The Brunel Museum is a small building and hard to find unless you are looking for it.
Housed in the neat brick building that once held the pumping station for the Thames Tunnel, it is devoted to this unique piece of engineering.
Built by both the Brunels (Marc Isambard Brunel and his son Isambard Kingdom Brunel) the Thames Tunnel was the first tunnel under a navigable river, and could only be built because of Marc Brunel’s design of the tunnelling shield. This method of building has shaped the way tunnels are created ever since.
The Tunnel itself is now part of the tube network, on the East London line. However it is closed until 2010 due to engineering works to expand and improve London’s transport infrastructure.
The Brunel theme becomes apparent before you have even entered the museum. The playground outside stands out because of it, particularly things like the suspension bridge bench. The Museum giftshop also offers a range of Brunel-themed merchandise and DVDs about the tunnel that I have not seen available elsewhere.
At the time of writing there is a modest entry fee (about £2 per person) but for anyone interested in the Thames Tunnel, and especially anyone working on a project about it, the museum is well worth this. With the tunnel itself closed until 2010, due to engineering works, this is the best place to learn about it.
Inside the museum is on two floors, housing displays and exhibits about the tunnel mainly on the upper level. It tells the story of the tunnel’s design, building and operational history up to the modern day. The exhibits include personal logs and diaries, as well as newspaper clippings and more. Surprisingly small there isn’t really enough to fill a day or even a half-day’s visit by a casual visitor, but the museum can keep you occupied for up to an hour. It is something that could be done in a lunchtime for anyone only mildly interested – and the cafe nearby certainly encourages this option!
They also do group visits, such as those for national science week where they joined up with the London Transport Museum. They produced interactive visits to teach children about the conditions the workers faced and the engineering marvel that is the Thames Tunnel.
It is a short, but interesting, visit and ideal for visitors looking for a short break between better known attractions.
The Brunel Museum:
Museum Website: http://www.brunel-museum.org.uk/