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Opening date confirmed for National Railway Museum’s Wonderlab: The Bramall Gallery

Thursday, 8 June 2023 19:12

By Barbara Constable

Artist's impression of Wonderlab: The Bramall Gallery at the National Railway Museum, York

The National Railway Museum’s largest ever family-focused visitor experience named Wonderlab: The Bramall Gallery is set to open on Saturday 22 July in time for the summer holidays.

The first tickets are now available via the museum website and, to celebrate, residents of York will receive an automatic upgrade to an annual visitor pass*.

The museum is also moving to permanent seven day opening for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic – reflecting a significant return in visitor numbers at one of the region’s busiest attractions.

Over the two-week Easter holiday, the National Railway Museum received more than 52,000 visitors - boosted by the visit of Flying Scotsman - achieving more footfall than in the same period in 2019, prior to the pandemic. 

To coincide with the tickets going on sale, new artist’s impressions and a video flythrough have been released to provide a glimpse inside the gallery.

Built inside the 1,500m2   former locomotive workshop building next to Great Hall, Wonderlab: The Bramall Gallery is equivalent in size to an Olympic swimming pool. Designed by De Matos Ryan, the space will feature 18 interactive exhibits with an engineering, science and railway theme that have been sensitively installed around several original workshop features.

Main contractors Elmwood Projects spent the past 12 months constructing the gallery onsite and specialist exhibit developers, including Unusual Projects based in Elvington, are now finishing the last of the installations in time for the opening weekend.

Rose Mockford, Lead Interactive Gallery Curator at the National Railway Museum, said: “Wonderlab will celebrate the inventiveness and wonder of engineering, science and the railways and it will enable thousands of young visitors to take the first steps on their journeys of creativity, experimentation and finding solutions to the challenges of the future.”

Judith McNicol, Director of the National Railway Museum, said: “We are expecting Wonderlab to be very popular, especially over the summer holidays and after more than five years in development, I can’t wait to open the doors and welcome our first visitors.” 

The exhibits focus on different elements of the railways and engineering and encourage people to think like engineers and develop skills as they design, build and test to produce different outcomes.

Highlights include ‘Feel the Force’ where visitors can enter a human-sized wind tunnel to learn about streamlining and design, and ‘Sandscapes’ which uses bold digital projections to create an interactive railway landscape out of sand.

The process of testing and prototyping to create the exhibits has involved more than 1,300 people with input from experts in the rail industry, education, local community groups and members of the public.

As well as interactive exhibits, the gallery will also include two unique interactive art installations created by renowned artists Pippa Hale and Steve Messam. There will be the Weston Showspace, supported by the Garfield Weston Foundation, and a Demo Bar where the museum’s Explainer team will host a changing programme of spectacular live shows and activities for schools and general visitors. Every visitor to the gallery will have the chance to see a show and demonstration as part of their admission ticket. 

Wonderlab: The Bramall Gallery will be aimed at family visitors and children aged 7–14 and will also host visiting school groups. The Wonderlab concept of interactive science galleries was introduced at the Science Museum in London (opened 2016) and at Bradford’s National Science and Media Museum (2017). These galleries have been visited by more than two million people since opening.

The gallery’s major funding partner is the Liz and Terry Bramall Foundation who pledged £2.5m towards the creation in March 2022. 

Wonderlab has also received funding from Eversholt Rail, Friends of the National Railway Museum, the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851, The Holbeck Charitable Trust, the Kirby Laing Foundation, and the Charles and Elsie Sykes Trust.

Wonderlab: The Bramall Gallery will be the first of the museum’s Vision 2025 masterplan projects to be completed. Work to refurbish Station Hall (currently closed to the public) is expected to be finished by the end of 2024 and the museum’s new Central Hall building and Railway Futures: The Porterbrook Gallery will open in 2025 - in time for the museum’s 50th birthday. 

As part of Vision 2025, the museum’s maintenance facilities for operational locomotives, including the museum’s prep bay, are also being renovated to ensure rail tours can still stop at the museum. 

The National Railway Museum’s opening hours have now changed to be open seven days a week, 10.00 – 17.00.

To find out more about Vision 2025 and to book tickets for Wonderlab: The Bramall Gallery, visit:  www.railwaymuseum.org.uk/2025/wonderlab-the-bramall-gallery  



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