SS Great Britain Return

Fifty years today on the 19th July 1970, exactly 127 years after it was originally launched, the SS Great Britain finally made it back to the dry dock in Bristol dock in which it was built. It had waited the previous two weeks in the Cumberland Basin for a tide high enough to take it into the dock.

It’s final voyage on 5th July down the Avon, past our Sea Mills Garden Suburb and under the Clifton Suspension Bridge had been witnessed by many from the area.

A first glimpse of the SS Great Britain on her return

Tim Wallis remembers that day well, “it was heartening to get the first glimpse of it come around the horseshoe bend, it felt like an honour to have this on our river after the distance it had travelled all the way from the Falklands. It was a special moment. There was a feeling of this is it, it’s no longer a story – it’s here”. Many gathered on the banks of the Avon that day, watching alongside Tim and his wife Mary. There weren’t many places you could stand safely and it must have been travelling quite slowly as Tim remembers the crowd trotting down the Portway to see the ship pass under the suspension bridge. At that point Tim found himself standing next to Jack Hayward, the man who had paid for the whole operation “it felt like a real team effort”.

The ship had travelled across the Atlantic on a pontoon but floated itself from Avonmouth to the docks. Many Sea Mills residents remember seeing in it as children, either from the school playing fields or being taken down to the river with their parents to see it. Mandy Meek is glad she saw it now but at the time it was a different matter “I was a teenager and resented getting up early to watch this lump of rust floating up the river.” The 37 years the ship had been left in Sparrow Cove in the Falklands had not been kind to her.

The Avon is notoriously difficult to navigate, with tricky tides and the horseshoe bend which has been the site of many accidents involving large vessels. Avonmouth provided channel pilots to guide ships along the river and the pilot on the SS Great Britain that day was Shirehampton resident, Fred Amphlett. His son Ed remembers “The ship had come into Avonmouth the previous evening, they were planning to take it up the channel that day but it was too late. My father was lucky, there was a rota for the pilots and he was on, so he got the opportunity to bring the ship in. I was a shipping agent on the dock and I gave him a lift, as I watched the ship depart I was very tempted to step on board and go with him. I wish I had now! It was quite a nice day and there were lots of people lining the route, cheering as it went past, it was quite a spectacle. My father took the ship as far as the locks in Bristol and then a dock pilot took over. Looking back it was an interesting, fun day and I’m quite proud of the old man for doing the thing. I’m sure he was a bit anxious at the time because there was a lot of media attention, but for him it was just an everyday job”.

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Happy 101st Birthday Addison’s Oak

and thank you Emily Twiggs for planting it.

Today is the 101st anniversary of the planting of Addison’s Oak in what is now Sea Mills Square. When it was planted the area would have been fields close to the road running from the city to the village of Shirehampton and then on to Avonmouth.

Christopher Addison, who was soon to become the first Minister for Health (pictured above) visited Sea Mills with local dignitaries to ceremonially “cut the first sod” before house building began.

The Lady Mayoress, Emily Twiggs then planted an oak sapling. Left is a picture of her at a relatives wedding in 1914 which we received just today from a member of her family.

In June 1919 Emily’s husband Henry Twiggs was Lord Mayor of Bristol, she attended many functions with him including the visit of Christopher Addison to view the new housing sites in Bristol. Henry and Emily were both widowed before they married in 1899, Emily was 47 and Henry 44.

Henry was born in Bristol in 1855 and founded his business H. W. Twiggs and Co Bay Prams and Invalid Carriage Manufacturers in 1877. He had a shop in Stokes Croft with workshops Philadelphia Street. He was a member of the docks committee for 35 years and chair between 1908-24. (1) He is officially listed as Lord Mayor for 1918, but in fact must have begun his appointment late that year as he was Lord Mayor until Nov 1919 (2+3)

We would love to find descendants of Emily. She was born Emily Barrell in May 1847 and married George Charles Gibson in Christchurch Weston-Super-Mare in 1867. Her and Henry had no children together but Emily and George were parents to – Herbert (b 1869), Ernest (b 1871), George (b 1871), Maud (b 1875), Amy Matilda (b 1878) and Florence (b 1883). If any of these names are in your family tree you could be related to the lady who planted Addison’s Oak.

Homes for Heroes – Read more about the beginnings of Sea Mills, Christopher Addison and his visit and why the homes were built.

Addison’s Oak today

(2)Western Daily Press (1919) Lord Beatty in Bristol. 24th October 1919 p4 col 5
(3) Western Daily Press (1919) New Lord Mayor. 12th November 1919 p7