We all know that the SS Great Britain, Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s iconic passenger steamship, is one of the jewells in Bristol’s visitor attraction crown. But it raised its game even higher last weekend with a Victorian Christmas extravaganza.
The snow was falling as we arrived at the dockyard to what is always an awe-inspiring view of the ship no matter how many times you’ve seen it.
The flakes were generated from a snow machine admittedly but it felt super real as our little one took the opportunity to cover me with the white stuff!
The Victorian atmosphere was immediate as little girls with dirty faces danced around the snow covered barrels ready for boarding, a drunk woman swigging booze flirted with the men hanging out near the ship and a VIP arrived for an inspection flanked by officers.
Before boarding, we stopped by the quack doctor to check out his wares.
There were some wondrous potions in his suitcase including a jar of leeches. He was a very convincing salesman but we resisted making a purchase!
On board the ship, the immersive Victorian experience continued. A husband and wife were hanging out in the kitchen and they filled us in on the limited food steerage passengers had to deal with.
Hard, salty biscuits were the order of the day and despite a 60-day cruise to America, passengers often chose to drink their allocated water rather than use it to wash meaning it was a pretty stinky place to be!
Strolling through the cramped conditions of the steerage accommodation area, we bumped into two 1850s Metropolitan Police officers on secondment from London to the SS Great Britain.
They regaled us with stories of Victorian crime and punishment.
Before leaving the ship, we popped into the library and museum for stories of Christmas-Brunel style.
An original diary entry for 25 December by the man himself made no mention of any festivities and revealed he worked for 30 hours straight over the Christmas period!
Much more festive though was the first ever Christmas card, designed by John Callcott Horsley, Brunel’s brother-in-law. What a family they were!
Our little one was also delighted to put on white gloves and browse through an original 1850s book
We’ve visited the SS Great Britain many times but this was definitely our favourite.
With the awesome Ragged Victorians doing their thing, it was a fantastic way to bring the ship to life.
We were given complimentary tickets to the SS Great Britain but all views are our own.