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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

My Heroes (39): Isambard Kingdom Brunel

In 2002 the BBC commissioned a poll to find who were, according to public opinion, the 100 most important Britons ever. It was no surprise that Sir Winston Churchill came first but the pleasant revelation, for me, was the man who came second - Isambard Kingdom Brunel, one of the greatest engineers the world has known.
Brunel pictured in front of the chains of the SS Great Britain
londoncalling.com
Like many brilliant people, before and since, he was not afraid to fail; and he had many failures in his relatively short career. Let's look at some of his magnificent achievements. His early successes included the first tunnel under a navigable waterway, (the River Thames), and the wonderful Clifton suspension bridge.
The Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol, England
theguardian.com
The Great Western Railway was one of the wonders of Victorian Britain. It ran from London to Bristol and later was extended to Exeter in Devon. The characteristic of Brunel's work was innovation and engineering originality and a high level of precision. 
His greatest achievement, however, was probably the SS Great Britain, launched in 1843 which was the largest ship in the world at that time. It sailed between Bristol and New York and Brunel also conceived an incredible scheme to extend the Great Western Railway across the Atlantic by utilising steam-powered ships!
The SS Great Britain now restored, pictured in Bristol
leeds-uk.com
He died of a stroke at the young age of 53 in 1859.

16 comments:

loverofwords said...

I saw an article once that asked what profession does the greatest good for the world--the answer: Engineering! Not doctors nor lawyers, but engineers. Learned so much from your post and I think the bridge is elegant, quite an achievement.

bazza said...

That Bridge is sensational! It spans a chasm and is a thrill to drive across - and it's in a very nice part of England!
I think your description of engineering is spot on.

All Consuming said...

He was a clever man indeed, and I do love bridges. Mind blowing stuff :D

bazza said...

Hi AC: I think the Clifton Bridge is the best in the UK - and there are plenty of candidates with several dozen across the Thames alone!

John said...

Hi Bazza,
A great visionary indeed. I seem to remember seeing a 'Great British Railway Journeys' with Michael Portillo where he was enthusing about Brunel, one of his own heroes!
J
Follow me at HEDGELAND TALES

klahanie said...

Hey Bazza,

The man was a genius. I totally agree that Brunel was a brilliant engineer. Thanks for the info and photos.

I'm outta' here....

Gary

Dixie@dcrelief said...

"...not afraid to fail". Nowadays we're supposed to be perfect, and confident... no room for negatives.

I love that ship. How incredibly lovely. Simply a work of art, as well as of engineering.

bazza, I just had to stop by, and what a find! I'll try not to be the stranger.
Take care, Dixie

bazza said...

Dixie: How nice to hear from you again. You're correct about the ship being a work of art. I should have listed, in addition, to the list of his characteristics 'beauty of design'.

bazza said...

John: I must have missed that one. It sounds like the kind of thing that programm would cover.

bazza said...

Gary: Are you refrring to getting 'outta' your old home?
I hope your new place is good for you. My daughter was in your area last weekend at a wedding in the Stoke Moat House in Hanley!

Sherry Ellis said...

I had never heard of him. What a brilliant man!

bazza said...

Hi Sherry: In the nineteenth century Victorian Britain was full of eccentric brilliant individuals like Brunel. The nearest USA equivalents I can think of would be Edison and, more recently, Buckminster Fuller.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Bazza - I think Brunel must have been amazing and he really opened up Britain in so many ways: totally inspirational I couldn't agree more.

My grandfather was a bridge builder and I'm sure was inspired by Brunel - he got his first 'contract' after Sir Douglas Fox was given the concession by Edward VII - he is known for the Victoria Falls Bridge and Sydney Harbour, while my uncle was responsible for the Humber Bridge amongst others - sadly I don't know too much as my father was the third son ...

But I do love engineering projects - cheers Hilary

bazza said...

Wow Hilary! You are descended from engineering aristocracy!
Bazza doffs his humble cap to you.

Denise Covey said...

All of my brother ~in~laws are engineers. Where would we be without engineers? Great post, Bazza.

Thanks for commenting on my post. Once authors become famous they tend to forget the people who helped them...not all thankfully.

Denise

bazza said...

Hi Denise: I think, possibly, engineering is becoming a 'sexy' career choice again; and for women too, which is great news.