Brunel 200 Legacy Generic blank masthead.
South West Arts Projects
Bristol Arts Projects
Brunel 200 Events & Activities
Brunel 200 Main Site Spacer
South West Arts Projects Overview > Teignbridge & South Hams Museums

Heading – Teignbridge & South Hams Museums

Meet Mr Isambard Kingdom Brunel

Project Outline

10 volunteer-run museums in Teignbridge and South Hams, South Devon decided to mark Brunel’s anniversary by mounting exhibitions about the impact of Brunel's engineering achievements and the arrival of 'God's Own Railway', the Great Western Railway, upon their communities. To bring the work to life, the museums also decided to bring in some themed interpretation, in the form of an opportunity to 'Meet Mr Brunel', providing publicity, attracting new audiences and strengthening links with schools.

The Exhibitions

The coming of the Great Western Railway changed life here forever, whether the railway came through your town or not. The exhibitions at Dawlish and Teignmouth museums demonstrated how the arrival of the railway enabled the development of the towns as seaside resorts. Salcombe Maritime museum focussed on Brunel's shipbuilding achievements. The Kingsbridge Cookworthy Museum had an exhibition showing the history of the Primrose Line, the ‘line that never was’ as Brunel's original plans were not achieved and the exhibition at Ashburton Museum showed how the town lost economic and commercial importance when the railway line was routed away from Ashburton along the coast. Newton Abbot became the new commercial centre and in 2006 the Newton Abbot Town and GWR museum enhanced its existing railway display with a working model and the Dawson watercolours, original sketches of the route of the railway, on loan from the Institute of Civil Engineers. Bovey Tracey Heritage Centre mounted a superb railway exhibition, and the Devonshire Collection of Period Costume exhibited travelling clothes, which would have been worn by passengers on Brunel's railway. Teignbridge and South Hams were the home of the atmospheric railway, and the legacy of the pumping stations can still be seen. Totnes Image Bank's photographic exhibition featured railway images. The William Pengelly Cave Studies Trust exhibition displayed Brunel's achievements alongside those of William Pengelly and other eminent Victorians who contributed to the advancement of knowledge during that period.

Other Activities

The exhibitions were marketed through a joint leaflet, 'Discover Brunel's heritage in South Devon’, which linked in with other events taking place in the region.

First person interpretation enhanced accessibility at six of the exhibitions through an opportunity to 'Meet Mr Brunel'. The 'Mr Brunels' also participated in local events such as the commemorative steam train journey from London to Penzance and the Dawlish carnival, raising the profile of local museums and their exhibitions and attracting new audiences. 'Meet Mr Brunel' sessions for local schools were supported by a 'Fascinating Facts' poster which highlighted some of the less well-known facts about this remarkable individual.

There were outreach activities and Brunel lectures and Teignmouth and Shaldon Museum produced a 30-page book detailing Teignmouth in the 1840s and Brunel's influence on the town.


The Teignbridge and South Hams Museums project supported the aim of Brunel 200:

“To use lifelong learning to encourage people to appreciate the value of the achievements of Brunel and his nineteenth century colleagues, and to foster an interest in all aspects of engineering, science, and design.”

It also aimed to:

  • Inspire interest in and inform people about Brunel and his achievements in South Devon.
  • Raise the profile of local community museums and engage people with their own local history.
  • Create an understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of local heritage and its enhancement of people’s lives in the community.
  • Encourage new audiences to visit museums.
  • Develop partnerships with locals schools and encourage teachers to include Brunel in their delivery of the national Curriculum.
  • To deliver the project within the given time frame and budget.

Project Partners

The 10 participating museums benefited from joint marketing and the successful collaboration with Brunel 200 and the Heritage Lottery Fund. Publicity material listed other local Brunel events to the mutual benefit of all organisations.

Outcomes and Data

Visitor numbers were recorded which, taken with qualitative feedback, shows that the project was a success. 21,927 general visitors saw the Brunel exhibitions in the museums and 1,347 schoolchildren visited.

The assistance from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Brunel 200 enabled museums to mount quality exhibitions and to undertake marketing to attract visitors. Museums in Teignbridge and South Hams with Brunel exhibitions showed an increase in visitor numbers over the previous year, despite good weather which traditionally sees visitors on the beach rather in museums, compared with museums which did not participate in Brunel 200, which experienced a drop in visitors.

Partnerships were developed with local schools, local groups and heritage groups, which will be developed in the future. Cub packs visited the William Pengelly Cave Studies Trust in order to undertake their 'local heritage' badge work.

The information gathered for the 'Fascinating Facts' poster has been included on a small Brunel section of Tiverton Museum of Mid Devon Life's highly successful Virtual Victorian website, which receives over 65 million hits a year worldwide and has been invited to be included in the British Library web archive project. This was funded by MLASW strategic commissioning when the bid to Brunel 200 for funding to develop an online Brunel learning resource was unsuccessful. It includes Brunel 200 images and information and a Brunel decision-making activity for KS3, 'The Great E-Maze', based upon the development of the ss Great Eastern.

Media Coverage

The project received considerable coverage in the local press.

Visitor Feedback

Visitor feedback was positive with a number of visitors saying that they had come specifically to see the exhibitions including one group who came from Cornwall breaking their journey just to see the Ashburton exhibition.

Children were enthused by the meet Mr Brunel sessions and fired up with questions.

A number of visitors said that they found the Brunel information 'particularly interesting' or named the railway memorabilia, the railway exhibition or Brunel exhibition as their favourite exhibit.

Future Plans

Some of the exhibitions will remain but be modified for the new season, such as the Dawlish museum exhibition, which will explore the growth of the town as a seaside resort after the arrival of the railway.

Links with schools will be developed and further educational resources and material provided with funding from the museum Development Fund.

Other partnerships will be developed.

Museums Involved in the project:

  • Ashburton Museum
  • Bovey Tracey Heritage Trust
  • Cookworthy Museum, Kingsbridge
  • Dawlish Museum
  • Devonshire Collection of Period Costume
  • Newton Abbot Town and GWR Museum
  • Salcombe Maritime Museum
  • Teignmouth and Shaldon Museum
  • Totnes Image Bank
  • William Pengelly Cave Studies Trust


There’s more information and contact details for each of the 10 museums at: