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Six months to go

Launch set for Being Brunel – the new national museum and visitor experience

The new national museum and visitor experience exploring inside the life and works of Isambard Kingdom Brunel will open its doors to the public in just six months’ time – at the end of March 2018.

Called ‘Being Brunel’, the new museum will tell the hero engineer’s extraordinary story through never-before-seen personal possessions, as well as interactive exhibits and audio-visual experiences. It will be a major addition at Brunel’s SS Great Britain, which is already rated as Bristol’s number-one visitor attraction by the public on TripAdvisor.

Visitors will discover that Brunel was not only an outstanding engineer, but an entrepreneur, a designer, an art lover and a showman too.

Being Brunel recreates, with sounds and smells, the interiors of Brunel’s London office and the Great Western Steamship Company’s Bristol office set within the Grade II listed Dock Office building which has been structurally restored as part of the project.

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

“This is a major milestone in the creation of a national centre of Brunel knowledge and expertise, the first of its kind in the UK. Many people know of Brunel as one of the world’s most influential engineers, but this new museum is about more than his professional achievements. His thoughts, aspirations and frustrations will be revealed as visitors are encouraged to learn about his mistakes and celebrate his successes. By preserving Brunel’s legacy in this way, we hope to also inspire the innovators of the future.”

The new museum will give unprecedented access to objects from the National Brunel Collection, currently cared for at the Brunel Institute, which includes over 14,000 items from the University of Bristol Brunel Collection, the Clive Richards Brunel Collection and the SS Great Britain Trust Collection.

Rhian Tritton, Director of Interpretation, Collections and Education, said:

“Objects going on public display for the first time include a fascinating 1821 school report from Brunel’s childhood and the large bell from the Great Western, his first great ship. Displays will bring to life the various chapters of Brunel’s story in immersive and innovative ways with intriguing sounds, sights and smells. Our aim is that visitors will leave really feeling that they know Brunel, having discovered aspects of his life as well as his achievements through the new museum.”

Visitors will be able to compare their own drawing skills to Brunel’s in a range of interactive exhibits including boarding a broad gauge railway carriage which sways and vibrates as it ‘travels’. Once on board, passengers can try out Brunel’s rule of thumb for testing the evenness of a railway route: sketching circles by hand sitting in a moving train.

Being Brunel has been made possible thanks to significant support from a range of charitable trusts, foundations, individuals and companies including National Lottery Players through the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Clive and Sylvia Richards Charity, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, AIM Biffa Award and members of the Being Brunel Corporate Club.


For more information, interview opportunities and images, please contact:
Laura Hesketh, PR and Communications Officer
Tel. 0117 926 0680, ext. 611; email:

Kate Ashton, Corporate Communications Officer
Tel. 0117 926 0680, ext. 611; email:

Dominic Rowe, PR and Marketing Manager
Tel. 0117 926 0680, ext. 611; email:

Notes to editors

1) Spokespeople available on behalf of the SS Great Britain Trust:

Matthew Tanner, MBE, Director and Chief Executive

Rhian Tritton, Director of Interpretation, Collections and Education

Mike Day, Being Brunel Project Manager

Nick Booth, Head of Collections

2) Images available include:

  • Recent photos of the Being Brunel building during construction beside the SS Great Britain.
  • Photos of various objects that will be displayed in the new museum including Brunel’s school report, pages showing Brunel’s hand-drawn circles from his sketch book and the bell from the Great Western steamship.
  • Photography of key spokespeople.

3) Supporters of Being Brunel:

The Trust is very grateful to everyone who has donated to the Being Brunel project. In particular, we wish to acknowledge the significant support from the following charitable trusts, foundations, companies and individuals:

The National Lottery – Heritage Lottery Fund, Clive & Sylvia Richards Charity, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, The Wolfson Foundation, AIM Biffa Award, Garfield Weston Foundation, The Headley Trust, Edith Murphy Foundation, Ernest Cook Charitable Trust, George Cadbury Trust, The John Coates Charitable Trust, Sir John Fisher Foundation, the Swire Charitable Trusts and the Eranda Rothschild Foundation.

Being Brunel Corporate Club members: Renishaw, Bond Dickinson, The Bristol Port Company, BAE Systems, Arthur J Gallagher Insurance Brokers Ltd, Hollandia UK Ltd, SMC Global Ltd, Stannah and Wapping Wharf.

Mr John Baker, Mr Ray RJ Daniels, Dr Tony Dickens, Dr Colin Green CBE & Mrs Louise Green, His Honour Stephen Powles QC, Mrs Geraldine Powles, Mr Barry and Mrs Estelle Stevenson.

4) Admission tickets to Brunel’s SS Great Britain will include a visit to Being Brunel and will continue to be valid for free unlimited return visits for a year.

5) Please note; the attraction is Brunel’s SS Great Britain; the ship is the SS Great Britain; the charity which manages and maintains the ship is the SS Great Britain Trust.