All ship shape

Posted: 08/22/2011 in all marine news

Yorkshire Post –

The SS Great Britain was the theme of a weekend away for Paul Kirkwood, who also found another piece of maritime history.

Negotiating traffic on a city centre dual carriageway on a wet Friday evening while trying to find a hotel wasn’t the ideal start to a weekend with my sister in Bristol. But the following day the rain cleared to reveal a fascinating city worthy of far more attention than I paid it on my one previous visit to watch a football match at Bristol City in the ’80s.

We began by visiting the New Room, a magnificently restored Wesleyan chapel that, as a result of Second World War bombing in the vicinity, is now located within a shopping centre. The oldest Methodist chapel in the world, the New Room was the centre of operations for John Wesley in the mid-18th century.

Upstairs is a suite of lodging rooms and a common room for his fellow preachers. Displays include mugs and other memorabilia bearing his name. He was something of a celebrity. During his lifetime he spread the word by riding 250,000 miles on horseback to deliver 40,000 sermons. Not everyone supported his doctrine.

The chapel has no windows partly to avoid window tax but also to provide his opponents with fewer to break. Two pulpits on different levels were also designed with potential aggro in mind. The lower one was for bible readings while the upper pulpit was for the more contentious sermons. Speakers were harder to assault from this point and could easily scarper via a gantry back to their private quarters upstairs.

The lantern window of the chapel, the pillars of the preachers’ rooms and the panelling all have nautical echoes which led us neatly to the main event.

I could never have believed that the hull of a ship could be so beautiful until I visited the SS Great Britain, the first great ocean liner built by Brunel and launched in 1837. We admired the perfect curves – designed without a single kilobyte of CAD software, of course – and giant propeller from the bottom of the dry dock as the first stage in a tour of the ship.

This is an attraction firmly in the premier league: fascinating history, skilfully presented and imaginatively brought to life.

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