded. Her hull was holed to prevent her floating away.
The Falklanders, sensitive to the historic importance of the vessel and feeling affection for her, made efforts to preserve her but funding was not available. A project was subsequently set up to return the Great Britain to Bristol and to preserve her there.
First, the ship was shackled to a pontoon which could be sunk to be attached and then raised to lift the ship clear of the bottom. In this way, the ship was towed across the Atlantic to landfall in Avonmouth. Here she was temporarily patched so that she could be towed up-river to her home berth.
Crowds turned out to watch the return of this once magnificent ship, now a sad hulk but nevertheless a striking sight. Bristolians have taken the Great Britain to their hearts and are justly proud of her.
I think a visit to the Great Britain is certainly worth the ticket price, especially as tickets are valid for one year, and during that period you can visit here as often as you wish without paying again.
I might add that we started our visit by having a delicious and reasonably priced lunch in the museum cafe. I have remarked before that such cafes are often good places to go for moderately priced meals and refreshments.
After our visit to the ship, we decided to return to London without more ado because tomorrow… guess what we are doing tomorrow?
Yes, we have another courier run tomorrow! Tigger received the news when she contacted base to confirm today’s delivery. So on the way home we must buy tickets for our next expedition.
Shall I tell you where we are going or would you rather wait until I write about it? I will write it in code so you can either read it or wait, as you please. The code uses the letter next to the actual letter so that A is written as B, B as C etc.
Tomorrow then, we are going to DBSEJGG! More on that anon.