By popular request (believe it or not) I was going to post today about the Dorset Steam Fair which we visited at the weekend. However, for various technical reasons that will now have to wait until tomorrow. Instead, you will have to make do with some thoughts and pictures on my visit last week to the ss. Great Britain - made en route back to Shropshire from Dorset.
The last time I visited the Great Britain was probably when I was about 8 or 9. I remember subverting Ben Kempton's birthday trip to Bristol (in which we went ice skating) and have a great time running around what was then a pretty much empty hull. Two restorations since then, which included urgent conservation work by Telford-based Eura Conservation (whose premises I visited only a few months ago), and the ship (and visiting experience) certainly deserves its Gulbenkian Prize.
Probably the most remarkable feature is the new glass 'roof' to the dry-dock which has created a sealed low-humidity room for the lower hull. Note all the extraction pipes.
The glass also supports a thin layer of water on top, giving the impression of the ship afloat when you are at ground level. The glass has gone a bit green since originaly installed, but the effect is still excellent.
This is the view I remember from 25 years ago, now only retained in the bow section. The interior also contains dehumidification equipment. The rear parts of the ship have had their original interiors re-created.
Another impressive 'new' feature is the reconstruction of Brunel's original engine - a full sized 1:1 working model which occupies the whole centre part of the ship.
The first class dining room, recreated in all its glory.
The ship is presented more or less as she was on her maiden voyage in 1845. The story told in the accompanying museum is excellent - unusually you enter the museum in '1970' (when the ship was returned to Bristol from the Falkland Islands) and go backwards through time to her construction from 1839. I have to say that this innovative idea didn't quite work for me, but I went backwards through the exhibition again after visiting the ship and appreciated it much more. The four phases of the ship's history prior to restoration were well-described, lots of interactives and excellent and friendly staff. On board you were free to wander around at leisure.
For me it was quite a novel experience to see a museum which clearly enjoyed joined-up managerial thinking! For instance the website, exhibition, guidebook and everything was entirely consistent in content and presentation. The need to get additional income from corporate events had clearly been planned in advance (shock horror!) so that potential clashes between curatorial accuracy and event operations were kept to a minimum (ie. there was space to store chairs, service the catering etc. etc. without unsightly piles of stuff in the corridors).
So hats off to the ss. Great Britain, and although the £10.50 admission charge was a bit steep, at least the ticket is infinitely re-useable for a whole year.
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