The SS. Great Britain, Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s great leviathan, is surprising difficult to photograph; it’s so big! Of course, you read about its vast size and you see quite a bit of it in photographs on-line, but nothing really prepares you for seeing it in the Great Western Dry Dock. One walks around the dockside, stopping occasionally, raising the camera, stepping back and then back again and then you still can’t fit even half of the ship in the frame. Here are some of the photographs I did manage to take.
1. The Rudder: I think this photograph sums up the scale of the Great Britain the best. The underside of the ship, or what ever the technical term is for the percentage of the ships hull which is usually under the waterline, is accessible to visitors and you can walk amongst the props holding the ship up in its dry dock. It’s here that you see the lasting damage caused by her years as a wreck in the Falkland Islands. Patches of rust were showing (at the time of my visit) around holes that were big enough to put your finger in (not that I did and I don’t recommend you do). Dehumidifiers beside the keel stop the ship corroding any further. The SS. Great Britain’s website informs me that the enclosed dock is “as arid as the Arizona Desert!” You can read more about it here: http://www.ssgreatbritain.org/story/conserving-ss-great-britain
2. The Engine Room: This reconstruction of the engine is colossal! It almost fills the space and again its size makes it almost impossible to photograph. If I remember rightly, you edge your way around the mighty engine whilst it whirls around as if under steam. In some ways the size of the engine is more alarming than the size of the ship, because at least when you are standing on the deck you can say to yourself, “Well, it’s as big as this or that landmark in Bristol”. In the engine room the only point of reference is the engine itself.
3. The Cabins: I visited Bristol in the company of my Cardiff based associate Mr. G. A and most of his photographs were of the interior of the ship, which is so cramped that you can’t really tell what it is he was photographing me looking at! We were there on a weekday with a handful of other visitors so you could not really get anything like an impression of what it would have been like with every cabin sold out on a long sea voyage to the other side of the world. This was one of the few photographs I took below decks, but G. A took much greater notice of the living conditions and took a special interest in all the hand bills pasted up for the passengers attention, regarding their conduct on board ship and services offered by various tradesmen to their fellow passengers. The best (and most amusing) handbill G photographed, in our opinion, advertised the services of a Mr. P. A. Jones who styled himself as a “Barber and Poet”; look out for it.
4. The Deck: The deck, thinking about it now, reminds me of the promenade at Cleethorpes, but with the obvious additions of numerous skylights, half-a-dozen masts and a great big funnel. The best way to get an idea of how high you are from the ground is to look down at the dockside. Great pains have obviously been taken to restore the dockside building and collect a prodigious amount of antique luggage to help set the scene.
5. The Livestock: It is not the most conventional method of trying to give someone an idea of the scale of a ship, but the deck of the SS. Great Britain can accommodate, without any difficulty, two cows in a purpose build stall. The dockside also has a pen containing two sheep and two pigs, so presumably they also had quarters aboard. If you would like to know more here is a link to the SS. Great Britains website: http://www.ssgreatbritain.org/story/conserving-ss-great-britain