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SS Great Britain

Home > Bath > Fun for Children | Fun Things To Do | Museums
by Tom Fieldhouse (subscribe)
I am a freelance writer, living in Bath with my wife and son. I love my city, and love to live here. I write about Bath a lot, and sometimes about travels in Ireland and France.
Published July 24th 2019
S S Great Britain- Britain's Greatest Ship
The marvellous prow of S S Great Britain

One of the most fascinating and important ships in the world is now in dry dock at Bristol harbour. The SS Great Britain, designed and built by Victorian genius Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The entire ship, above and below, inside and out, is a brilliant museum that is full of history brought to life.

Looking up from the base of the ship.

Now is a specially preserving dry dock, the SS Great Britain tour begins with an exploration of the iron keel of the ship. A glass ceiling, at what would have been sea leve,l has been built with rippling water playing in the light. There are many information boards throughout the tour, and artefacts and equipment from the ship placed all around to see.

The First Class dining room

There is a stark reminder of how divided the class system used to be in Victorian times. The tour takes in the vast and luxurious First Class dining room on one extreme, but also the cramped and claustrophobic steerage cabins on the other. As the first, and largest ocean going steamship of its time, the SS Great Britain worked as a passenger vessel between Australia and England for many decades, and all manner of people booked passage aboard. Some eerily realistic mannequins show what life aboard was like.

A member of steerage (lowest class), spending time in his quarters.

The restored engines and machinery (all part of the tour) are fantastic and have been painstakingly rebuilt to working order. The ship has been transformed from the rotten and unseaworthy wreck that was dragged from the Falkland Islands to Bristol harbour 50 years ago. Once it was decommissioned from making sea voyages, the ship was used as a coal store for other vessels. Visiting today, you can see the ship as it existed at its finest, as a World Class feat of design and engineering.

A small part of the gigantic steam engine of the S S Great Britain

The driving force of this Victorian wonder

The museum can be walked through in an hour, but it is well worth spending much longer there. If your group allows it, there is easily enough to see over three or four hours. A lot of displays draw upon the real experiences of actual travellers and crew who once spent time on the SS Great Britain, and there is a cafe which serves light snacks, lunches and hot drinks, should you want to sit down and relax afterwards.

A modern replica of explorer John Cabot's ship The Matthew

If you are lucky, you might catch a glimpse of another iconic ship sailing past outside. A fully-working replica of explorer John Cabot's Matthew now sails around Bristol harbour. Yet another historical vessel, from over 300 years before the S S was built. There is so much to discover in Bristol, and the real treasures for me are found on the harbourside.
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Why? Superb historical museum
When: Have a look at the helpful website
Phone: 0117 926 0680
Where: Bristol Harbourside, BS1 6TY
Cost: Very reasonable, with family ticket options and concessions.
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