Postcards from Brunel's SS Great Britain

A bitterly cold grey Sunday morning found me waiting for a ferry to take me along Bristol's waterways. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I was the only customer as the first ferry service of the day arrived.

My destination was Brunel's SS Great Britain, and the ferry stops right outside this excellent museum, the centrepiece of which is Brunel's pioneering steam ship, launched in 1843 and working in various roles until the 1930s when she was scuttled in shallow waters off the Falkland Islands. She was rescued in 1970 and is now displayed in the dry dock in which she was built.

Working from top to bottom I'll start with the deck.

Inside the ship, the first class passengers travelled in gilded luxury.

A bit plainer for other passengers.

As you might expect, the hull below the waterline has suffered most from corrosion during the ship's long life. In order to prevent further deterioration it is kept in a specially controlled warm and dry atmosphere, with special industrial air-conditioning units maintaining the humidity at the correct level. You can see the air vents in some of these pictures. (The warmth was especially welcome in the bitter weather!) Cleverly, they've roofed this area with a sheet of glass at the ship's water level, and then covered it with a few inches of water, so from above the ship appears to be still afloat.

This cofferdam was responsible for keeping water out of the dry dock. Luckily there's now a modern concrete wall outside it!

The ship was modified significantly during her working life, here's a different style of propeller which can be raised into the hull to reduce drag when sailing. At another time in her history the Great Britain had no engines at all and was purely sail-powered.

I decided it was too cold for a ride on this tiny ferry which runs across the river nearby!

March 2013

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