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Step back into maritime history
Bristol in General
Member Name: HeavenlyTwin
Bristol in General
Date: 23/07/01, updated on 23/07/01 (74 review reads)
Advantages: Lots to do and see., Plenty of shopping for shopaholics., Maritime history envelopes you, here.
Disadvantages: Rush hour traffic - the drivers are maniacs!
Me - I'm a history buff. I love history, so a trip to Bristol is a treat. For starters there is the Clifton Suspension Bridge, which spans the Avon Gorge. This magnificent bridge was designed by one of the greatest Victorian engineers - Isambard Kingdom Brunel. He is one of my "heroes" from childhood, builder of various bridges, overseer of the Panama Canal, pioneer of one of the greatest steam ships ever built. The bridge spans the River Avon as it makes it's way to the Bristol Channel, and you can see it as you approach the city.
Another of his achievements - the "S.S. Great Britain" is at the Great Western Dock . This was the first steam-ship to be built of iron, and to be propeller-driven. She was launched July 19th 1843, in the presence of Prince Albert ( Queen Victoria's consort) and apparently, Bristol celebrated the day in festive mood. Bells were rung, shops closed and flags flew everywhere. Her maiden voyage, however, did not take place until almost 2 years later. It took her 14 days and 21 hours to cross the Atlantic on her journeys, and her passengers travelled in luxury - although the size of the cabins will amaze you. In later years, she was converted to a cargo ship, to a floating store-room, and was finally retired/discarded in 1933 because she was (by then) uneconomical. 1937 saw her beached and abandoned in Stanley Harbour, The Falkland Islands, where she remained for over 50 years until efforts began to bring her back to England, and the restoration project which is still ongoing. She is
a beautiful ship, and well worth a visit.
To the East of the "S.S. Great Britain" is a replica of another marvel of shipping history. The "Matthew" was John Cabot's square-rigged caravel, in which he sailed on his voyage of discovery to 'New Founde Lands'. This replica took crafsmen 2 years to build, under the auspicious eye of renowned naval architect, Colin Mudie. He undertook extensive research into ships of the period, and it is believed that the replica is authentic in all respects. It is a wooden sailing ship, and seems quite small, although it is in fact 70 feet long. It is hard to imagine that a ship of this size could travel the Atlantic ocean and survive. A tribute to the master shipbuilders of those days, over 500 years ago and to the prowess of the crew.
Near both of these ships, is the Industrial Museum, which is a brilliant collection of exhibits which tell the history of Bristol, from it's Maritime Heritage right up to recent years. The size of some of the engine parts, turbines, etc. will surprise you. They are massive. Nauticul buffs will find much to enjoy in these 3 places.
Bristol is home also to the St. Mary Redcliffe Church, which Queen Elizabeth I (the 'Virgin Queen') said was "the noblest church in the land". It's spire can be seen soaring above the end of the docks, to the East. On the Northern side, you can see the Cabot Tower, erected on Brandon Hill, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of John Cabot's voyage. Sharing this vista is the Cathedral, on College Green.
I had a wonderful trip to Bristol, but a word of warning to visitors. DO NOT venture out on the roads during rush hour. The people who drive in Bristol are fiercely protective of their road space, and when we were there, blocked intersections at red lights so that our lane was unable to move. They take their getting home from work VERY seriously. Having said tha
t, everybody we met was friendly, the curators at each place were knowledgeable and only too willing to talk about local history with us.
So, take some time out to delve into the past and where better to start than Bristol? You will not regret it.
Home-schoolers will find plenty of material here, whether as part of a project on England's Maritime History (both ship-building or sea-faring), or as a starting point on Isambard Kingdom Brunel and his achievements. Depending on age, comparisons could be invited between the 2 ships with regard to size, power source (sail, steam turbines, etc.). The "S.S. Great Britain" could be compared to the "Titanic"or "Queen Elizabeth II" to show how the premise of "luxury" has changed over the years, as she was the fore-runner of the Transatlantic passenger ships as we know them nowadays.
The Industrial Museum, will provide much to think about in the manner in which power is provided, and older students could be encouraged to examine why steam power was utilized in the Victorian Age and yet fell from grace in the Twentieth Century. This could lead to discussions on the depletion of fossil fuels, what made steam uneconomical as a source of power in transport, as well as ecological issues.
For non-British home-schoolers, there is the chance to compare the British shipbuilding industry with their own, or to compare the time frames when each country was using a particular method of power or building.
Both ships and the Industrial Museum, have plenty of literature and memorabilia available, and there is a teacher's pack for the "S.S. Great Britain" that cost £2.50 in 1999. There is also an Information Spotter Pack which is like a treasure hunt for slightly older children to work through, to enable them to get the most out of their exploration. It provides an insight into the history of Brunel's Iron Ship.
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