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The SS Great Britain’s incredible journey

By bristol247, Friday Apr 3, 2020

This year is the 50th anniversary of the return of the SS Great Britain to Bristol which is being marked by a photo exhibition on Brunel Square.

In 1886, the famous ship was badly damaged in a storm and her ocean-going career came to an end. Bought by the Falklands Islands Company, she spent the next 47 years as a floating warehouse.

In 1937, after becoming too unsafe even for this, she was towed to a remote bay and scuttled in its shallow waters. Naval architect Ewan Corlett refused to let her fade away and in 1969 helped organise an audacious rescue mission to bring her home to the UK. She was raised and floated onto a giant pontoon for the 8,000 mile journey to Bristol, arriving in Avonmouth after spending two months in the Atlantic.

For the final leg of the journey, she was brought up the River Avon on her own hull, with a diving team on hand to patch up leaks and mind the pumps. Tugs guided her along the Avon’s treacherous banks and famed horse shoe bend, and she was finally welcomed home on July 19 1970 back to the dock in which she was built, exactly 127 years to the day after her launch in 1843.

The SS Great Britain navigates the River Avon’s infamous horseshoe bend in Shirehampton

“She was a ship-shaped lump of iron, rust and scrap,” said Ivor Boyce, one of the tugboat skippers who towed her home to Bristol. Photo courtesy of the SS Great Britain

The SS Great Britain moored next to what is now the Lloyds Amphitheatre. Photo courtesy of John Luke

“The idea of towing a ship on a platform up to Atlantic seemed to me to be absolutely bloody lunacy,” said Prince Phillip. “But there it is – it obviously worked.” Photo courtesy of the SS Great Britain


The only time Brunel’s SS Great Britain sailed under Brunel’s Suspension Bridge. Photo courtesy of the SS Great Britain

Main image courtesy of the SS Great Britain

Read more: Protecting the SS Great Britain’s hull while working from home


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