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English Heritage & Bluestone

Project Objective

To create the visual effect of the SS Great Britain ’floating’ on water in a dry dock.

Historical Note

The Great Britain, designed by the eminent Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, was the world’s first all-iron hulled passenger ship. It was fitted with a six bladed propeller and was designed to carry 250 passengers, 130 crew and 1,200 tonnes of cargo. She made her first voyage from Liverpool to New York in 1845. Originally built in Bristol it is fitting, after its rescue from the Falklands Islands and now fully restored, that her last resting place should once more be a dock in Bristol.

Project Description

The ship’s hull is currently stored in a dry dock surrounded by a glass platform over which water flows to create the effect of the ship floating. The glass is supported on a steel framework connected to the dock floor and dock-side and, to allow for differential movement and to retain the water, continuous strips of reinforced Hypalon geomembrane were installed around the complete perimeter of the hull.

The primary project problem was to find a way of creating the water and airtight seals that, while open to the elements, could contend with continuous biaxial movement between five different materials (glass, fibre glass, cast iron, stainless steel and galvanized steel) with their differential rates of expansion (up to 80mm between the hull and platform in hot weather).

Products involved

Hypalon and a variety of epoxy resins


The illusion has been maintained by effectively uniting the ship to its ’floating’ viewing deck.


As befits a world-first, a technological breakthrough as a problem was solved!

Project Summary

Products Used

  • Geomembranes

Project Features

  • Waterproofing

Project Nature

  • Turnkey
  • Large
  • Problem solution, Completed in 2005.

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