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Story last updated: 03 Apr 2004 1143 BST Printable version of this page
British Empire and Commonwealth Museum
Clocktower at the British and Empire and  Commonwealth  Museum  
It's a fairly new addition to the city's attractions, but the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum is already gaining a reputation as a must-see venue for tourists to Bristol.
Work on the museum is continuing
Some 10 years in the making, the museum represents the first serious attempt in the UK to present a publicly-accessible history of the British Empire and its continuing impact.

The museum itself was established as a trust in 1986 and after planning and fundraising, acquired a 99-year lease on the Grade I listed Brunel's station building at Bristol's historic Temple Meads Station in 1989.

The "old station" was built in 1839 at the beginning of the railway revolution, which transformed so many regions and areas of the British Empire and Commonwealth.

It was actually built on the meadows of the 12th Century Temple Church, with the architectural style of the building influenced by Brunel's Tudor style.

Front of building
The museum building was originally part of Temple Meads Station

Restoration work began in 1993 with more than £4.5m ploughed into the scheme.

At the same time as the restoration, the trust began to assemble the objects, archives, photographs and other evidence such as oral history, which would enable a stimulating and informative museum to be founded.

The museum opened fully to the public on September 26, 2002 and has been nominated for selection as a World Heritage Site.

The building now looks much as it did when it was first opened in the 1840s and is a major landmark within the city.

And its reputation is growing. It has even been selected for the final list of candidates for the title of European Museum of the Year 2004.

What's there?

The British Empire and Commonwealth Museum draws upon a wide range of experiences and diverse opinions about the colonial period.

It presents a history seen from all sides, from explorers to aboriginal peoples, viceroys to freedom fighters, district officers to indentured servants of the commonwealth's 53 member states.

The museum’s permanent exhibition features 16 themed galleries, divided into three main sections.

Pacific Exhibition
The Pacific exhibition contains material from various Commonwealth countries

It covers not only the maritime, military and technological triumphs of empire, but also examines issues such as racism, economic exploitation, cultural imperialism and slavery.

The starting point is John Cabot’s voyage from Bristol to Newfoundland in 1497 and the birth of Britain’s trading empire.

The exhibition concludes with an examination of life in Britain today.

The galleries use a mix of authentic objects, uniforms, clothing and textile, film, photographs and sound recordings, many never seen before in public.

Most are from the museum’s archives,with the oral history archive alone holding more than 1,000 interviews and radio programmes.

Some of the museum's material has been provided by other institutions such as the British Museum, the National Maritime Museum and the Science Museum.

The guiding principle is to allow people access to a unique shared history - whatever their faith or background.

The permanent exhibitions are supported by a major educational programme, which includes a community radio station facility.

Changing special exhibitions focus in detail on different aspects of the main displays.

Forest exhibition
The permanent exhibitions are supported by an educational programme

More work on the museum is planned, with extension and refurbishment expected to be completed by the end of 2006,with help of money from the National Lottery Heritage.

Opening times

The museum is open every day of the year except Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

Normal opening hours are 10am – 5pm. Last admission is at 4.30pm.

A tour of the permanent galleries takes approximately two hours.

Adults: £5.95 Children (5-15 years): £3.95 Senior citizens and students: £4.95 Family Ticket (2 adults, 2 children): £14.00

Visitor Services

There is full disabled access, including lifts and specially adapted toilets.

The museum shop offers a wide range of related books, CDs and gift items, including a large selection of arts and crafts from throughout the Commonwealth.

The museum cafe is open during normal museum opening hours for light refreshments.

Getting there

By public transport

The museum is located right next to Temple Meads railway station and is served by the city's principal public transport services, including rail, bus (8 and 9), park and ride, river ferry and airport shuttle.

By car

Car users should leave the M4 at junction 19, taking the M32 to the city centre and Temple Meads station. Take junction 19 for Bristol city centre if travelling north on the M5 or junction 18 if travelling south.

Free car parking is available on a first-come-first-served basis, at weekends only, at the rear of the museum.

Otherwise you'll need to use public car parks and allow for a short walk to the museum.

  British Empire and Commonwealth Museum

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