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Brunel’s ss Great Britain gains national status

Original Clifton suspension bridge design by IK Brunel

Brunel’s ss Great Britain’s collection has been recognised as having outstanding national importance after being awarded Designated Status by Arts Council England.

Bristol’s favourite visitor attraction and museum holds one of the world’s finest maritime collections and the largest Brunel collection.

The most significant object is Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s darling ship, the ss Great Britain, which overlooks Bristol’s Floating Harbour in the dry dock that he originally built for her. Rescued from rust and wreckage in 1970, she is now surrounded by a ‘glass sea’ that acts as a giant dehumidification chamber and helps to preserve the iconic iron steamship.

Alongside the ship the 60,000 items in the collection are cared for in the Brunel Institute. Diaries, letters and photographs tell the stories of passengers and crew, who travelled on board the luxury passenger liner since the first voyage in 1845. Brunel’s startling drawing of a horse gives a glimpse into his childhood at age six; his original 1829 designs for the Clifton Suspension Bridge show the ambition and vision of the task ahead of the 23 year old. A selection of Brunel papers and drawings as well as his cigar and cigar case are amongst some of the most recent arrivals.

The Brunel Institute is one of few academic archives in the world to offer ‘access on demand’. This means that anyone with an interest in Brunel, maritime history, or the ss Great Britain can visit and view any of the objects.

When the brand new visitor experience ‘Being Brunel’ opens in 2017, visitors can expect to see parts of the Designated Collection on display for the first time.

Arts Council England’s Designation Scheme identifies the pre-eminent collections of national and international importance held in England’s non-national museums, libraries and archives, based on their quality and significance.

This award recognises the Trust delivers the highest standards, and that the whole organisation is committed to the continued safeguarding of and access to this remarkable collection, for the enjoyment of generations to come.

ss Great Britain Trust Chief Executive Matthew Tanner commented:

“This is a great and important accolade for the ss Great Britain Trust Collections. I am extremely proud to care for a nationally-designated collection and also of the entire team who look after it and ensure it is accessible for everybody, everyday.”

Phil Gibby, Area Director, South West, Arts Council England, said:

"We are delighted that the ss Great Britain Trust Collection has been awarded Designated status.  It recognises the national importance of the collection and highlights the extraordinary wealth of the south west’s cultural heritage.”

The Brunel Institute is open Tuesday – Friday and the first two Saturdays of each month 10.30am – 4.30pm, admission is free of charge. To view the collection or use the library visitors will need to bring a form of identification which is less than three months old and shows their current address.


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