Miniview: Victorian Interiors in the SS Great Britain

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    Another slightly oddball Miniview for you. Along with heritage buildings such as Ightham Mote, Eltham Palace or Standen, Britain has much industrial heritage that can be mined, in a pleasurable way, for ideas for new interiors. In a Hilton many years ago we installed a half scale copy of a Sopwith camel (or was it an SE5, memory fades) on the seat backs of a bar inspired by the Biggles books, showing how images of our historic past and its achievements can be used to create interest and excitement in a new interior. SS Great Britain is one of those sources, and its interiors have been restored, by the Trust that looks after it, with loving attention to detail.The history of the ship is a monument to Victorian chutzpah. Designed by Brunel she made the first steam powered screw driven ‘sailing’ across the Atlantic appearing in New York harbour, to the astonishment of the Colonials, in 1845. Metal built, Brunel’s masterpiece was the largest thing afloat and pioneered many metal technologies, her riveted iron structure a dramatic innovation in shipbuilding. Unfortunately after a year or two she was carelessly run aground. Refloated by Brunel she found a new career as a passenger vessel, carrying troops to suppress the Indian Mutiny, troops to the Crimean War and 700 émigrés at a time to Australia in search of their fortunes.

    It in this latter guise that the vessel has been restored. She was brought home in 1970 from her abandonment in the Falklands, and now sits in the same dry dock in Bristol in which she was built. Adjacent buildings have been restored to create a facsimile of the quayside that would have surrounded her ‘back in the day’. The ship itself is fascinating in design and construction, but the interiors give a real glimpse into the society of the latter part of the 19th century and the style in which they lived.

    Daniel Fountain / 04.07.2012

    Editor, Hotel Designs


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