Opinion: A trip to the ss Great Britain helps remind me why Bristol is so special

Any tourist wanting to understand Bristol’s fascinating modern history should perhaps start with a visit to the ss Great Britain, now resting where she was originally built in 1845, at the western end of the historic harbour.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel designed what was at the time the world’s largest vessel while living in Bristol, and then built it in the location where the ship now stands.

Brunel’s name is synonymous with Bristol of course. The great Victorian engineer also designed Temple Meads railway station and the famous Clifton Suspension Bridge, the first of its type in the world and a magnet for tourists from all over the globe for the last 150 years.

Viewed from any angle, the image of this magnificent bridge is as famous as the Eiffel Tower or the Empire State Building, where incidentally I was trapped with some of my family, exactly a year to the day before 911. A fire broke out on the 72nd floor. We had to walk down the stairs, which given the circumstance wasn’t pleasant! Thankfully it was just a cigarette being put out in a waste paper bin which had set the fire alarm off but we weren’t to know that at the time.

Bristol is an international city and has a strong, long-standing relationship with Guangzhou in southern China. China’s third largest city has a population nearly twice that of London at nearly 14 million. A Knowledge quarter has been developed which in itself has a population larger than either Manchester or Liverpool. Bristol’s relationship with Guangzhou is important and the Bristol/China partnership should be rightly proud of helping create such a strong bond, which is good news for all the people of both cities.

If Bristol is to continue its upward trajectory it must market itself as a place where investment is welcomed, a place where the city council and its population is friendly to business generally and recognises the vital importance of trade in the economy.

Unless we first make money within the private sector it is impossible to grow and maintain the public services we all rely on. Business and trade makes the money, some of which can and very definitely should be spent on good state schools, our beloved NHS, and maintaining a police force able to protect us all from criminals and terrorists who seek to destabilise what is the world’s oldest, continuous, democratic society.

As I said at the beginning, Bristol is a fascinating place. After you finish walking around the ss Great Britain, stop for a bacon butty (or vegetarian option) at The Buttery, almost as famous as the great ship itself.

You will see painters, electricians, librarians, civil servants, professors and business people all chatting happily together as they tuck into butties, chips and tea! Bentleys and BMWs park next to bikes, vans, and converted campers. The famous Buttery is a great leveller.

Bristol is without doubt a very special and unique place.

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