The Brunel Museum

Site: The Brunel Museum
Type: Industrial
Location: London (Rotherhithe)
Owner: London Transport Properties
Manager: The Brunel Museum


This early example of asset transfer began in the 1970s when the Engine House, which had serviced Brunel’s Thames Tunnel, was taken over from London Transport by the London Borough of Southwark and later transferred to a charitable trust. The site was re-opened as The Brunel Museum in 2001. It has developed a strong local presence through hosting special events, plays, concerts, running play schemes through the summer and welcoming school history classes throughout the year.


The Grade II listed Engine House became redundant in 1913 following the introduction of electric pumping equipment, resulting in the site being let for storage use. In the early 1970s the London Borough of Southwark leased from London Transport the buildings and adjoining land that contained the Grade II listed building, which was shortly after designated as a scheduled ancient monument. A licence was then issued to the newly formed charity, Brunel Exhibition Rotherhithe.

Aside from attracting grants from a variety of public sources and charitable foundations, the charity was able to use volunteers to open up an exhibition for the public once a month. In 2005 the charity was renamed as The Brunel Museum and in 2009 it directly negotiated a 25-year lease with London Transport Properties at a peppercorn rent, and in 2011 a similar lease on the associated shaft, enabling the initial vision to be fully implemented. It has a full-time director and a dedicated team of volunteers and is open every day.

Lessons learnt

By starting with a licence, the project was able to avoid taking on excessive risk, whilst leaving the local authority and original owner with the safeguard of being able to step in should the charity run into difficulties. By following this up with the granting of the lease at a peppercorn rent, the charity’s success was recognised giving it greater independence to better progress its future plans as a now fully accredited museum.


Whilst funding has been generated from a number of bodies, including the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Renaissance London, a key element of the museum’s success can be seen in the extent of volunteer time dedicated to its running and maintenance. In 2010 the museum received the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service, the MBE for for voluntary organisations.