PRESS RELEASE! Tuesday 9th July

The Brunel Museum secures National Lottery support 

The Brunel Museum in Rotherhithe has received initial support* from The National Lottery Heritage Fund for ‘The Brunel Museum Reinvented’ project, it was announced today. Made possible by National Lottery players, the project will transform the Museum, putting one of the most significant feats of engineering in London’s history into a contemporary context as the birthplace of modern tunnelling systems. Due to complete in 2023, the project will preserve the historic building, improve visitor facilities, double the current exhibition space, and show for the first time the recently-acquired and pre-eminent collection of Marc Brunel’s Thames Tunnel watercolour designs. 

Development funding of £200,000 has been awarded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund to help the Brunel Museum progress its plans to apply for a full National Lottery grant of £1.4m at a later date. 

The Brunel Museum Reinvented project aims to extend and enhance the Engine House exhibition space with lively interpretation about the lives and work of two brilliant engineers, Sir Marc Isambard Brunel and his son Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Centred around a new display of the watercolour designs for the Thames Tunnel project, the exhibition will explore engineering innovation, the Brunel dynasty, and how their inventions shaped our world today. 

The riverside Museum is a much-loved local landmark with its striking tall red chimney and is valued by its visitors for a range of uses. It is of international heritage significance in relation to its structures and its direct connections with the ground-breaking achievements of the Brunel family. 

The project will deliver improved access arrangements and facilities, including a new welcome centre, offering a better experience for everyone. Activities and events, working with partners locally, will reach and inspire new audiences with the Brunels’ story, including activities to promote wellbeing and inspire the next generation of engineers. Proposals will also preserve the Museum’s historic fabric and create better links between the Engine House, a Scheduled Monument, and the Grand Entrance Hall, the Grade II* listed airshaft for the Tunnel.

Brunel Museum Patron and historian Dan Cruickshank has said:

Marc and Isambard Brunel are the greatest father and son team in the history of engineering in Britain – arguably in the world. They were inventive, bold and pioneering in their endeavours and achieved not only superb functional and engineering excellence but also – often – sublime beauty.

To walk where they walked in Rotherhithe is to follow in the footsteps of giants. It is moving, inspiring – haunting. And once you’ve experienced the Brunel Museum for the first time, and really started to understand the nature of the hair-raising challenge facing the Brunels and the ingenuity of their solution then you, like Isambard, will be changed forever by the sheer daring of the heroic and elemental Thames Tunnel.”

Brunel Museum Director, Robert Hulse, commenting on the award said: “We’re delighted that we’ve received this support thanks to National Lottery players. Marc Brunel’s greatest engineering feat is of truly international importance and the blueprint for tunnelling today, from the Channel Tunnel to Crossrail. This funding will allow us to work up plans for the next phase in the Tunnel’s history, furthering our ambitions to transform the Brunel Museum into a fitting tribute to its pioneering designer and contemporary engineering legacy. We aim to inspire communities with the ground-breaking stories of the Thames Tunnel project and the outstanding achievements of the Brunel family and their relevance to our lives today.”

Notes to editors

About The Brunel Museum

The Brunel Museum in Rotherhithe is a place of international significance. It is the site of Sir Marc Isambard Brunel’s most brilliant achievement, the Thames Tunnel, first described in 1843 by The Illustrated London News as ‘The Eighth Wonder Of The World’. An engineering breakthrough, Marc Brunel’s scheme to create the first bored tunnel under any river in the world became the blueprint for tunnelling today – from the Channel Tunnel to Crossrail. 

The Arts Council-Accredited Brunel Museum was established in 1975 and receives around 35,000 visitors annually.  It is open seven days a week from 10 am – 5pm with late openings for special events. Entry to the Museum is £6 with various concessionary rates in operation. The Museum is self funding and income derives from – admission fees, shop sales, tickets for special events, heritage river trips, venue hire. Learning is a core activity at the Museum with a range of in house designed formal and informal l

earning programmes serving around 100 schools. Heritage boat tours and riverside walks leading to a tour of the Museum and Tunnel Shaft are offered most days. The converted Tunnel Shaft and its atmospheric roof garden continues to host popular music, concerts, film nights, family cabaret nights and theatre. 

About the Brunel Thames Tunnel Collection

This remarkable collection of 30 original working and design drawings and associated artefacts vividly records the building of the Thames Tunnel – the first bored tunnel under a river anywhere in the world. The drawings give insight into the development of a world-changing design that was to transform the lives of city dwellers forever. Exceptional for their beauty, artistic merit and technical detail, the drawings have been described as the most important Brunel collection ever to enter the public domain.

Buried in a family album for almost two hundred years, the Brunel Thames Tunnel Collection was acquired at auction by the Brunel Museum thanks to the generosity of National Heritage Memorial Fund, Art Fund, V&A Purchase Grant Fund, Friends of the National Libraries and the Trustees of Trinity Buoy Wharf .

About The National Lottery Heritage Fund

* National Lottery Heritage Fund grant applications over £250,000 are assessed in two rounds. The Brunel Museum has initially been granted round one development funding of £200,000 by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, allowing it to progress with its plans. Detailed proposals are then considered by The National Lottery Heritage Fund at second round, where a final decision is made on the full funding award of £1.4m. 

Using money raised by the National Lottery, we Inspire, lead and resource the UK’s heritage to create positive and lasting change for people and communities, now and in the future. www.heritagefund.org.uk. 

Follow @HeritageFundUK on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and use #NationalLotteryHeritageFund  

Further information

For further information, images and interviews please contact the Museum Director, Robert Hulse,

T: 020 7231 3840 M: 0774 020 3119 E: [email protected]