The SS Great Britain returns to Bristol Docks :: Shared Description

The SS Great Britain arrived at Avonmouth on 22 June 1970 after a journey from the Falklands aboard a pontoon of almost 3 months. Temporary repairs were required to make the hull sufficiently watertight to allow her to be towed up the Avon afloat in her own right. Her final journey up the Avon was planned for Saturday 4 July when there would be a suitably high tide in the evening. There was a great deal of enthusiasm to witness this event & much advance publicity. British Rail was enterprising enough to announce 2 excursions, from Paddington & Plymouth I seem to remember. Their cunning plan was to 'park' these trains on the Portishead branch (by then freight only) which ran along the west bank of the Avon to allow the excusionists a good view of the ship being towed up the river. Unfortunately the weather didn't oblige & an Atlantic depression gathered strength to the extent that by mid-day the wind was gusting to 40 knots - too high to risk towing a very large ship, with no power or rudder, up the Avon & the attempt was called off. Whether the decision was made before the
excursion trains departed I know not - let's hope so! The following tide on Sunday morning was going to be sufficiently high too but whether the wind would have dropped was unknown. In the event there was a lull in the gale & the decision to go ahead was made & all went well (although it was a very dull day). How the decision was made public I can't remember (BBC Radio Bristol didn't start up until the following September) but in the event the public turned out in their thousands - the SS Great Britain website (LinkExternal link ) gives a figure of approximately 100,000.

The most unbelievable aspect of this project was the attitude of Bristol City Council - they really didn't want the ship to be returned to the city. In the event they allowed the ship to return for 3 years to allow restoration to take place. Then it should be taken to somewhere 'more suitable'! London, Portsmouth, & Plymouth were suggested - unbelievable! The infamous & derogatory description by one of the civic leaders of the ship as 'this heap of rusting iron' just about sums up the City Council's total lack of vision. Since WW2 the Council had seemed hell-bent on turning its back on Bristol's medieval & maritime past & turning it into just another English provincial city given over to the motor car. Their vision for the docks, once they had closed for commercial traffic, was to cover over lengths of the Avon & Frome to give scope for development. In the event of course attitudes changed during the 1970s, the restored SS Great Britain remains as a major attraction & the City Docks remain uncovered & a major leisure resource.
by Martin Tester
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8 images use this description:

ST5772 : View over Wapping Wharf from the deck of newly arrived SS Great Britain by Martin Tester
ST5673 : SS Great Britain approaches the Clifton Suspension Bridge by Martin Tester
ST5574 : SS Great Britain under tow on the River Avon by Martin Tester
ST5772 : SS Great Britain in the Floating Harbour by Martin Tester
ST5772 : SS Great Britain in the Floating Harbour by Martin Tester
ST5674 : SS Great Britain under tow on the River Avon by Martin Tester
ST5772 : SS Great Britain enters the Floating Harbour by Martin Tester
ST5772 : The SS Great Britain finally back home by Martin Tester


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Created: Sun, 5 Jul 2020, Updated: Sat, 11 Jul 2020

The 'Shared Description' text on this page is Copyright 2020 Martin Tester, however it is specifically licensed so that contributors can reuse it on their own images without restriction.

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