The story of Brunel and the SS Great Britain starts right here in the Great Western Dockyard. This is where Brunel built his innovative ship, and where Prince Albert launched her in front of cheering crowds on a showery summer’s day, 19 July 1843.
The Dockyard has been here since 1839, when directors of the Great Western Steam Ship Company decided they needed a purpose-built dry dock where they could construct their new transatlantic liner.
One of the most important parts of the site was the huge stone factory where the new ship’s hugely powerful engine was built. The Great Western Dockyard was the first place in the world where all the processes associated with modern iron shipbuilding came together on one site.
After 1852 other shipbuilders and repairers leased the site until part of it was compulsorily purchased by the Great Western Railway (in 1874-6). Bristol City Corporation took over the Dry Dock in 1903 and it continued with ship repairs. The rest of the yard was used for importing timber until, in 1941, World War ll bombing raids badly damaged the site leaving the Steamship Engine Works a ruined shell.
DOCK AND SHIP REUNITED
The return of the SS Great Britain in 1970 reunited historic ship with historic shipyard. But the SS Great Britain Trust had originally only a short six-month lease from Bristol City Council, and restoration of the ship took on an added urgency.
A longer lease was agreed in 2002 and gave the Trust the opportunity to bring together all the elements of the dockyard for the first time since 1874. The Dry Dock is now Grade ll* listed and the surrounding dockyard area and buildings recreate the busy atmosphere of the ship being prepared for departure.