Brunel 200 Legacy K’nex bridge.
South West Arts Projects
Bristol Arts Projects
Brunel 200 Events & Activities
Brunel 200 Main Site Spacer
South West Arts Projects Overview > Porthcurno Telegraph Museum

Heading – Porthcurno Telegraph Museum

Celebrating the Great Eastern

Celebrating the Great Eastern – an educational project showing the impact of Brunel’s engineering genius on the development of international cable communications.

In 1870, Porthcurno began its life as an important centre of international communications. In this year a chain of telegraph cables linking Britain with India was completed. Porthcurno was chosen as the landing point for the British end of this cable link. The cable was laid across the oceans with the help of Brunel’s ss Great Eastern, at the time the only ship large enough to enable engineers to lay and pick up metal cables from the seabed often a mile below the surface.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel designed the Great Eastern in 1851. Its maiden voyage in 1859 signified the beginning of a gripping, sometimes terrible but always fascinating story of tenacity and persistence in the face of great odds. A giant amongst ships, the exhibition 'Brunel's Great Eastern' is a story about the dreams and ambitions of an era.

During its 9 cable-laying years, starting in 1865 and ending in 1874, the Great Eastern made five trans-Atlantic voyages, she laid 3,600 miles of cable across the Indian Ocean and numerous cables criss-crossing the globe between the Far East, Australia, Madeira and Brazil, as well as shorter lengths, which amounts in all to a total of 26,000 miles of cable.

The remote Cornish cove of Porthcurno became the site of Britain's first major Empire communications link in 1870.

Porthcurno's telegraphic code name was 'PK'. In 1929 the company also began to operate world radio communications through a merger with Marconi's radio network. In 1934 the name changed once again to 'Cable & Wireless'. At its height, Porthcurno was the world's largest cable station, with 14 telegraph cables in operation.

Porthcurno Telegraph Museum  - Family K’nex workshop.

Family K’nex workshop.

Brunel’s birthday celebrations

To celebrate Brunel’s 200th birthday year, Porthcurno Telegraph Museum created exhibition panels, ran a series of workshops, educational visits, lectures and holiday activities and made links between Mount’s Bay School and a school in Mumbai, as well as publishing a book and creating resources for the Museum’s education department.

Lesley Allen, the Museum’s Education and Outreach Manager, also worked with Penlee House on one of their Brunel 200 funded projects – holiday workshops in the marquee during the summer break – a perfect example of partnership!


The number of schools that participated in Brunel-themed workshops during 2006 was 12 in 20 separate sessions involving over 400 pupils.

Of these schools, six were new users of the Museum and they all expressed their determination to continue using Porthcurno Telegraph Museum for further educational visits. There was a spread of key stage 1, 2 and 3 groups involved with access themes of ‘Victorians’, ‘Inventors’, ‘Past Time’, ‘Famous People’ and ‘India’. These students also included a number of special needs pupils.

Porthcurno Telegraph Museum - Bollywood workshop group.

Bollywood workshop group.

Workshops and Exhibition

The workshops with schools were extremely successful with excellent feedback for the schools involved and a wonderful lively atmosphere was created during the process.

In the summer term of 2006, students from Mounts Bay School in Penzance came to Porthcurno Museum every day for a week to do some research into the Porthcurno – Bombay cable of 1870 and establish links with a school in Mumbai today. The students chose to investigate the themes of sport, culture, entertainment, cables and The Great Eastern Steamship. This information was used to produce a set of six panels to enhance the existing Brunel exhibition.

The exhibition generated by the students’ work is now ready for mounting and will feature in the museum during 2007. Leaflets promoting the exhibition have been distributed to schools.

Jenny Hick, Advanced Schools Teacher at Mounts Bay School commented:

“I am writing to thank you … for the wonderful welcome we received this summer. Our pupils all found something to spark their interest (all 200+ of them), thanks to the imaginative, creative and very patient approach of you and your volunteers and staff… the Museum really has hit the nail on the head when trying to grasp pupils’ attention and encourage them to want to find out more… many thanks… for a fantastic five days and I do hope we didn’t scare off any of your visitors with our exuberance!”

