Brunel 200 Legacy ss Great Britain – The Nine Lives of I.K. Brunel
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The Nine Lives of I.K. Brunel


Brunel's ss Great Britain is the world’s first great ocean liner. Launched in 1843 to provide luxury travel to New York, the iron-hulled steamship revolutionised travel and set new standards in engineering, reliability and speed.

Today Brunel's ss Great Britain is one of the UK’s most exciting museums and visitor attractions – winner of 10 major awards including the Gulbenkian Prize for Museum of the Year 2006.
Visitors step back in time in the new Dockyard Museum, before boarding ship as Victorian passengers, to explore the beautifully recreated spaces and to descend under the glass ‘sea’.

‘The Nine Lives of Brunel’, was an exhibition hosted in the newly refurbished Maritime Heritage Centre next to the ss Great Britain. Items on display included The Iron Duke – a replica broad-gauge locomotive, Brunel's notebooks, the working whistle from the ss Great Eastern and interactive challenges and timelines. Also on display was the work of a Brunel 200 artist, Glen Eastman, a fabric sculpture recreating the iconic chains used to launch Brunel’s Great Eastern. The exhibition was open from 1 April - 31 October 2006.

Alongside the main exhibition, Martin Williamson took on the role of I.K. Brunel leading the ‘Ask Brunel’ sessions. Adopting the character and costume of Brunel he chatted with visitors to the ship. Martin was employed for a total of 16 days by the ss Great Britain Trust and received very positive feedback throughout Brunel 200.

As part of the Brunel 200 Finale weekend, the following performances took place at ship, bringing an arts audience into a heritage setting:

Sarah Guppy – Show of Strength with Kim Hicks
Brunel the Hero – Bristol Old Vic Theatre School with Toby Hulse
Crossing the Line - Our Stories Make Waves
Luke Jerram – Dream Boats
Triangulation with Bob Walton

During summer 2006, the ss Great Britain ran a pilot volunteer scheme, working with approximately 20 volunteers who worked as tour guides, etc. The scheme proved so successful that a permanent scheme is being set up for 2007.

Furthermore, a new sector of the community have both visited and performed at the ship, by way of performances and workshops from Our Stories Make Waves.

Frances Bell, Special Projects Manager of the ss Great Britain Trust, said,

“This project has given us a valuable opportunity to explore the relevance of the ss Great Britain to a sector of the community, which is not strongly represented among our general audiences. Brunel 200 has helped to broaden our horizons about the potential of this kind of partnership project.”

Director of the ss Great Britain Trust, Matthew Tanner, said:

“Brunel 200 not only enabled the Trust to celebrate the bicentenary of I.K. Brunel’s birth in a fitting manner, it allowed the Trust to undertake valuable research, and to establish and develop rewarding partnerships.”

“The ss Great Britain Trust is currently working towards the concrete and long term legacy from Brunel 200 – the Brunel Institute - that will become a world-class research and learning centre, with educational outreach facilities.”

Visitor figures at the exhibition between April and June 2006 were 1948 groups of visitors, comprising 5532 individuals. Between April and October 2006, 143,479 visitors were counted at the ship.

Helen Horler, ss Great Britain’s Education Manager, ran a year of activity supporting ss Great Britain’s commitment to lifelong learning. She commented:

“School children and visitors to the ss Great Britain celebrated the bicentenary of our 'engineering hero' in style. With Brunel 200 support we brought Brunel to life and the great man answered many probing questions from both young and old visitors to the ship. We have now gone further with an 'Ask Brunel' section on our website which has proved very popular learning tool with children at home or in school environments.

I am glad that many of the education projects researched, resourced and delivered in 2006 will be developed further and continue this year. Brunel's ss Great Britain is committed to enthusing future engineers. Through a variety of activities such as mechanical toy and boat building, Brunel in character and puppet shows I believe we have made a great start. Many visitors have commented on the high quality resources and have requested more similar activities! We were able to reach a wide range of audiences with the Brunel 200 projects we were involved in.

The most memorable image I have is of the candle lit 'Dream Boats' bobbing up and down in the darkness of the floating harbour. This was an appropriate 'grand finale' to a week of artist in residence workshops where families worked together on expressing their hopes and dreams for Bristol.”

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Brunel's ss Great Britain
Great Western Dockyard
Gas Ferry Road
Bristol BS1 6TY