SS Great Britain prepares to reopen to visitors

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The ship and museum is reopening to visitors on Saturday, a day before the 50th anniversary of its homecoming.


Staff at the SS Great Britain in Bristol are preparing for the reopening of the popular tourist attraction.

It comes amid celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the homecoming of the world’s first great ocean liner.

The SS Great Britain Trust has made thorough preparations to make the ship and adjoining museums and docks safe to welcome back visitors from Saturday.

Staff clean the surface of the glass sea which surrounds the ship (Ben Birchall/PA)
Staff clean the surface of the glass sea which surrounds the ship (Ben Birchall/PA)

Sunday will be 50 years to the day Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s ship was returned to the original Bristol dock she first left 127 years earlier.

The coronavirus pandemic has cost the SS Great Britain Trust nearly £2 million in lost revenue and has also seen ambitious plans to celebrate the anniversary postponed until next year.

The solitude the ship has found in lockdown is only a fraction of that experienced when abandoned for 84 years in the Falkland Islands.

The 1970 rescue was daring and full of danger as the salvage team worked to prevent her breaking in two before she even left the Falkland Islands.


On July 19 1970, after months of work patching her up and towing her 8,000 miles back home, the rusting hull of the SS Great Britain was manoeuvred back into the Great Western Dry Dock from where she was launched on 19 July 1843.

Days earlier she passed beneath Brunel’s Clifton Suspension Bridge, for the first time.

SS Great Britain 50 years
The SS Great Britain is towed up the River Avon towards Bristol (SS Great Britain Trust/PA) 

Matthew Tanner, chief executive of the SS Great Britain Trust, said: “This is the first time in the SS Great Britain’s 50 years back home in Bristol that the doors have had to be closed, and so we are delighted to be able to re-open them to everyone in time to celebrate the 50th anniversary.


“The rescue and homecoming story from 1970 is one of audacity, ambition and ultimately achieving success against the odds.

“We are very thankful to all those great people involved in making it happen, from the trustees to the sponsors to the divers to the photojournalists who documented the entire project, capturing a strong spirit of human endeavour.”

The anniversary will be marked on Sunday with a lone piper playing on the deck of the ship in a simple and emotional moment to mark her homecoming.

Mr Tanner urged visitors to return and help protect the ship for the future.

“People can have come down, have a good time and safe time and enjoy the experience here once more, as it is an important part of life and culture,” he said.

“The challenges have not gone away and the winter is looking difficult and we hope we can access the money that the Chancellor announced for the arts to help us through until more normal times come back.

“We do need people to turn out this summer because if you value this kind of heritage people have to come and see it otherwise it won’t survive.”

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