Monday, 15 November 2010

Brunel's Great Britain

Tuesday 28 May 1998. Having spent this Tuesday morning in the Roman baths and walking around the city of Bath, we have motored up to Bristol for the afternoon prior to continuing onwards towards the Cotswolds for the rest of our holiday

We had looked around Brunel's steam ship S.S. Great Britain soon after it opened to visitors in Bristol after being salvaged and brought back from the Falkland Isles where it had been rotting to bits for a considerable number of years.

The last time I saw this ship was 1977 and it was still a hulk, with more holes than was good for any lump of iron designed to float on water. The 6-bladed propellor had just been fitted and I can't remember seeing much of the inside of the ship at all.

The design of black squares by the way was deliberate to fool any pirates that the ship had a row of gun ports.

The interior of the ship looking towards the stern windows.

Passenger cabins are behind the doors to the sides and a couple of these incredibly tiny rooms have been restored to give an idea of the cramped space that even first class passengers endured. That old couple who snuggled up in the film of Titanic had a really luxurious space compared with this ship!

The dining room had been restored to a state where it could be booked for parties or functions. It looked rather splendid, but - surely those chairs were not quite of the correct period? They looked suspiciously like conference chairs that could be locked together in rows...

We saw the engine compartment, but not an engine. A replica of the engine was being built and presumably has been duly fitted at some point since 1998. Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the engineer, had fitted an engine sideways into his ship to drive a propellor rather than side paddle wheels. It was the first ocean-going propellor-driven iron ship.

We emerge onto the deck through the door of a tiny little protuberance on the deck - if you weren't sure what it was you'd have taken it for a privy.

And no, they didn't grow lettuce and cucumbers onboard - those are not frames, they are skylights to light the decks below. When you consider that this was the largest ship of its time, it still seems (not seems, but is) small compared with the liners of today.

Miss Franny had a go at steering the ship. She is however facing the rear end. There would be two people steering, which they would do from each side of the wheel. Then if one got washed overboard or needed to break off to do a quick hornpipe or something, there would still be one man left to steer.

Despite the engine the ship was rigged to carry sail, which it did to conserve fuel and do its bit for the green movement and sustainability.

At the forrard end (14 years since I worked at Fleetwood's Nautical College but the terminology just trips from my fingers!) we found the ship's bell and as you can guess it didn't take me long to discover someone had removed the clapper. Undaunted I gave the inside a hefty swipe with the edge of a coin and it gave a nice little ding! Nobody rushed up with a tot of rum though... quite disappointing!

Large versions of the photos: all the photographs from this holiday are in a set at Flickr.

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