When Brunel’s SS Great Britain was launched in 1843, she was called ‘the greatest experiment since the Creation’. Her size, power and innovative technology, including the 1000HP steam engine driving a screw propeller, changed shipbuilding for ever. Built as a luxury passenger liner for the Great Western Steamship Company’s transatlantic run from Bristol to New York, she subsequently carried emigrants to Australia and cargoes such as coal and wheat between England and the west coast of America before being scuttled in 1937 in the Falkland Islands. In 1970 she was recovered by the SS Great Britain Trust and returned to Bristol as a museum to Brunel and his engineering vision.

When the SS Great Britain was recovered, her hull was badly corroded. The combination of water and salt accelerated the corrosion rate and the ship was at risk of complete destruction within a few years. A team of seven conservators took three years to complete restoration work. To prevent further rusting, the hull is encased in glass with dehumidified air (20% RH) continuously recirculated within the enclosure to keep the metal dry. Water flows around the glass casing from stem to stern, giving the impression that the ship is afloat and acts as an insulating blanket. The water was filtered but became contaminated with algae, staining the glass and spoiling the visual impact for visitors. It also added many hours of maintenance labour to keep it clean. The Trust decided to upgrade their water treatment system and turned to Bristol based water treatment specialists Broadwater Technologies.

After reviewing the existing treatment process, Broadwater devised a programme of chemical treatment to control the chemical and microbiological quality of the water and to maintain the sparkle of the glass casing around the hull. The filtration system was refurbished and upgraded to use AFM, an activated media manufactured sustainably from recycled green glass, and chemical dosing systems for coagulant, chlorine and pH correction. Dosing is controlled by a Wallace & Tiernan Ezetrol Touch Controller.


Before the upgrade it wasn’t possible to see though the glass plate, but since the upgrade, visitors now have this impressive view from above and below. Paul Harrison, Head of Technical Services for the SS Great Britain Trust is pleased with the new system. “The installation process was well-planned, professional and completed on time within the agreed budget”, he says, “Since installation the system has been very reliable, consistently maintaining improved water quality and substantially reducing the amount of downtime that used to be required for cleaning purposes.”