M Shed is a museum that showcases the culture, history and people of Bristol. The museum highlights aspects of the history and culture of Bristol that make it unique including exhibits about Bristol icons including Banksy and Wallace and Grommit.
It is an excellent museum about local history and culture. Although some visitors say that local city museums cater more to locals who want to learn more about their own city, this sort of museum is great for visitors too as it gives you a deeper understanding of the city and what makes it tick. In other words, if you visit M Shed at the beginning of your visit to Bristol, you’ll come away from Bristol with a greater appreciation of the city and what makes it special.
The museum is located in a former warehouse that was previously home to the Bristol Industrial Museum.
What to see at M Shed
The museum is home to 3,000 artefacts that are on display in three main galleries: Bristol Places, Bristol People and Bristol Life.
Bristol Places focuses on the physical aspects of the city. Exhibits in this gallery show how Bristol coped with life during the Second World War and also show how Bristol and its suburbs have grown over the years.
Displays in the Bristol Places gallery include an exhibit showing the modes of transport used in Bristol including not only trains and buses but also aeroplanes and the city’s position as a pioneer in the development of aviation.
Bristol People focuses on the people that made Bristol what it is today. This includes an exhibit showing Bristol’s role in the transatlantic slave trade and Bristol’s role in the struggle for racial equality in the United Kingdom.
This gallery also highlights leading Bristolians in various fields including the arts, music, industry and technology.
Bristol Life highlights the city’s culture and the shared values and experiences of people who have grown up and live in the city. This gallery depicts everyday life in Bristol and shows how it has changed over the years.
Banksy’s Grim Reaper is on display outside the Bristol Life gallery.
Working exhibits at M Shed
The museum also has a number of working exhibits, which include several historic cranes located outside the museum as well as a heritage railway and historic boats.
These working exhibits are not always open to the public and operate according to a programme of open days where volunteers run trips on the historic boats, cranes and trains.
The museum’s four historic cranes include three electric cranes and the Fairbairn Steam crane, which was built in 1878 and is the world’s oldest surviving crane of its type. Crane trips operate on selected Saturdays throughout the year with the cranes operating an average of one day each month.
On selected weekends, the Bristol Harbour Railway operates the museum’s two steam locomotives along the tracks at the waterfront side of the museum. The railway operates on selected Sundays and bank holiday Mondays with around 2–3 open days per month.
There are a couple of historic vessels moored on the harbour in front of the museum. The Matthew of Bristol is the most well-known of these, however, there is also a 1934 fireboat, the Fire-float Pryronaut, and two tugboats, the 1861 Mayflower (the world’s oldest surviving steam tug) and John King, a diesel tug from 1935, which escorted the SS Great Britain on the final leg of her voyage from the Falkland Islands.
Volunteers operate a programme of harbour cruises on these historic vessels, however, these trips only operate on selected weekends with cruises operating only 2–3 days each month.
Visiting M Shed
M Shed is located by the waterfront on the Floating Harbour and the city centre is a 10–15-minute walk north from here.
The Matthew of Bristol is moored right outside and other points of interest nearby include Arnolfini, which is just a three-minute walk away, Queen Square (a four-minute walk away) and Bristol Aquarium and We The Curious are both around a seven-minute walk from the ship. The SS Great Britain is a 10-minute walk away.
Although the museum is free to visit, there is an additional charge for rides on the museum’s working exhibits.
Most areas of M Shed are wheelchair accessible with the exception of the museum’s working exhibits.
The museum has an on-site cafe, however, the harbourside location ensures that there are plenty of other places nearby to eat and drink. The museum also has an excellent gift shop, which has lots of interesting and quirky gifts.