Best known for building dockyards, the Great Western Railway, steamships, bridges, tunnels and revolutionising public transport and modern engineering, the British mechanical and Civil Engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, FRS was born 9 April 1806. When Brunel was eight he was sent to Dr Morrell’s boarding school in Hove, where he learned the classics. His father, was determined that Brunel should have access to the high-quality education he had enjoyed in his youth in France; accordingly, at the age of 14, the younger Brunel was enrolled first at the College of Caen in Normandy, then at Lycée Henri-Quatre in Paris. Sadly his because his Father Marc sent him to expensive schools, he encountered financial problems, however because he was a Prominent engineer the Government intervened on his behalf.When Brunel completed his studies at Henri-Quatre in 1822, he was due to attend the renowned engineering school École Polytechnique, however Brunel studied under the prominent master clockmaker and horologist Abraham-Louis Breguet instead, after he praised Brunel’s potential in letters to his father.In late 1822, having completed his apprenticeship, Brunel returned to England. Brunel worked for several years as an assistant engineer on the hazardous project to create a tunnel under London’s River Thames near Rotherhithe, alongside his Father, who was chief engineer. However cave-ins and severe flooding in 1828 killed a number of Miners a delayed work, with Brunel narrowly escaping death himself.
During Brunel’s life, the use of railways began to take off as a major means of transport for goods. This influenced Brunel’s involvement in railway engineering, including railway bridge engineering. In 1833, before the Thames Tunnel was complete, Brunel was appointed chief engineer of the Great Western Railway, one of the wonders of Victorian Britain, running from London to Bristol and later Exeter.The company was founded at a public meeting in Bristol in 1833, and was incorporated by Act of Parliament in 1835. It was Brunel’s vision that passengers would be able to purchase one ticket at London Paddington and travel from London to New York, changing from the Great Western Railway to the Great Western steamship at the terminus in Neyland, South Wales.He surveyed the entire length of the route between London and Bristol himself, with the help of many including his Solicitor Jeremiah Osborne of Bristol Law Firm Osborne Clarke who one occasion rowed Isambard Kingdom Brunel down the River Avon himself to survey the bank of the river for the route.
Brunel used broad gauge of 7 ft 1⁄4 in (2,140 mm) for the track, despite almost all other railways using standard Gauge, because he believed Standard Gauge would offer superior running at high speeds; he also proved through both calculation and a series of trials that his broader gauge was the optimum size for providing both higher speeds, greater stability, comfort for passengers, and allowed for larger carriages and thus greater freight capacity. Drawing on Brunel’s experience with the Thames Tunnel, the Great Western designed many viaducts such as the one in Ivybridge, specially designed stations, and vast tunnels including the Box Tunnel, which was the longest railway tunnel in the world at that time. Brunel also ordered many Locomotives to his own specification including “North Star” and 20-year-old Daniel Gooch (later Sir Daniel) was appointed as Superintendent of Locomotive Engines. Brunel and Gooch chose to locate their locomotive works at the village of Swindon.
Brunel also designed many bridges including the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol. Spanning over 700 ft (210 m), and nominally 200 ft (61 m) above the River Avon, after submitting his designs to a committee headed by Thomas Telford, who rejected all entries, in favour of his own design, until the Public voted in favour of Brunel’s design. Brunel also designed the Maidenhead Railway Bridge. Work also started on the Clifton suspension bridge in 1831, but was suspended due to the Queen Square Riots, However Thanks to colleagues at the Institute of Civil Engineers Work recommenced in 1862 and was completed in 1864, five years after Brunel’s death. The Clifton Suspension Bridge still stands today and over 4 million vehicles traverse it every year.
Brunel also designed the Royal Albert Bridge spanning the River Tamar at Saltash near Plymouth, Somerset Bridge (an unusual laminated timber-framed bridge near Bridgwater, the Windsor Railway Bridge. The Maidenhead Railway Bridge over the Thames in Berkshire is still carrying main line trains to the west, even though today’s trains are about ten times heavier than in Brunel’s time.In 1845 Hungerford Bridge, a suspension footbridge across the Thames near Charing Cross Station in London, was opened. It was replaced by a new railway bridge in 1859, and the suspension chains were used to complete the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Brunel also designed the Royal Albert Bridge in 1855 for the Cornwall Railway, this consists of two main spans of 455 ft (139 m), 100 ft (30 m) above mean high spring tide, plus 17 much shorter approach spans. Opened by Prince Albert on 2 May 1859, it was completed in the year of Brunel’s death.
In 1830, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and On 5 July 1836, Brunel married Mary Elizabeth Horsley (b. 1813), who came from an accomplished musical and artistic family, being the eldest daughter of composer and organist William Horsley. They established a home at Duke Street, Westminster, in London. In 1843, while performing a conjuring trick for the amusement of his children, Brunel accidentally inhaled a half-sovereign coin, which became lodged in his windpipe. A special pair of forceps failed to remove it, as did a machine devised by Brunel to shake it loose. At the suggestion of his father, Brunel was strapped to a board and turned upside-down, and the coin was jerked free. He recuperated at Teignmouth, and enjoyed the area so much that he purchased an estate at Watcombe in Torquay, Devon. Here he designed Brunel Manor and its gardens to be his retirement home. Sadly He never saw the house or gardens finished, as he died before it was completed. Brunel, a heavy smoker, suffered a stroke in 1859, just before the Great Eastern made her first voyage to New York. He died ten days later at the age of 53 and was buried, like his father, in Kensal Green Cemetery in London.He left behind his wife Mary and three children: Isambard Brunel Junior (1837–1902), Henry Marc Brunel (1842–1903) and Florence Mary Brunel (1847–1876). Henry Marc followed his father and grandfather in becoming a successful civil engineer.