It was a trip back in time on the SS Great Britain. The engineering genius Isambard Kingdom Brunel is well known for his Great Western Railway inventions and other structures, so it was enlightening to visit his first propeller-powered steamship. The largest in the world, it was launched from Bristol Harbour by Prince Albert in 1843.

Strolling from deck to deck reveals how life was divided by class in that period. First-class passengers had an easier and more luxurious journey, but for those in second-class and steerage, the living quarters were cramped with inferior and shared amenities.

A Brunel impersonator met tourists in the first-class dining room where samples of food from across the world in the Victorian era could be sampled and were unexpectedly tasty. Coriander, melon, ginger, coconut and lime, to name a few must have been a sensational burst of exotic and unusual flavours for the diners back then.

Squashed conditions of the second-class passengers on lower levels understandably caused disagreements, as four or more people shared one little wash basin and there were limited toilets.

The kitchen is much larger than I anticipated. The mannequin cook sings while preparing food at the sink, and wafting food, such as baking bread aromas set the scene. It is all very realistic, although I wasn’t very keen on silhouettes of rats running amok in the back of cupboards.

Animals were taken on the voyage for food. Cows, pigs, sheep and chickens lived in pens and crates on the top deck. Horses were transported with troops to the Crimea War, and it is difficult to comprehend how the poor creatures maintained good health with limited exercise. Some were even kept in the depths of the ship without fresh air and light. Many sadly died.

In the dry dock where the SS Great Britain was built, the bottom of the ship is displayed under glass panels with water flowing over them to give a sea effect. This ensures the vessel below is kept dry, preserving timbers and metal to stop further deterioration.

Mr Word Loft climbed down enthusiastically, but because the hot weather was intensified under the glass roof, I decided it wasn’t for me and returned to the quayside.

I found a bench in the shade on the dockside and, as usual, imagined being transported to those bygone days. High above, a young woman climbed the mast and across a boom under the guidance of an instructor. A much different scene to those seafaring tales of the past.

Admiring a small structure with elegant design work a few metres away, I was surprised to find out it was an antiquated urinal for the dockers, as it looked rather fancy for such a basic facility.

All good outings end with a rummage in the gift shop. It’s full of fine quality merchandise at reasonable prices. I bought a replica miniature luggage trunk, engraved with SS Great Britain on the lid, and filled it with innovative marbles in differing sizes for my grandson. Some things never change, he loved them, just like the children who might have played games of marbles on their long and arduous travels.

Until next time,
Sue. X