Feedback from students:

“I enjoyed my museum visits this week – they were fun and I learned loads of new things.”

“It isn’t what I expected – I thought it would be like stuff we do at school but was much better.”

Family visitors and holiday activities

The Museum put on special events during the summer and half-term holidays which brought large numbers of family visitors (over 200) into the building. It was satisfying to see that so many of these family groups were in the gallery, participating in the activities, for very long periods of time. At least two groups came back to the Museum at a later date to repeat the experience.

Comments from visitors:

“We couldn’t get the children away from the activities in the gallery…”

“We will definitely recommend this museum to our friends who have children.”

“Brunel was so inspiring – what a shame there don’t seem to be such brilliant engineers in Britain today.”

Bollywood workshop pair.

Bollywood workshop pair.

Reproduction and distribution of ‘The Wonderful Ship that was planned by Isambard Kingdom Brunel’, a Victorian children’s book about Brunel’s ss Great Eastern

This has been very successful with the first reprint edition (5,000) having all been distributed to schools, libraries, museums etc in the South West. A second print run of 2,500 was made. The book also has an ISBN number and, as such, is available to order nationally through booksellers which will increase its distribution further afield. Contact the Museum for a copy.

Floor Jigsaws

These were produced in time for the main museum season in 2006 and have proved very popular with younger visitors and are in use every day. They will remain in use during 2007 and beyond and are a great addition to the display about the Great Eastern.

Outcomes of the Brunel 200 project

1. Improved profile amongst local educational establishments

2. Built new relationships with schools that had not previously visited the Museum

Comments from new schools:

“An excellent facility. I shall bring other groups here now I know what you do.”

“I will be able to use this experience to support work across the curriculum. A very good day out for the pupils. Well done.”

“Please keep us on your mailing list. I’m sure other classes would like to come here too.”

3. Improved resource material available to visiting groups

4. Increased awareness of Brunel and his achievements amongst schools and a wider audience

Lesley Allen commented:

“Evidence of children’s increased awareness of Brunel came from listening to the comments of the pupils coming into the museum. The secondary school students in particular had never heard of Brunel and asked streams of questions – they certainly knew who he was by the time they had finished the week! Primary children had generally been primed before the museum visit so their knowledge started with me inviting the schools to pick up Brunel as their ‘Study of the Life of a Famous Person’ which was enhanced by the local connection (he pushed Richard Trevithick a little off his pedestal!).”

5. Students engaging with science and engineering subjects

“I have learned a lot about Brunel and the things he built. I would like to be clever and build things like bridges and ships too.”

6. Increased visitor numbers to the Brunel exhibition

The overall visitor numbers for the museum as a whole increased by about 3% at a time when visitor figures for most other attractions in Cornwall fell, so this small increase belies the real success of the project in reaching out to a wider audience.

7. Brought in new audiences, particularly Key Stage 3

8. Addressed the outcomes in the Inspiring Learning for All framework (IlfA):

Outcomes for users:

• they enjoyed themselves and were enriched and inspired by the experience
• they developed skills as a result of using the museum
• they became more self-confident, questioning and motivated
• some of them decided to do something different with their lives.

ILfA outcomes for the museum:

• a broader range of people used the museum
• new learning opportunities were developed

9. Built lasting partnerships with other providers (e.g. Penlee House Museum and Art Gallery in Penzance) who were also delivering activities through Brunel 200 funding


While the existing Brunel exhibition was replaced at Easter 2007, its popularity has prompted the museum to designate a section of the gallery to a more permanent Brunel and Great Eastern Steamship exhibition incorporating the new school material, where it will accessible for school groups in the future.

The schools’ legacy also includes the extended exhibition material produced by a local secondary school which studied the links between Britain and India.

Despite Brunel 200 being all but over, bookings for a further six Brunel-themed workshops for spring 2007 have been taken, with more enquiries pending. This illustrates the benefit to the Museum of the Brunel project.

The museum is using the successful outcomes from the Brunel project as a basis for new fund-raising bids because it shows that it can deliver such projects effectively.

Contact the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum at:
Eastern House
TR19 6JX
01736 810966

Or via: