More than 150 years old, Brunel’s Victorian steam ship SS Great Britain has been lovingly restored in its entirety, from the first class dining saloon, and the Captain’s cabin, right through to the crew’s quarters, sleeping areas for the royal marines, ship’s kitchens and stores, also including the steerage accommodation.
From the banner line at the ship’s entrance inviting the visitor to enjoy “A Voyage Back In Time”, no detail has been left untouched. From sights, sounds and even smells of the time (i.e, the horrifyingly realistic smell of the stewardess being sick into a bowl in her quarters to the the horse manure wafting from the hull of the ship). On deck – ‘sounds’ of rigging being pulled around the ship can be heard in every quarter whilst multicoloured flags on the ship’s masts provide a perfect contrast against the backdrop of the Clifton wood pastel houses on the opposite hillside. Every effort has been executed to make the experience as authentic as possible.
This floating museum houses a glass ‘sea’ under which visitors can examine the outer shell of the ship’s hull and the impressive engine room where the full majesty of the ship’s steel and brass engine can be observed. Boys, young and old particularly seem to find this section thoroughly fascinating. Witnessing the sheer noise and and scale of this replica engine wheel clunking around, the beauty of the brass arm pushing the wheel clearly seems to mesmerise even the most discerning of onlookers. Similarly, each of the ship’s rooms tell a tale of their own; from the gruesome and realistic doctor’s Surgery (complete with a sailor’s lacerated injury being treated on a blood stained table, bottles of castor oil, Dr Deanne’s paragoric elixir, etc) to the Captain’s cabin – the captain shouting at his assistant. The expressions on the ‘models’ faces are realistic and quite gruesome; depicting a heated argument. Here you can feel the full potential for a stressful ride back in those days.
Outside in the Dockyard Museum, visitors can be transported back in time to enjoy a fully detailed history of the ship, including interesting facts about the type of passengers the SS Great Britain carried. Gold-diggers, magicians, nuns, soldiers would travel on the ship to Australia, andAnthony Trollope wrote his novel ‘Lady Anna’ from start to finish during one of his voyages.
Beautifully displayed relics from the ship provide more than ample visual stimulation. Placards and video screens display further facts from the entrance onwards… “sailors carved graffiti into wooden planks on the ship to relax”. Original dockyard features include beer barrels and anchors situated next to the ship for observing, accompanied by original rescue boats, rigging and ropes for those wishing to take note.
Even younger children are catered for, with interactive ‘lift the flap’ panels with interesting tasks and facts underneath to enjoy. There is a rope pully for the ship’s horn, which seems to attract smaller visitors’ attention with amusing regularity and the beautifully burnished ship’s wheel for budding sailors to ‘steer west into the setting sun’. In addition, on the top deck, there are stables housing model cows, pigs and chickens complete with sound effects. Younger children love stroking them and talking to them.
For those visitors even more hungry for interactive information, there are also Audio companions provided to talk visitors through the experience of being a 1st, 2nd or 3rd class passenger on board.
Approaching the end of one’s adventure on the SS Great Britain, there are also tea rooms and a shop with relevant and appropriate gifts and merchandise, should any small visitors have taken a shine to the ship’s creator, Mr Brunel.
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