Category Archives: Archaeology

Bristol bucket list: SS Great Britain

When I was 17 and choosing which universities to apply for, location was a major factor. Having grown up in London, the thought of going to a small academic backwater or remote concrete campus filled me with dread. Bristol, it seemed, had everything. Small enough to walk (almost) everywhere, but big enough to never be bored, it has been the perfect home for the last four years. But now, faced with graduation and an uncertain future ahead, I will soon be moving back to London to live with my family, and will be leaving my beloved Bristol behind.

When I was trapped in my house over Easter madly typing up my dissertation, I swore to myself that I would try and make the most of my final term at Bristol. For some people, this means trying to get drunk in clubs on the Triangle, but for me it meant enjoying the other things the city had to offer, revisiting favourite haunts and discovering new places, especially those I’d always meant to check out but had never got round to.

The SS Great Britain was one such place that I’d always planned to visit eventually. A few weeks ago, my friend Jon got in touch to say he had a spare ticket to visit the boat as part of the Museums at Night festival and so off we went to visit Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s famous ship.

IMG_0135I’d heard great things about the SS Great Britain -most notably that my brother, who ‘hates’ history, actually enjoyed his visit with my dad – and she didn’t fail to impress.

We started off underneath the boat. Although she looks like she is fully submerged in water, the bottom of the boat is in fact dry, and a glass platform, covered in a few inches of water, gives the illusion of the boat floating. Walking beneath the water to look at the ship’s propeller was bizarre and brilliant.


The huge propeller


Underwater but dry

The ship’s history is long and complex and to understand it best, it is well worth paying the (somewhat hefty) entrance fee to the ship and its adjoining museum. The Great Britain was launched in 1843, and for a long time was the biggest passenger ship in the world. She was also used as a quarantine ship and warehouse before being rescued and returned to Bristol.

Today the ship is a lively museum, telling the story of not just the ship, but of the people who built and used her. The adjoining museum building is organised as a timeline, taking you through what happened from the ship being built right up to her being rescued from the Falkland Islands and returned to her home in Bristol. On board, you can wander through the various rooms and cabins on the ship. Walking through these rooms, you are transported back to a different time and place, thanks to both the careful dressing of each area, and the smells permeating through the ship. This multi-sensorial approach was great for helping us forget that we were in a museum, although it wasn’t exactly pleasant. The room that was used for storing fish smelt like a fishmongers in hot weather, while we had to run straight out of the hull where the animals were kept due to the overwhelming pong of manure.





In the dining room, a lady played old time tunes on the piano, while another trio of musicians played among the cramped cabins in the first class area. We poked our heads into the tiny rooms, which got smaller and more uncomfortable the further down into the boat we went, and visited the ship’s barber, doctor and other miscellaneous characters.

When we finally emerged onto the top deck, the sun was beginning to set. The flags that cover the riggings fluttered in the evening breeze and we watched steampunks wander around, occasionally getting stopped for photos.





Because we visited as part of Museum’s at Night, our tickets only cost us £1 each (a complete bargain!) Regular tickets cost £12.95 for adults (or £10.95 for students), and they allow you to return as many times as you like within the space of a year. I left wishing I hadn’t left it so late to visit, as I would have liked to go back again in a few months’ time.

More info here

Have you visited the SS Great Britain? What did you think? Where else should I add to my bucket list?



Filed under Adventures, Archaeology, History, Outings

I have a new blog!


In an attempt to trick myself into thinking that the dreaded ‘D’ word might be fun, I have set up a blog to keep track of all the research I am doing for my dissertation. I think that by forcing myself to blog at least twice a week, there might a bigger chance of me actually handing in 12,000 words of something decent come April 2013. I also hope that it will solve the common ‘what are you doing your dissertation on?’ question, as my current answer, ‘I’m-looking-at-the-changing-attitudes-towards-First-World-War-memorials-in-the-run-up-to-the-centenary-of-the-outbreak-of-the-War’, isn’t very catchy and has the habit of sending people into temporary comas. So here it is:

