Friday, May 26, 2006




24 Hour Museum
By Caroline Lewis
May 25, 2006

The proud bow of Brunel's ss Great
Britain at home in Bristol.
© ss Great Britain

Triumphantly re-launched last year as a monument to Victorian shipbuilding, IK Brunel’s ss Great Britain has now won the £100,000 Gulbenkian Prize for Museum of the Year 2006.

The prize, announced at a ceremony on May 25 at the Royal Institute of British Architects, recognises the hard work that has gone into preserving the world’s first great ocean liner and bringing it to life with the sights, sounds and smells of a 19th century voyage to Australia.

“Each of our shortlisted museums and galleries could have been a deserving winner,” said Professor Lord Robert Winston, Chair of the Gulbenkian judges, “but ss Great Britain got our unanimous vote for being outstanding at every level.”

“It combines a truly groundbreaking piece of conservation, remarkable engineering and fascinating social history,” he said, “plus a visually stunning ship above and below the water line. Most importantly, the ss Great Britain is accessible and highly engaging for people of all ages.”

The interior has been spruced up
to good as new condition.
Jon Pratty © 24 Hour Museum

Launched in 1843, ss Great Britain was the world’s first iron-hulled ocean-going ship. After nearly 100 years of service she was left to decay off the coast of the Falklands as a floating warehouse, only to be salvaged in 1970 and returned home to Bristol, where she has since sat in dry dock.

However, the corrosion of her magnificent iron hull continued apace until the innovative conservation project completed last year at a cost of £11.3 million. Now visitors can walk round the hull, enclosed in a glass sea with a giant humidification system halting further corrosion. One of the judges described the impact of the hull as ‘visual poetry’.

Above the water line, each aspect of the interior as it would have been for passengers in the 1840s has been reconstructed – from the spartan functionality of third class berths to the opulent First Class Ladies’ Boudoir.

Looking up through the glass sea.
Jon Pratty © 24 Hour Museum

The ship and Dockyard Museum charting her story now receive the prestigious title of Museum of the Year, £100,000 and hold the trophy for one year – an enamelled silver bowl by Vladimir Böhm. The trustees plan to put the prize money towards rebuilding the forward masts and completing the presentation of the ship in her original form.

The judges praised all the shortlisted museums, describing The Collection: Art & Archaeology in Lincolnshire as a major new cultural asset for Leicester and the county; commending London’s Hunterian Museum for imaginative presentation of controversial material; and recognising the new Underground Gallery at Yorkshire Sculpture Park as a superb addition to one of the best sites to see contemporary sculpture in the open air.

The prize money will be put towards
finishing touches on ss Great Britain.
Jon Pratty © 24 Hour Museum

Shortlisted museums will all receive a plaque to display as well as framed citations from the judges, who included historian and broadcaster Dan Snow and journalist and writer Ekow Eshun.
The Gulbenkian Prize is the biggest single arts prize in the UK, funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. The prize is given annually to the museum or gallery that exhibits the best innovation or project, regardless of budget. Last year’s winner was Big Pit, the National Mining Museum of Wales at Blaenafon and in 2004 Charles Jencks’ Landform at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

For more information on the Gulbenkian Prize see the website.

SS Great Britain, Bristol
Great Western Dock, Gas Ferry Road, Bristol, BS1 6TY, England
T: 0117 926 0680
Open: The ship is open every day except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. 10am to 5.30pm, April-October. (Last entry 4.30pm) 10am to 4.30pm, November - March. (Last entry 3.30pm)


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