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Being Brunel Museum

Home > Bristol > Places of Interest | Museums | Exhibitions | Day Trips | Antiques
by Tom Fieldhouse (subscribe)
I am a freelance writer, living in Bath with my wife and son. I love my city, and love to live here. I write about Bath a lot, and sometimes about travels in Ireland and France.
Published July 26th 2020
Brunel brilliance in Bristol
Making our way to the exhibition, next to the S S Great Britain

Free with entry to SS Great Britain, is a fabulous exhibition. It explores the mind of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, arguably the world's greatest engineer. Housed right next to one of his most famous feats, the SS Great Britain, this exhibition brings together all manner of artefacts and experiences. Visitors of all ages have so much to see and do.

An enormous sculpture of IKB's head, with his notorious cigar

A centrepiece of the exhibition is a gigantic sculpture of Brunel's face. He is almost an icon in England and was always photographed or painted with an enormous cigar in his mouth. This is fitting because he was fixated by the concept of Industrial engineering, and all the smoke, fire and ingenuity that went with it. The exhibition seeks to reveal the whole man, rather than just his public, famous persona.

A 'to scale' replica of Brunel's dining room in his London Residence

Several rooms of Brunel's London residence have been replicated at full scale, and visitors stroll through these, following a navigable one-way system. There are also many of Brunel's personal effects and belongings, which really bring him to life for the visitor.

Part of a huge mural, which is a timeline of Brunel's many achievements

A massive mural detailing Brunel's achievements is also on display. One of my favourite items was a series of pop up cards which Brunel fashioned to demonstrate to people what his creations would eventually look like. Below is the creation of a tunnel that he had dug beneath the Thames River in London.

A kaleidoscopic view of the Thames tunnel, designed and built by Brunel

Brunel was such a visionary, that he sought financial and logistical help himself. It is remarkable that the man was so heavily involved with almost every aspect of his engineering projects, be these tunnels, bridges, ships or machines.

An interactive part of the exhibition, reenacting a controversial meeting that took place in Bristol

A real highlight of the exhibit is a lifesize recreation of Brunel's Bristol office, with actors playing the part of Brunel's associates. He famously switched the propulsion system of the SS Great Britain from paddles to a propulsion screw (or propeller). This was decided well into the process of building the ship and was met with dismay from Brunel's financial ackers, who had already invested a fortune in the initial design.

The original steam whistle from SS Great Western, Brunel's even larger paddle steamer

An amusing exhibit shows the world of machines had Brunel not created and patented his propeller system. This man was a true genius, and the exhibit brings this across most assuredly. My favourite element was a series of drawings for Brunel's 'Vacuum tunnel'. This invention, which was never completed due to lack of funds, shows how ahead of his time Brunel really was. Another of his many achievements was the designing and building of the SS Great Britain. It was absolutely revolutionary at the time.
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Why? Fascinating and interactive exhibition, delving in to the mind of Isambard Kingdom Brunel
When: Exhibition is currently open, but has been closed due to Covid 19 pandemic
Phone: 0117 926 0680
Where: SS Great Britain, Bristol
Cost: Free entry with a ticket to the SS Great Britain.
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