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£7.2m Brunel museum opening for first time

The Being Brunel attraction on Bristol’s harbourside will celebrate the life and legacy of the engineering pioneer.

A new museum dedicated to Isambard Kingdom Brunel is opening for the first time.

The £7.2 million Being Brunel visitor attraction on Bristol’s harbourside will celebrate the life and legacy of the engineering genius who helped build Britain and shape the world.

It will feature six galleries setting out 150 of Brunel’s personal artefacts – many never seen in public before – to provide unprecedented insight into his life, family, interests and creative mind.


The overall design is set to evoke the atmosphere of the Great Exhibition of 1851, which was a celebration of Victorian wonder and invention and featured Brunel on its design committee.

Visitors will step inside Brunel’s original and fully restored Grade II-listed Dock Office in the historic Great Western Dockyard, where he designed and built SS Great Britain.

Brunel was behind some of the world’s greatest feats of engineering, from ocean liners like the SS Great Britain, which revolutionised maritime engineering and world travel, to the famous Clifton Suspension Bridge and Paddington Station.

Visitors to Being Brunel will discover the man behind the extraordinary engineering talent, from his unique relationship with his father, his entrepreneurial talent and design skill through to his love for the arts and drama.


The museum will unravel Brunel’s story through personal possessions, including his mother Sophia’s diary and biography of her husband, Sir Marc Brunel.

Visitors will be able to see a wall-mounted regulator clock made by EJ Dent of London, which was hung in Brunel’s London office at 18 Duke Street.

Regulator clocks were extremely reliable and Brunel used to set his watch by this one.

The reliability, speed and success of his Great Western Railway created the need for standardised timetabling across the UK, which ultimately contributed to the spread of Greenwich Mean Time across the UK.

Also on display is Brunel’s cigar case and the “last cigar”, which offers a glimpse into his lifestyle and workaholic nature.

The cigar once smoked by Isambard Kingdom Brunel at the ss Great Britain in Bristol (Ben Birchall/PA Wire).

Visitors will also be able to see Brunel’s 1821 school report, a sketch of a horse he drew aged six, and his diary, which offers a contrast to the confident public image he cultivated and shows he was riddled with self-doubt while driven to achieve success.

His professional notebooks and sketchbooks show the scale of the influence of Brunel’s work and how his innovations changed the face of the British landscape and informed future engineering.

Matthew Tanner, chief executive of the SS Great Britain Trust, said: “By preserving Brunel’s legacy in this way, the museum aims to show what the man made, and what made the man, and we aim to inspire the innovators of the future.

“It will also highlight Brunel’s continuing relevance today with insight from ‘modern-day Brunels’ including Norman Foster and Roma Agrawal, exploring how Brunel has inspired their work.”

The objects on display are drawn from the National Brunel Collection, housed at Brunel’s SS Great Britain in the Brunel Institute.

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