|Meet Mr Isambard Kingdom Brunel
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 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.
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:
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.”
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.
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, www.victorians.org.uk 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
The project received considerable coverage in the local press.
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.
were enthused by the meet Mr Brunel sessions and fired up with questions.
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.
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: