Top five facts… Isambard Brunel


1) His career nearly ended before it began

After completing his studies in France, Brunel’s first project was the construction of the underwater Thames Tunnel, which began in 1825. Brunel was put in charge as assistant engineer, and quickly distinguished himself, although he narrowly avoided drowning after part of the tunnel flooded in 1828.

2) His first major project was also his last

Brunel’s first major commission was for a bridge spanning the Avon Gorge in Bristol, which he gained after winning a competition. Construction on what would become the Clifton Suspension Bridge was not completed until five years after his death. A plaque is placed on the bridge in his honour.

3) He put the ‘great’ in Great Western

After being appointed chief engineer of the Great Western Railway in 1833, Brunel rightly proved that broad gauge tracks were better than standard gauge ones. His impressive achievements include the Maidenhead Bridge and Bristol Temple Meads Station.

4) He built the first transatlantic steamship

Brunel was responsible for the design of the SS Great Western, the world’s first steamship to be purpose-built to complete transatlantic voyages, He also redesigned and constructed a number of the UK’s most important and influential docks, such as Cardiff, Bristol and Milford Haven.

5) It was a family-wide passion

A passion for architecture ran in the family. He worked with his father, Marc, during the construction of the Thames Tunnel, and his son, Henry Marc, later became a civil engineer, working on the design of the Blackfriars Railway Bridge and the MV (earlier SS) Chauncy Maples.