I plan to change the name once I think of something better, as I am increasingly finding that a lot of WWI memorials are not made of stone, and that many of them have been forgotten, or at least ignored. If you have any suggestions, please whack them in the comment box below. As for the topic: I want to know how people in modern Britain feel about First World War memorials. In just a couple of years, we will mark the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War, but I wonder how many people really care? Several organisations have already set up 2014 projects to help fund conservation of memorials, but I’m also beginning to find that there are people out there keen to honour the dead who aren’t getting the help they require. Then there are the people that aren’t recorded in the newspapers: the apathetic. Those people who walk past war memorials every day without realising they are there, who probably haven’t held a minute’s silence on the 11th of November since they left school, but who may still be somewhat perturbed by the notion of a rock star’s step-son swinging from the Cenotaph. Another group of people I am keen to talk to are the people who see war memorials as a source of income: the metal thieves. So if you think you might be interested, head over to my new blog, and please let me know if you hear any war memorial news in your area (maybe your grandma lays a wreath at her father’s memorial every November, or perhaps you have a friend who was recently arrested for pissing on a war memorial?). I will attempt to keep this blog updated (as I have completely failed to do over the last three months) but it might prove a bit tricky between editing my university newspaper, working on my dissertation and other uni work and attempting to keep at least a portion of my sanity intact.

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Baby, we weren’t born to run

Exercise and I get on like a vegetarian in a butchers.

After attempting to have a lie-in today after two weeks of getting up at half six every morning, I gave up at 11 and decided I may as well wake up and watch tv. Shortly after deciding on this frankly epic day of laziness, my flat mate dragged me out of my room to go on a run. I do not run. I haven’t run for anything other than a bus since my last P.E. lesson when I was 16. As if this wasn’t enough to hamper my Paula Radcliffe-esque efforts, the vast quantities of beer/cider/wine/punch I consumed the night before suddenly started washing around in my stomach, making it hard to even get out of halls. I didn’t last long, and ended up walking from Sea Mills back to Clifton along the Avon. When I eventually made it home, I ate two chocolate yoghurts to compensate for the distress I’d caused myself.

Won’t be doing that again. No sir-ee.

Yesterday was my last day digging and before we left we got taken on a tour around Berkeley Castle itself. I think I need to find myself a copy of Debrett’s sharpish and find myself a castle-owning husband because my oh my was it beautiful. Simple things like snugs on a mezzanine help you realise that people actually live there, and have been living there for centuries, unlike the generic stately home feeling you tend to get at most National Trust properties.

Above is the room where King Edward II was kept prisoner and left to die. Legend has it that he came to a painful end after a red hot poker was shoved up his bum. Lucky we weren’t around to see his poker face!

If you want to visit the castle, and I thoroughly recommend you do, check opening times here as it isn’t open every day.

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Tomato Pip goes to Berkeley Castle

When you think of an archaeologist, one of the above is likely to spring to mind -a muddy, khaki-wearing adventurer.

Unfortunately I, the first time archaeologist, who has only been digging for three days, look more like this:

Today was the day my skin transformed from milky white to ripened tomato red. For some reason, I decided that it was a good idea to apply sun cream to my nose and chest, and leave it at that. This has resulted in my arms and hands becoming my own personal heating system. If the sunburn lasts until October, as I anticipate it to, I will have no need for coats or warm jackets, as one touch of my forearm is enough to make you want to run your fingers under cold water. I have even managed to burn the top of my hands -a feat previosuly considered impossible. Needless to say, tomorrow I will practically bathe in Ambre Solaire.

As far as the dig itself is going, I would say it’s going well, although any designs I may have had of going into manual labour should all else fail has gone right out of the window. What they don’t show on Time Team is all the back-breaking work that goes into preparing an area for proper investigation. We have spent the past three days scraping, mattocking (i.e. wielding pick-axes!) and shovelling in preparation for the work to really begin. This is not to say we haven’t found anything -on the first day, an Elizabethan coin turned up (which was promptly snatched away by Prof Horton -the mad professor-for a photo opp with the local newspaper). My first find was a broken piece of clay pipe, which excited me at the time, but since the discovery of real human skulls today, it has been put into perspective. As we haven’t really excavated the skulls yet, I shall save that for another day.

