The photograph is probably the most conspicuous of the souvenirs I brought back from my last visit to Bristol and the SS. Great Britain. To quote from The Great Western Dockyard Companion, which served as my guide, “GO ALOFT! Head to the Weather Deck to climb the rigging for a unique and exhilarating view of Bristol“. I must admit I didn’t sign up straight away, but I spoke to a chap who seemed very relaxed about the whole thing and before I knew it I’d signed my life away and emptied my pockets. You might not be able to see, but as well as a helmet I’m wearing a harness and I was clipped to a rope or cable in at least two places at all times. The relaxed chap stood on the deck and watched my careful progress up the rigging to a platform, on which stood a young woman who seemed perfectly at home at such a great height. With some encouraging, I managed to edge my way out and I had my photograph taken; as you can see! My four year old nephew was very impressed when I showed him the photograph and the certificate that goes with it describes my “Character for ability in climbing the mast and rigging” as “Very Good“, which I am very pleased about!
The passenger ticket is rather interesting. It has four stamps, representing the four stages of the ship’s life and four sections of the Dockyard Museum; The Ocean Liner, The Emigrant Clipper, The Wind Jammer and The Grand Old Lady. At first I thought these were a bit of a novelty, but as came to the end of the exit of the museum, which leads onto the ship, I realised I was missing a stamp [I can’t remember which one] so I had to run back and find it! Perhaps more museums should operate a stamp system to insure that the visitors to not miss anything.
“The Great Western Dockyard Companion” contains a map of the dockyard, a plan of the three decks and the dry dock.
Arabian Gulf, dockyard, Harbour, HM Forces, HMS Atherstone, HMS Victory, mine, mine countermeasures, Minehunter, Persian Gulf, Portsmouth, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, Royal Navy, Ships, The Gulf, warship
A popular internet search engine and the Royal Navy’s own website inform me that M38 is associated with HMS Atherstone, “one of eight Hunt Class mine countermeasures ships based in Portsmouth“, currently on deployment in the Persian Gulf (refereed to as the Arabian Gulf by some). This photograph was one of a series taken on one of Portsmouth Historic Dockyard’s harbour tours, but this one is the best. As well as the masts of Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory, being visible on the left in the Historic Dockyard you can also see the semaphore tower, on top the headquarters of Naval Base Commander and the Queen’s Harbour Master, within the working Naval Base.
My walks by the Marina almost always take me passed H.M.S Explorer, but I’ve never noticed anyone on board, so manage my surprise the patrol vessel positively buzzing with activity! Curiosity got the better of me and I shouted, in my heartiest voice, “Going anywhere nice?!” An officer and a gentleman (judging by the way he naturally stepped forward out of the crowd of uniformed figures on the bridge and the tone of his voice) replied, “Whitby!” I was quite envious, to be honest with you, but I doubt Her Britannic Majesty’s Royal Navy is so desperate for recruits that they would take me aboard!
If you visit H.M.S Belfast keep your complimentary map handy; I managed to get lost more than once! You start off in the salmon pink Life On Board section, before making your way down into the yellow How It Works section and somehow you end up on top of the superstructure in the green Where It All Happens section; simple! Perhaps if I’d followed my audio guide…
Navigational issues aside; H.M.S Belfast is a very interesting ship and worth remembering. Before my visit I always thought of “London’s Floating Naval Museum” as being synonymous with the World War Two, but almost as soon as you board you realise the ship was extensively refitted in 1956 to equip the ship for the “atomic age”. The ship’s laundry, galley, bakery and quite a few other parts of the ship date from this period and offer an interesting insight into life in the Royal Navy of the late 1950s – early 1960s.
I also remember the statistics relating to the ship’s service in the Korean War coming as a complete surprise to me, for example, H.M.S Belfast travelled “97,035 miles ” during the conflict, it’s gunners fired “7,816 rounds of 6-inch ammunition” and got through “625 tons of potatoes”.
If I had to mention only one more thing these souvenirs bring to mind, it would have to be H.M.S Belfast’s service with the “Arctic Convoys“, taking supplies to the Soviet Union during World War Two, because the white beret of The Russian Convoy Club isn’t an uncommon sight in my home town on Remembrance Sunday. It was good to see that the Convoys are remembered right in the heart of London, on board a ship that once ploughed the same Arctic waters between 1942 and 1943.
The third floor of the M Shed, a museum dedicated to the story of Bristol and its “unique place in the world”, offers exceptional views of the Floating Harbour and various points of nautical interest. Here are some of the main points of interest; photographed on a remarkably sunny afternoon.
The Electric Cranes.
40 cranes like these once worked the City Docks during Bristols 1950’s maritime hay day, but now only four remain. These cranes were a product of the Stothert & Pitt works in Bath.
It is difficult to believe that this ship is not even as old as I am; the ship being commissioned in 1994. The Matthew, captained by John Cabot, set sail from Bristol and across the Atlantic to find a new sea route to Asia, but bumped into Newfoundland instead.
The Fairbairn Steam Crane.
To quote the M Shed’s website, “The striking banana-shaped crane is the Fairbairn Steam crane, now the oldest surviving exhibit of its type in Britain and a Scheduled Ancient Monument“. The steam crane is also a product of the Stothert & Pitt works in Bath and, according to a certain on line encyclopaedia, it weighs in at 35 tons. You can also see two trains from the M Shed’s collection and I believe the one on the left is “Henbury”, built by Bristol based locomotive manufacturers Peckett & Sons in 1937.
The tug, John King, was built in 1935 to tow cargo ships from the City Docks to the mouth of the River Avon.
Striking, isn’t it? If you’re visiting Hull you will find it behind the Maritime Museum on Queen Victoria Square. You can’t really get an impression of the height of the memorial in this photograph photograph, but this article about on the BBC News (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-humber-24867099) informs me that it is 13 feet (that’s 4 metres) high.