Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Britain’s most daring engineer

Culturissima has just finished a short - very short! - biography of Britain’s most daring engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859), for a Cambridge-based travel specialist. Here is a sneak preview of the highlights of the long-weekend tour that we have put together:

Brunel is often thought of as a Bristol man, but many overlook the fact that he spent virtually his entire life in London. We will admire Brunel’s achievements in these two great cities, travelling from east to west on the great man’s own railway.

Brunel’s first project, aged just 19, was the Thames Tunnel, where he worked with his father on what was first dubbed “the Eighth Wonder of the World” and later – with no little wit and equal cruelty – “the Great Bore”. We will enjoy a privileged visit to the Brunel Museum, lodged in the tunnel’s engine-house, and descend into the underground entrance hall, a grand amphitheatre over half the size of the dome of St Paul’s. A few hundred yards along the Thames lies the launch site of the Great Eastern, where Brunel’s meteoric career came to an end at the untimely age of 53.

In 1828 Brunel was dragged, more dead than alive, from the chamber of the Thames Tunnel and sent to Clifton to convalesce. Here he won a competition to design a bridge across the Avon Gorge which, together with Bristol docks and Temple Meads railway station, still bears unmistakable witness to Brunel’s creativity and ingenuity. We will also climb aboard the Great Britain, Brunel’s famous iron ship, and visit the Brunel Institute to view the collection of papers and memorabilia bequeathed by Brunel’s grand-daughter.

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