Black Coun­try’s three links to Brunel’s pi­o­neer­ing ship

Black Country Bugle - - YOUR LETTERS -

I re­cently jour­neyed to Bris­tol to visit one of the coun­try’s ma­jor tourist at­trac­tions – SS Great Bri­tain.

It is a mu­seum ship and for­mer steamship which was ad­vanced for her time. She was the long­est pas­sen­ger ship in the world from 1845 to 1854, hav­ing been de­signed by Isam­bard King­dom Brunel for the Great West­ern Steamship Com­pany’s transat­lantic ser­vice be­tween Bris­tol and New York.

Whilst other ships had been built of of iron or equipped with a screw pro­pel­ler the Great Bri­tain was the first to com­bine these fea­tures in a large ocean-go­ing ship and she was the first iron ship to cross the At­lantic which she did in 1845, in the time of four­teen days.

You may well ask if there is a con­nec­tion with the Black Coun­try? Well yes there is, firstly there is a plaque mounted telling us that many skilled work­ers from our area were em­ployed in the build­ing of the ship.

Se­condly dur­ing the tour in Brunel’s of­fice we came across a safe which proudly tells us that it was made by Smithers & Sons of West Bromwich.

Un­for­tu­nately the own­ers were forced out of busi­ness in 1846 af­ter hav­ing spent all their avail­able funds re­float­ing the ship af­ter she ran aground at Dun­drum Bay in County Down, North­ern Ire­land.

In 1852 she was sold for sal­vage and re­paired, later car­ry­ing thou­sands of im­mi­grants to Aus­tralia un­til in 1884 she was re­tired to the Falk­land Is­lands where she was used as a ware­house, quar­an­tine ship and coal hulk un­til she was scut­tled and sunk in 1937, ninety eight years af­ter be­ing laid down at the start of her con­struc­tion.

Be­lieve it or not we then had a fur­ther link with the Black Coun­try. In 1970 af­ter ly­ing un­der­wa­ter and aban­doned for thirty three years half a world away Sir Jack Hay­ward OBE paid for the ves­sel to be raised and re­paired enough to be towed north through the At­lantic back to the United King­dom and re­turned to the Bris­tol dry dock where she had been built one hun­dred and twenty seven years ear­lier.

Sir Jack, of course, was a prom­i­nent busi­ness­man, de­vel­oper, phi­lan­thropist and owner of Wolver­hamp­ton Wanderers.

Now listed as part of the Na­tional His­toric Fleet the SS Great Bri­tain is an award win­ning visi­tor at­trac­tion with close on 250000 vis­i­tors an­nu­ally.

Terry Church, Wall Heath

Brunel’s SS Great Bri­tain in Bris­tol: Tim Ire­land/pa Wire

The maker’s plate on the safe

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