Review: Being Brunel at the SS Great Britain
Updated: Jan 24, 2019
I first visited the SS Great Britain ten years ago, when my eldest son was just a tiny babe in arms. I remember meeting up with other new mums at the adjacent cafe to enjoy some fresh air with our babies as we watched boats sail past in the harbour. As my son has grown up (and another one has arrived too!) we have explored this iconic ship as a family many times, and we've watched as the visitor attraction has grown bigger and better over the past decade.
There are two things which have always really impressed me when visiting the ship. Firstly, the sheer level of detail is astonishing, whether it's the authentic smells on-board or the incredibly lifelike 'passengers' which my boys are still a little wary of!
Secondly, it's truly immersive. It is a museum, but not as you know it. This is a place where you're encouraged to touch, smell, feel, role play, and dress up as part of an experience - it's definitely not a venue where you stand back and admire the exhibits from a distance.
So, as you can imagine, I was very excited to be given the opportunity to visit the new Being Brunel museum during the opening weekend on 24th March 2018. Six years in the making, this £7.2 million attraction promises to 'explore the life and legacy of Isambard Kingdom Brunel'. But does the new museum live up to the incredible attraction that it's located alongside in the Great Western Dockyard?
The answer is a definite YES. From the moment you enter Brunel's dining room, set up as it would have looked at his London home, it's clear to see that the same level of detail can be found here too.
Interactive features have been cleverly included, with touch-screens set into the dining table. My kids rushed over to them straightaway, eagerly answering questions about which guests Brunel should invite to dinner. And that set the tone for the rest of our visit, with not a single cry of "I'm bored" uttered from their lips during the 90 minutes we were there.
One of their many highlights was the simulated train carriage which shakes from side to side as you attempt to draw a perfect circle (this is what Brunel would do to test the smoothness of his broad gauge railway).
The kids also loved playing the 'Great Trumps' game (a giant version of Top Trumps based on Brunel's many engineering projects).
And I loved the fact that they were having a lot of fun, but were learning about the great engineer at the same time.
The eight-metre tall model of Brunel's head is the amazing centrepiece of the museum, and as you wander around the six galleries, you will quite likely bump into the man himself too. And he's always happy to chat about his inventions!
There is also the opportunity to venture 'inside' Brunel's brain, when you watch a clever short film about some of the memorable moments of his life. This is quite an intimate experience, with only 20 people able to watch in the small theatre at one time. There are loud bursts of steam, and the (pretend) smell of cigar smoke, so it's not suitable for really sensitive small children (one left in tears when I was there).
Toddlers will probably have more fun exploring the drawers in the glass cases which showcase over 150 artefacts, not just about Brunel's professional life, but about his personal life too. I found it fascinating to learn about his wife and children, and to see his design for a family house (which was never actually built), which put the nursery at the other end of the house from his bedroom!
The overall sense of this new museum is of being a fun place to learn about one of our most famous engineers. There is a lot of interesting information about Brunel the man, as well as Brunel the engineer, and it is presented in the fantastic hands-on, interactive style that we have become accustomed to when visiting the SS Great Britain. A visit is highly recommended!
The Being Brunel museum is included in the entrance ticket, meaning that the SS Great Britain now becomes even more of an all day attraction. A family ticket (up to 3 children) is £45 and this includes free return visits for a year. You can benefit from an additional 5% off the price by purchasing your tickets on-line in advance here.
Have you visited Being Brunel yet? I'd love to hear about your visit, and what you enjoyed the most.
Disclaimer: We visited Being Brunel as part of the Bristol Bloggers group. We were given a free family ticket to the SS Great Britain in return for an honest review of Being Brunel. All views and photos are my own.