Highlights of 2020

16 December 2020


16 December 2020


Explore some of the SS Great Britain Trusts highlights from 2020. From virtual Archive in Five sessions to a grand re-opening.

It’s been a rough voyage, but in spite of the challenges of a global pandemic, your support has helped us weather this storm. A huge thank you to everyone who has supported us in any way during 2020. We look back on 2020 at Brunel’s SS Great Britain, the year we marked the 50th anniversary of the SS Great Britain’s incredible journey back to Bristol, as we head into 2021 with hope and optimism.


At the beginning of 2020, the team in the Institute researched five women that travelled on board the SS Great Britain in further detail to mark International Women’s Day. These women range from a lone traveller in steerage, a professional artist, a Viennese dance teacher, a survivor of domestic violence and a celebrated crew member. Pictured is Elizabeth Parsons, having emigrated to Australia on the SS Great Britain, she was one of the first women to practice as a professional artist in Melbourne. Her illustrious career and dedication to educating fellow artists made her one of the most influential artists in Australia at the time. Read the stories of these five women on our blog.



As the pandemic hit, we started sharing more and more stories and activities online. Our ‘Stuff to do at home’ page includes crafts, games, fact sheets, a virtual tour and plenty of historical content to keep you busy at home, take a look!



With our curators not being able to welcome our visitors into the library as usual, we started to share our archive digitally instead. Watch our Virtual Archive in Fives, where we showcase various objects from the collection.



Whilst the visitors are away, the cat will play. Izzy had the whole site to herself whilst we were closed and seemed to enjoy it! Thanks for keeping the site shipshape Izzy. Follow Izzy on Instagram



In June 2020, Brunel’s Screw Propeller Report was added to the UNESCO in the UK Memory of the World Register. Our Head of Collections, Nick, explains the report’s significance in this Virtual Archive in Five. The report reflects a pivotal moment of UK innovation and the key role that Bristol and Brunel had in defining the modern era of global travel. Find out more



2020 was a huge year for us, celebrating 50 years since the SS Great Britain returned to Bristol after the epic salvage from the Falkland Islands. With large planned events having to be cancelled, we still managed to mark the occasion, read guest blogs and explore the story here, or watch some of the celebratory videos below.

This short film revisits the 1970 rescue and homecoming 50 years on. Divers look back at one of the most ambitious and pioneering ship rescues ever attempted. The 8,000-mile journey to Avonmouth was the longest ever under tow, and the re-floating and return to Bristol beneath the Clifton Suspension Bridge was watched by crowds of spectators and millions on television:

Poet Saili Katebe, Limbic Cinema and Woven Films mark 50 years of the SS Great Britain coming back home to Bristol with this moving poem and film:

On Sunday 19 July 2020, marking the anniversary of the SS Great Britain floating back into her original dry dock in 1970, we shared a simple moment on the ship’s top deck as a lone piper performed, which was also live streamed to share with everyone who couldn’t be there:



As part of the 50th anniversary celebrations, we had some new animal themed additions to the ship. Five species of penguin and an albatross from the Falkland Islands (where the SS Great Britain lay before her rescue) joined us in 2020. The lifelike penguin models made by Amalgam formed our family trail, bringing the ship’s incredible homecoming story to life. With five species and around a million breeding birds, the Falklands has one of the largest breeding populations of penguins in the world. The islands are also home to the largest breeding population of black-browed albatross – 70% if the global population.

Our Albatross now resides permanently in the Dockyard Museum, so do come and see her!

A welcome respite during lockdown was our outdoor photography exhibition, free to attend. The exhibition includes amazing photos from the ship’s salvage and photos of Falklands life today.

Thanks to the Falkland Islands Government and Falkland Islands Association for supporting our 50th anniversary programming.



On the same weekend as the 50th anniversary celebrations, we opened the dockyard gates once more after having to close in March. This was a joyous occasion for all and we had a wonderful summer welcoming our lovely visitors back. Here are some highlights from TripAdvisor:

‘We had a very enjoyable visit here. The museum has managed the COVID-19 restrictions very well indeed. The staff were knowledgeable and friendly. There was a one way system in operation with plenty of hand sanitiser available around the ship and other exhibits. Highly recommended. We will definitely be returning.’

‘Highly recommend going throughout COVID-19! It is perfectly safe & hand sanitiser was accessible throughout the visit. All the staff were extremely friendly and helpful especially Ryan who was very enthusiastic and told us loads of great facts and highlighted the navy stories which we enjoyed! Definitely will be going back!’

‘Fab place, me and my boys thoroughly enjoyed our time here today ages 9 and 12. We all learnt loads!! Lots to look at and read, very friendly and knowledgeable staff. Covid 19 – very good to find an easy to follow one way system in place, with loads of hand sanitiser stations available, felt very welcome and safe.’


Read more on TripAdvisor

Mr Brunel opens the Dockyard gates on Saturday 18 July, the weekend of the 50th anniversary of the ship’s homecoming and her launch in 1843.



7 August 2020 marked 175 years since the SS Great Britain first arrived in New York on her maiden voyage, in 1845. The ship’s arrival in New York was a vision of the future: propeller driven, ocean-going ships made of metal, which soon transformed transatlantic migration. Read more about the story of the arrival on our blog.



Since 2018, over 130 of our staff and volunteers have become Dementia Friends. We wanted to continue this into 2020. After lockdown restrictions came into place, we held online sessions for people who’d normally attend Alzheimer’s Society memory cafés. This included a virtual tour of the ship using video footage. We received some great feedback and lots of questions. One participant said ‘I liked the mix of mediums used for the tour, the photos and the video, it was really interesting and you felt like you were there’. Read more about how museums are engaging people who have dementia during the pandemic on Alzheimer’s Society blog.



Carrying on the theme of crafting at home from earlier in the year, this festive season Mr Brunel and Miss Fey shared some ideas for traditional Victorian Christmas decorations. Find all three videos and downloadable instructions here.

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