Despite being born in Portsmouth, Isambard Kingdom Brunel created his most innovative and striking works in Bristol.
Born in 1806 to father Marc, a fellow engineer, Isambard was a man who found success and reputation at a very young age. While working as an engineer in London aged 22, Isambard was involved in an accident under the River Thames. He dived under the water to rescue workmen trapped in a tunnel flood, but plucky Isambard was seriously injured and travelled to Bristol to recuperate.
This was when his association with the architecture and engineering of the city began. Winning the contract for the Clifton Bridge in 1830 aged only 24, this was Isambard’s first major commission, after previously working with his father. Unfortunately, due to funding problems, the bridge was not completed until after Isambard’s death. However, the Clifton Suspension Bridge has become one of his most iconic constructions due to its revolutionary design.
Another of Isambard’s legacy works in Bristol is the Great Western Railway. The use of railways in the United Kingdom had become increasingly popular during his young life and this spurred his interest in the engineering of railways and their bridges. Appointed the chief engineer for the railway in 1933, Isambard envisaged a single-ticket trip from Bristol to London and personally surveyed every inch of land between the two cities.
It was this commitment to his work and willingness to incorporate revolutionary technology that came to symbolise Isambard’s work. The Great Western Railway was a sensational achievement, incorporating vast viaducts, the Box Tunnel (the longest railway tunnel in the world at the time) and innovative locomotives.
Recently voted second in a list of the 100 Greatest Britons (behind Winston Churchill), there is no doubting the influence Isambard had on the United Kingdom and specifically Bristol.