If you are planning things to do with kids in Bristol any time soon, then I really think that a visit to the SS Great Britain should make it to the top of your list. We were lucky enough to visit recently with the girls, and were completely inspired by what turned out to be a fun and interactive day out for all the family.
The walk towards the SS Great Britain was perfect for setting the scene for our day out. We made our way from The Bristol Wing along the harbour towards the ship’s final resting place after it had been rescued from the Falkland Islands in 1970.
A Bit of History About the SS Great Britain
Why did Ewan Corlett insist on recusing the SS Great Britain?
It’s probably worth sharing with you a little bit about the history of the SS Great Britain first. Isambard Kingdom Brunel was an engineering genius of the 19th century and many of his inventions live on today and effect our day to day lives.
As well as the Clifton Suspension Bridge and his work on the Great Western Railway, Brunel also designed the SS Great Britain in 1843 which was the largest ship in the world at the time. This ship carried luxury passengers across the Atlantic for many years before being used by the Gibbs, Bright & Co to transport immigrants to Australia.
The SS Great Britain was a revolutionary ship for the travel industry and pathed the way for the modern cruise liners you see today. After her sailing life she was used as a floating warehouse for a company based on the Falkland Islands before being discarded and left to rot in a shallow cove.
Knowing her historic significance, Ewan Corlett was determined to bring her back to Bristol and share her fascinating story. The mission was challenging from start to finish but the rescue teams managed to get her afloat despite the risk of her breaking in half, and bought her back to England on a giant pontoon.
On the 19th July 1970 the SS Great Britain finally made it back to Bristol after travelling 8000 miles over 2 long difficult months for the rescue mission. So many people came to welcome her home, and I just happened to get talking to someone who was there as a child before our visit.
She had shared with me what a big day it was for Bristol and how when she first went on the ship it was just a shell. Now it’s a very impressive restoration of what life would have been like during it’s luxury travel days and well worth a visit if you are in the area.
Going into the SS Great Britain Dockyard
As we entered the exhibition, the rather impressive stern of SS Great Britain very much set the scene for what was to come. Around the dockyard itself there was lots cargo and displays to depict the types of things that would have been loaded onto SS Great Britain for one of her voyages which made for a great talking point with the kids.
The next stop was to go around the ship in the incredibly impressive dry dock below the ship. We could walk all the way around the ship and see the replica of the impressive propeller that Brunel designed to power the SS Great Britain. Here you really do get a sense of the incredible size of this vessel.
At the SS Great Britain there is a new museum dedicated to the fascinating life and entrepreneurial spirit of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. This part of the visit really helped bring to life the character behind SS Great Britain and of course his other engineering accomplishments.
We learnt here that Brunel was not just a ambitious engineer of his time but also quite the celebrity and media sensation of the day. The newspapers and of course public were fascinated with him and reported on every detail of his life, not just his engineering success.
The most impressive feature of this museum is the 8 foot model of Brunel’s head complete with his unmistakeable hat and cigar. Here you can literally get inside his mind by walking through his ear canal and get a really personal take on how is mind worked complete with cigar smells and fascinating story telling.
Inside SS Great Britain
Before making our way onto the ship, we went through the SS Great Britain exhibit which is fantastic for kids. The girls got to steer the ship in a virtual reality kind of way and learn about more about the SS Great Britain’s long and fascinating history, from her epic journeys around the globe to the incredible recovery mission to bring her back to Bristol docks where she was built.
One of the highlights for the girls was the creative room where they were encouraged to create a picture that would celebrate their own life in the similar way that Brunel’s life was being depicted at the museum. It was a lovely way to help connect them with the exhibit and it gave us all a chance to have a little sit down.
The best part of the day was of course going on board the SS Great Britain. We picked up our boarding cards and ventured on the top deck. The staff had already mentioned to us to look our for the talking toilet and the pigs, so the girls were already excited about what they might find on board.
They enjoyed scrubbing the decks and finding pigs, cows and chickens was a real surprise to them. Below deck was even more of an eye opener for them with the fully restored cabins and the tiny beds that the ships guests were expected to sleep on.
The exhibit really brings to life what life would have been like onboard the ship with rooms dedicated to the ships doctor, barber and alike. On the lower decks you can explore the kitchens as well as the ships engines and coal room. It really is amazing how the SS Great Britain has been given this second lease of life after it’s journey back from the Falkland Islands where it was at risk of being completely destroyed.
Final Thoughts on visiting the SS Great Britain
As a family we all thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the SS Great Britain and Being Brunel exhibition. We all came away feeling like we knew Brunel a little bit better and understood how his entering talents shaped not only the world at the time, but how things are today in respect to the engineering world.
Visiting SS Great Britain has to be at the top of your list of things to do if you are planning a trip to Bristol as there is something here for everyone to enjoy. If you didn’t make a point of going during your time in Bristol, I think you would very much regret it!
We were provided with complimentary tickets to visit the SS Great Britain but all thoughts and opinions are our own.