Good Causes

How Joe engineered his dream job on SS Great Britain

Joe Teanby was 9 when he fell in love with the Victorian era. On a visit to the SS Great Britain – a radical steamship launched in 1843 – he met a man dressed as the vessel’s designer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

A photograph taken by Joe’s aunt shows an awestruck child shaking hands with the greatest engineer of the Victorian age.

Joe said, “When I went to the SS Great Britain and met ‘Brunel’ on the top deck it was like something went bang in my head. It started my love of the Victorian period, its engineers and my love of history in general.”

Joe studied History at Oxford Brookes University. A few weeks after he graduated in June 2019 he got a job at SS Great Britain, the Bristol attraction whose restoration has been supported by National Lottery funding. The 23-year-old now spends a chunk of his working week dressed as...you guessed it: Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

As one of the SS Great Britain’s 3 Brunel impersonators, Joe has grown a fine pair of sideburns which combined with his costume – a sombre morning suit and top hat – make him look very like the man who also created The Great Western Railway, Bristol’s Clifton Suspension Bridge and the original Paddington Station (to name just 3 of his projects). Brunel was known to smoke more than 40 cigars a day, so Joe even puffs on a fake cigar to get the look absolutely right.

The SS Great Britain is a great example of Brunel’s ability to innovate. Joe said, “He recognised that an iron ship would be better than a wooden ship and added a screw propeller instead of steam driven paddles.”

But radical design isn’t the only reason the ship has become one of Bristol’s most popular attractions. Interactive displays and exhibits combined with costumed characters – sailors, passengers and Mr Brunel himself – make for a fun, informative day out for visitors of all ages.

Funding made possible by National Lottery players helped the SS Great Britain Trust continue vital conservation and education work while it was closed to visitors during the pandemic.

7th October 2021

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