There was a decidedly nautical feel to the September meeting of the Wellington WI when they welcomed Ian Caskie, guest speaker for the SS Great Britain Trust. His enthusiasm for his subject was inspiring. During his fascinating illustrated talk he told the ship’s amazing story from her original design by Brunel, her launch in1843, through the different phases of her working life to her eventual, incredible salvage from the Falkland Islands and her return to Bristol.
Ian explained that, due to her iron hull, and Brunel’s innovative design for the first screw propeller, the SS Great Britain had changed the face of ship building forever. There was some suspicion about her seaworthiness, however, and on her maiden voyage as the first luxury trans-Atlantic liner, only 45 passengers out of a possible 250 made the crossing. The fear was that an iron hulled ship couldn’t possibly float as well a wooden one. They were proved wrong, however, and in 1852 the SS Great Britain was refitted to take 700 passengers on voyages to Australia and around the world. It took her just two months to sail to Australia; by far the fastest ship at the time to do so.
Passenger diaries record the luxury on board, describing the sumptuous menus and likening it to the best of hotels but there were also tales of terrible sea sickness and rat infestations. One passenger recorded waking to find a rat nibbling at her companion’s toe nails.
Ian described the SS Great Britain’s fall from grace when she became a cargo vessel carrying coal from Wales to South America and finally, after storm damage, ended up as a rotting hulk in the Falkland Islands. Rusting and broken, she was finally rescued and returned to Bristol in 1970. One of our own WI members recalled watching from the Clifton Suspension Bridge as the ship made her final journey up the Avon on the pontoon that had carried her home. Now restored to her former glory, Ian urged members to visit the SS Great Britain and also the new Being Brunel Museum sited nearby.
After a break for coffee and cake, members were challenged to construct the SS Great Britain with marshmallows and spaghetti. There were some very interesting (and sticky) results but nothing quite to rival Brunel’s great ship.
During WI Business, the president thanked all the members who had volunteered and made jam and cakes for sale at the Wellington Flower show and the Wellington Boot Championships. Congratulations were also in order for the eighteen successful Wellington WI entrants to the Wellington Flower Show who won an impressive fifty prizes between them.
In news from the groups, the walking netball has been a great success and now takes place once a fortnight; the craft group will be busy poppy making for the Wellington Poppy Bombing and an appeal was made for more red wool and more poppies. Members were informed that all other upcoming events for the various groups are available to view on Meetups.
The next meeting will be on Thursday 18th October at The Beambridge; 7.00pm for a 7.30 start. The speaker will be from the Exmoor Search and Rescue Team and there will be a display of members’ winning photographs and craft items from the Flower Show.