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Extraordinary collection donated to the BI

Brunel's cigar case

Extraordinary collection including some of Brunel’s most personal possessions donated to the Brunel Institute at the SS Great Britain.

Passionate supporter and benefactor Clive Richards has been instrumental in helping the SS Great Britain Trust create the national Brunel museum in Bristol

With less than a year to go before Being Brunel, the national Brunel museum, opens to the public, an extraordinary collection of items has been donated to become part of the National Brunel Collection through the Cultural Gifts Scheme. The scheme was introduced by the Government in 2013 as a major initiative to encourage life-time giving to UK public collections.

The ‘Clive Richards Collection’ comprises 858 objects relating to Isambard Kingdom Brunel including some of his most personal possessions such as the regulating clock from his London office and his famous cigar case and last cigar. These objects tell us a great deal about his life as well as help us to understand more about his personality.

We are familiar with designs and drawings and of course many of Brunel’s iconic engineering solutions themselves still being used today. To now have access to objects such as his school report from when he was 15-years-old and a silver-gilt tableware set gifted to him by the Great Western Railway Company, uncovers a personal layer of his life at those pivotal moments. Many of these objects will be displayed for the first time, while the full collection will be cared for in the Brunel Institute.

A passionate collector of Brunel-related items, Clive Richards has been a long-standing supporter and benefactor to the SS Great Britain Trust. In addition to the recent donation of his collection, The Clive and Sylvia Richards Charity last year donated £500,000 towards the Heritage Lottery Fund -supported Being Brunel project.

Matthew Tanner, Chief Executive of the SS Great Britain Trust, said:

“We are thrilled to receive this incredible collection. Clive Richards has been instrumental in helping the SS Great Britain Trust realise its vision of establishing the national Brunel museum where many of these items will be displayed to the public for the very first time.

The Clive and Sylvia Richards Charity has additionally made a significant donation towards the construction of the new museum. Clive’s great passion collecting items relating to Brunel is an extraordinary gift to the nation. Many of the objects are particularly rich in telling the human side of the Brunel story, and will inspire visitors to understand him and be enthused by what he achieved and how relevant that is for people today.”

Clive Richards said:

“I am delighted that my wonderful collection of items relating to Isambard Kingdom Brunel and his family has been transferred, through the Cultural Gifts Scheme, to the care of the Brunel Institute at the SS Great Britain Trust in Bristol, and will be displayed in the new ‘Being Brunel’ museum there.

It gives me great pleasure that these records of a great Briton can move to a city that holds a strong legacy of Brunel, and will join a larger Brunel collection where it can be made public and enjoyed by many others.”

Visitors to the Brunel Institute will have the opportunity to see some of the items from the Clive Richards Collection during a series of five free ‘Archive in Five’ sessions. Simply drop in anytime between 12.30pm and 1.30pm between Tuesday 9 May and Saturday 13 May to meet curators and volunteers who will be showing a few different items each day and explaining the stories behind them.

The Brunel Institute is part of Brunel’s SS Great Britain. To find out more including opening times and drop-in sessions throughout the year visit

Visitors can find out more about Being Brunel, the national Brunel project, at