Ship-Shape and Bristol Fashion
I. K. Brunel was a very busy man: He always had a lot of irons in the fire.
So when the board of the Great Western Railway engaged him to build a railway linking London and Bristol his contract stipulated that he should not be involved in any other railway venture until the GWR (God's Wonderful Railway) was complete.
The businessmen of Bristol insisted on there being a board of directors in Bristol as well as London and so Brunel started at both ends of the route and worked towards the middle. On the way he built such famous structures as Maidenhead Bridge and Box Tunnel, both of which are still in use by a very much heavier railway service than when it commenced.
The wise men at GWR had overlooked one characteristic of Mr. Brunel's to which I alluded above and when the GWR opened in 1841 it was smartly followed by ss Great Britain in 1843. He also completed that year the Thames Tunnel which his father had started. Thus, without breaking the terms of his contract he managed to simultaneously develop and build the world's first underwater tunnel and first iron-hulled ship with a screw propulsion.
We have come to Bristol today to join an excursion by Watford & District Industrial History Society.
After visiting the Empire and Commonwealth Museum at Temple Meads we were given a tour of Brunel's original station buildings which now house the museum. With the demise of the Commonwealth Institute in London this new venture is a much less jingoistic reflection of our imperial past and, I think, does the subject justice.
About 20 years ago we paid for a couple of deck planks during the restoration of ss Great Britain and when we went to see them we were rather disappointed at the poor quality job that was being done. I am pleased to say that visiting the ss Great Britain today is a vastly improved experience. The ship now sits in water which you can walk underneath and their is an interesting exhibition shoreside.
To complete the day we took a boat tour oft he floating dock. And all the while the sun shone.This is the way excursions should be organised.