We had a JCB on site today to extend the trench, whilst Horton, the mad professor, was in charge of driving the dumper truck. Whoever decided it was a good idea for him to be in control of a vehicle that not only weighs several tonnes itself, but can also carry a vast amount of rock and soil, should be shot.

…scary stuff, as you can see!

More of this tomorrow, followed by the most heavenly break! I intend to sleep all weekend. If I avoid the sun entirely, perhaps I’ll return to my normal colour, or beige at the very least

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Tonight’s culinary disasters, and other tales from today

They say bad things come in threes, and that rings true with tonight’s culinary disasters.

Firstly, I cooked dinner. ‘What’s wrong with that?’, you may ask. The answer, mes amis, is that I already had dinner, ready, in the fridge, cooked up by Mama Crumbolina. Down my stomach went a wasted half hour and new potatoes that could have lived to boil another day.

My further two cooking disasters relate to tomorrow’s lunch. I should explain why I am making tomorrow’s lunch already; tomorrow is the day I start my first ever archaeological dig, and, having been informed by a lecturer that he puts on a stone every year due to his frequenting the local bakery during the four week dig, I have decided it is best to make my own food. My plan was to make a simple pasta salad -brown pasta, mozzarella, assorted bits of salad -wham, bam, thank you mam, whack it in a tupperware. But then I burnt the pasta. All I did was leave it unattended for a few minutes whilst I went to try on tomorrow’s outfit (khaki linen trousers, blue vest, checked shirt, straw trilby, walking boots, yellow hi-vis jacket), and by the time I returned, the water had evaporated and my poor pasta was stuck to the bottom of the pan, accompanied by some burnt-on pasta water.

Whilst putting on my second load of pasta (I gave up trying to rescue the first batch), I set about making the rest of the salad. Realising that I’d managed to buy THE muddiest lettuce known to man, I carefully washed it, and then proceeded to shake off the excess water. Down my lettuce leaves fell into the soapy washing up water in the sink. I did what any impoverished student would do, and scrubbed it a bit more, then chucked it into the salad. I think I got a bit over-eager with the contents of my salad (drizzled with freshly home made honey and mustard dressing) because now my tupperware box is heaving with contents, and I’ve had to secure it with three elastic bands and two plastic bags in the hope it won’t leak over my state-of-the-art-ergonomic-sixteen-pounds-if-you-please brand new trowel.

I am rather looking forward to the dig. Of course, this excitement will have worn off by Wednesday when a torrential downpour is predicted, but I shall cross that bridge when I come to it. Today we had to endure an extremely retro health and safety video, the highlight of which being an instruction about being careful with pronged geophysics equipment, “take care the probes don’t penetrate your foot, or anything else that might be regretable”!!! I will do my best.

The dig itself is at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire, and is being run by these merry men:

Mark Horton, who you may recognise from Coast. He is also responsible for Bonekickers. Enough said.

Stuart Prior (right). He may look hard, but he recently gave my essay a First, so he is in my good books. He is also the lecturer who warned us about the bakery!

We’ve been informed that tomorrow will be spent clearing nettles from the site. Now I realise why I brought my gardening gloves to uni! They certainly haven’t been used for gardening -I returned to halls after a weekend at home, to find that the water in a glass holding dead daffodils had turned green, and was congealing. Now the glass is soaking in a Fairy liquid/bleach/water mix, alongside the pan with the burnt-on pasta. This is but a small manifestation of how chaotic the inside of my head must be.

I better dash to get my beauty sleep, I have to leave halls at 8 o’clock tomorrow morning. I’m not sure how my body is going to react to doing this all day, every day for two weeks, combined with manual labour, and not getting home until six. Any plans I had to go out over the next fortnight are quickly evaporating.

I leave you with a link to ‘A History of the World: Jenner’s Marvellous Medicine’, a programme by Mark Horton, about Edward Jenner (the man who created the smallpox vaccine), who lived in Berkeley in the 18th Century, and whose garden we shall be digging up over the next two weeks.

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