British Empire and Commonwealth Museum

British Empire and Commonwealth Museum

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The British Empire and Commonwealth Museum was a museum in Bristol
Bristol is a city, unitary authority area and ceremonial county in South West England, with an estimated population of 433,100 for the unitary authority in 2009, and a surrounding Larger Urban Zone with an estimated 1,070,000 residents in 2007...

, United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 exploring the history of the British Empire
British Empire
The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom. It originated with the overseas colonies and trading posts established by England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. At its height, it was the...

 and the effect of British colonial rule on the rest of the world.

The museum opened in 2002 in Bristol's historic old railway station
Bristol Temple Meads railway station
Bristol Temple Meads railway station is the oldest and largest railway station in Bristol, England. It is an important transport hub for public transport in Bristol, with bus services to various parts of the city and surrounding districts, and a ferry service to the city centre in addition to the...

, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel
Isambard Kingdom Brunel
Isambard Kingdom Brunel, FRS , was a British civil engineer who built bridges and dockyards including the construction of the first major British railway, the Great Western Railway; a series of steamships, including the first propeller-driven transatlantic steamship; and numerous important bridges...

, following renovation and conversion costing £8 million. It is the world's earliest surviving railway terminus, which was completed in 1840 and includes the passenger shed and the adjoining former engine and carriage shed. It is over 220 ft (67.1 m) with timber and iron roof spans of 72 ft (21.9 m), this Grade I listed building has been nominated as part of a World Heritage Site
World Heritage Site
A UNESCO World Heritage Site is a place that is listed by the UNESCO as of special cultural or physical significance...


The museum had a flourishing publications department, producing books on aspects of colonial life such as the history of the Northern Rhodesia
Northern Rhodesia
Northern Rhodesia was a territory in south central Africa, formed in 1911. It became independent in 1964 as Zambia.It was initially administered under charter by the British South Africa Company and formed by it in 1911 by amalgamating North-Western Rhodesia and North-Eastern Rhodesia...

 Police, and a register of titles of the regiments of the Honourable East India Company
British East India Company
The East India Company was an early English joint-stock company that was formed initially for pursuing trade with the East Indies, but that ended up trading mainly with the Indian subcontinent and China...

 and East Indian Armies. The museum also held the collection of artefacts of the Commonwealth Institute
Commonwealth Institute
The Commonwealth Institute was an educational charity connected with the Commonwealth of Nations, and the name of a building in West London formerly owned by the Institute...

; extensive still photograph, paper, film and oral history
Oral history
Oral history is the collection and study of historical information about individuals, families, important events, or everyday life using audiotapes, videotapes, or transcriptions of planned interviews...

 archives, and a costume collection.

The museum was also the home of the New World Tapestry
New World Tapestry
The New World Tapestry is the largest stitched embroidery in the world, larger than the Bayeux Tapestry. It depicts English colonisation attempts in Newfoundland, North America, the Guyanas and Bermuda between the years 1583 and 1642, when the English Civil War began.Work began on the tapestry in...


On 23 November 2007 the museum announced it would be moving its core operations to London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

in 2008. However, after closing in 2008 the move did not take place as planned and it has been announced that the planned move to London will not be completed until 2012 or later. The displays and archives are not available to the public during this period.

Admissions information

Unlike many national museums in Britain, the BECM is not publicly funded, but is owned and operated by a charitable trust; consequently an admission charge was in place. The museum closed to the public in the autumn of 2008 and for school visits at the end of March 2009.

Dismissal of Director

On 16 March 2011, the Museums Association announced that the Director of the museum, Mr Gareth Griffiths, had been dismissed pending a police investigation into the unauthorised disposal of museum objects.

External links