Brunel's Great Western paddle steamer to be rebuilt in tourism boost for Bristol

The Great Western replica will be the centrepiece of the Albion Dockyard, which is also to be conserved. Credit: SS Great Britain Trust

Plans to rebuild and display the world's first transatlantic ocean liner in Bristol have been revealed, as part of a £20m tourism project.

The venture will see the Albion Dockyard, the dry dock next to the SS Great Britain on the harbourside, conserved and organisers say they will be "maintaining a working dry dock and reinstating the original clock tower".

A full-size recreation of Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel's first ship, the Great Western, will be built and put on display at the centre of the Grade II listed dock.

The Albion Dockyard Project has been announced by the SS Great Britain Trust after they received an initial development grant of £600,000 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

It is hoped this will be the first of several grants, totalling £5m, which will make up a quarter of the funding for the project, estimated at costing £20m.

The project is being led by the SS Great Britain Trust, who currently run the ship of the same name and the Brunel Institute

The initiative will effectively more than double the size of the current SS Great Britain visitor attraction and is being spearheaded by historian and broadcaster David Olusoga, who is patron of the project.

'Conserving maritime heritage and investing in young peoples' future'

Matthew Tanner, Chief Executive of the SS Great Britain Trust, said: “Today, the Trust is setting out plans for a world class heritage experience that will protect and transform the Albion Dockyard while providing far-reaching benefits for the harbour and the whole region, growing the tourism economy and maritime and shipbuilding industries.

"We’re delighted that we’ve received support thanks to National Lottery players that will make a massive difference for the whole of the West of England region and everyone who lives there, conserving vital maritime heritage and investing in the futures of our young people.”

Organisers behind the plans say they hope as well as reflecting the city's maritime history, the Great Western will "share stories of migration and global travel and Bristol’s role in shipbuilding."

What was the PS Great Western?

The paddle steamer was designed and launched in 1837 by Brunel in Bristol, who famously also designed many of the city's other iconic sites, such as the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

A giant paddle steamer, it was the first of two ships the engineer built in the city's docks, alongside the SS Great Britain. For two years, the PS Great Western was the largest passenger ship in the world and the fastest across the Atlantic into the 1840s.

Both ships were prototypes for all ships and liners that followed, transforming the speed, scale and reliability of global travel and transportation.

They also transported people and cargo around the world, which the Trust says heralded "monumental change and migration."

The PS Great Western sailed back and forth across to the US for eight years, before her owners went out of business, and she was sold to the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company to run between Southampton and the Caribbean.

She served as a troop ship in the Crimean War, but was eventually scrapped in 1856 - less than 20 years after she was built.

It's hoped the project will bring in "at least £8.1 million additional spend" every year

Predicted to bring £8.1m into the southwest every year

The project is being supported by Bristol City Council and the West of England Combined Authority (WECA), and is led by the Trust, the charity that currently runs the SS Great Britain and the Brunel Institute.

It's estimated that expansion of the tourism draw is projected to bring at least £8.1 million additional spend into the West of England economy every year, and to provide 189 new jobs.

The conservation efforts will also see local communities consulted along with the Avon Wildlife Trust, Black South West Network, City of Bristol College and the Restore Trust.

It is hoped project will also establish the waterway around the dock as one of the country’s first voluntary marine nature reserves, enhancing habitats and maritime heritage.

'A world-leading maritime museum and experience'

Patricia Yates, Chief Executive of VisitBritain, said: “Britain’s heritage is a massive tourism draw and the exciting expansion of the visitor experience over two historic dockyards will boost the West of England’s appeal to visitors and tour operators alike.

"It will create a world-leading maritime museum and living history experience transforming a thriving harbour with the added appeal of one of Britain’s greatest ever engineers to boot.

"A project of this scale and ambition will also be a much-needed hook for international markets, supporting tourism’s recovery, creating jobs and boosting the regional economy.”