Brunel 200 Legacy The Brunel Banquet
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Brunel Banquet at the Passenger Shed

In July 1843, a banquet to celebrate the launch of the ss Great Britain was staged alongside the Great Western Dockyard in the engine works building. Prince Albert, the guest of honour, travelled down from London on the newly opened Great Western Railway, arriving at Temple Meads station, now known as the Passenger Shed. Prince Albert inspected the ship on arrival, and later joined guests at the banquet, while the dock filled with water to float the vessel. As many as 30,000 people gathered on Brandon Hill to catch sight of the ship as she entered the Floating Harbour for the first time.

The cost of entry to the banquet was one guinea and was attended by the great and the good of Bristol.

Brunel's ss Great Britain.

Brunel's ss
Great Britain.

In an article in the Illustrated London News (29 July 1843), the event was described:

'The company having assembled, the Prince was not long making his appearances, and the demolition of the various delicacies arranged on the tables quickly proceeded. ‘It was gratifying’ says the Bristol Journal, ‘to observe that the West Country air appeared to have in no wise disagreed with the Royal appetite.’

In 2006, a recreation of the 1843 banquet took place. It served as an opportunity to celebrate and to reflect on 4 years of planning, and one year of tremendous celebrations across the whole of the South West including stunning new publications, amazing exhibitions, fun-packed festivals, guided walks and talks, radio shows, musical and dramatic performances, writing and visual art workshops, competitions, Brunel inspired beer and water, education events and Britain’s biggest ever reading project, with Around the World in 80 Days. It is estimated that over a million people joined in the Brunel celebrations.

2006 Brunel Banquet in the Passenger Shed (Laura Thorne).

2006 Brunel Banquet in the Passenger Shed.

The banquet was held in Brunel’s Passenger Shed and 600 guests attended, many in traditional Victorian dress and accessories. The menu offered was representative of the Victorian experience, which included lamb, roast fowls, meriton de ham, raised pie, Savoy cake, caramel baskets, noyau cream and ice creams. Unlike Victorian fare, there was a range of vegetarian options!

The banquet was accompanied by a range of entertainment, including the City of Bristol Brass Band, Martin Williamson as Mr Brunel and Anthony Churchill as Queen Victoria, the Emerald Ensemble – Bristol’s professional chamber orchestra – and a number of Brunel 200 performances including readings from Brunel’s personal journals.

Photography: Laura Thorne.