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Archive in Five

Objects which have been hidden away for more than a century, will be on display in the ss Great Britain Trust’s new Brunel Institute for just one hour.

Curators will select one object for each of the ‘Archive in Five’ events which will be on Tuesday - Thursday (12.30pm to 1.30pm),  and the first two Saturdays of the month (1pm to 2pm).

These will be taken from the Brunel and ss Great Britain collections, held in the National Brunel Archive next to the historic ship in Bristol. 

Staff will take a ‘lucky dip’ approach to selection, to ensure some of the less well known objects are also shown to visitors. Highlights from the National Brunel Archive – a collection made up of artefacts drawn from Bristol University and ss Great Britain Trust collections – include Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s engineering designs, his locked diaries, stereoscopic photographs, and the ship’s passenger letters.

Members of the general public have been able to access the National Brunel Archive since the Brunel Institute opened last November. However, because the items are so rare visitors are required to show formal identification. Experience shows most visitors have had specialist knowledge or a specific information request. 

‘Archive in Five’ is ideal for visitors with a passing interest, or who have limited time – e.g. five minutes – as curators will provide unrestricted access to the Brunel Institute’s David MacGregor Library where the objects will be on display. 

The one-hour time limit will ensure that no long-term damage is done to the artefacts.

Staff and volunteers will also be on hand to provide further information about the National Brunel Archive and its contents, and to ensure the objects remain safe. 

And specialist gloves will be made available to visitors, to avoid any contact with sticky, sandwich-contaminated fingers.

The ss Great Britain Trust’s Curator of Library & Archive, Eleni Papavasileiou, explained: “We will open the doors to the Brunel Institute, next to the ss Great Britain, for ‘Archive in Five’. It will be an ideal opportunity for anyone to have a quick peek in their lunch break, or during a visit to Brunel’s ss Great Britain, at some of the treasures within the collection. 

“These might include anything from a Brunel diary or stereoscopic photographs, to passenger letters or one of our latest acquisitions. The curatorial team will select objects at random to inject an element of surprise.”

She added: “Some of the very delicate objects of course cannot be included in ‘Archive in Five’, as we would not want to risk any long-term damage.”

The Trust’s Director of Museum and Educational Services Rhian Tritton commented: “The National Brunel Archive is a collection of global significance, and it is important to the Trust that we ensure as many people as possible can access the objects and learn from them.”

The Brunel Institute holds approximately 45,000 items, including 4,500 maritime, engineering and ship-building books; 2,000 ship plans; 100 ship models; 35,000 maritime photographs; passenger and crew diaries and letters; 50 films; the Lloyds Register dating back to the 1700s; and the Illustrated London  News.