A new deck for the SS Great Britain

29 November 2023


29 November 2023


This major conservation project is part of the SS Great Britain Trust’s ongoing work to care for Brunel’s innovative ship for the nation. Photo: Mr Brunel joins Iona Keen, Head of Interpretation and Craig Fenlon, Head of Technical Services to check on the new accoya wood.

  • Visitors to Brunel’s SS Great Britain – Bristol’s number one visitor attraction (TripAdvisor 2023) – are about to discover just how the 2,772m2 wooden deck of a 98-metre-long historic ship is replaced.
  • Thanks to vital funding from Arts Council England through the Museum Estate & Development Fund (MEND) and the support of visitors, members and donors, the SS Great Britain is being conserved for future generations to enjoy.
  • Become part of the ship’s history by buying unique gifts made from the old deck wood of the SS Great Britain. Every penny from the sale of exclusive pendants, cufflinks and wooden pens goes towards the SS Great Britain Trust’s conservation programmes.

Fitting a new deck on the world’s first great ocean liner is a once-in-a-generation occurrence. During its time at sea, the SS Great Britain welcomed 30,000 passengers and crew on board the weather deck. Since the ship returned to Bristol in 1970, millions more have had the chance to walk in their footsteps. This major conservation project is part of the SS Great Britain Trust’s ongoing work to care for Brunel’s innovative ship for the nation, ensuring that future generations can step aboard too.

Work is set to commence on 4 December with the old deck being carefully removed in sections to reveal the secrets that lie beneath. With 6,050 metres of new planks to be expertly fitted, the project is expected to take 32 weeks.

Mike Day, Senior Project Manager for the SS Great Britain Trust, explains the process:

“We’ll be gradually lifting the old timbers, piece by piece. As it’s been 33 years since the current deck was installed, we’re not sure quite what we’ll find below. The steel deck beneath the wood provides vital protection of the fragile 180-year-old iron hull and should be in pretty good condition but any necessary repairs to it will be undertaken at the same time.”

“The new deck will be installed in sections so that visitors can continue to explore every cabin and salon on board. What’s more, they’ll be able to get up close to see the deck works taking place, with opportunities to find out more about real-life conservation in action with special behind-the-scenes glimpses.”

The timber for the new deck comes from Bristol timberyard Robbins Timber based in nearby Ashton Vale. The choice of accoya wood provides the optimum lifespan with the deck expected to remain in place for at least 50 years. The wood is sustainably sourced, and having a new weatherproof deck will improve conservation efficiencies and protect the original ironwork.

Local contractor, John Perkins Construction, has been selected to undertake the installation, requiring specialist skills. Rupert Perkins from John Perkins Construction said:

“John Perkins Construction has a long track record of working on buildings and structures that are of significant heritage importance. For some time, our development as a business seemed aligned with projects on the SS Great Britain and it was a source of great pride to me that we were entrusted with working on such an iconic part of our city.

“When the opportunity to bid for the SS Great Britain Weather Deck replacement came up it felt a natural fit for our business. We are proud to be awarded this project, a positive endorsement of our skills with this specialist work. We look forward to working with the SS Great Britain Trust’s on-site team to create a seamless delivery whilst allowing visitors to gain an insight into what it takes to preserve this historical landmark for future generations.”

The vital deck conservation work has been made possible thanks to funding from Arts Council England’s Museum Estate and Development Fund. Nerys Watts, Head of External Affairs for the SS Great Britain Trust, said:

“The Weather Deck is essentially the ‘roof’ to the fragile original iron hull that was built here in Bristol back in 1843. We are incredibly grateful to Arts Council England and DCMS for their crucial support as this major conservation work helps to protect the SS Great Britain for many decades to come.”

“It’s not only a vital conservation project, but will also allow continued wheelchair and step-free access to every area of the ship. Enabling people to access the deck and interact with a 180-year-old ocean liner that changed the world brings stories of innovation and global migration to life. The fact we can do that while also showcasing real life conservation in action in front of visitors makes a visit during the deck works particularly special.”

The SS Great Britain Trust’s conservation projects are possible thanks to the generosity of supporters and visitors. People can support the Trust by purchasing very special pendants, cuff links and pens handcrafted from the wood from the old deck. They are available exclusively from the SS Great Britain Shop. Local artisan Simon Webb has used Jarrah wood from the Weather Deck that is being removed to craft these exquisite items. As more of the old deck is removed, there will be a wider range of specially crafted products on sale.

Make a donation

With your support, we can continue to care for this precious piece of cultural heritage and inspire engineers and entrepreneurs of the future.

Purchase a piece of history

Every penny from the sale of exclusive pendants, cufflinks and wooden pens goes towards the SS Great Britain Trust’s conservation programmes.
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