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Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859) - Celebrated Victorian Engineer

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Clifton Suspension Bridge

Isambard Kingdom Brunel - Engineering Achievements

Isambard Kingdom Brunel was one of the greatest engineers of the Industrial Revolution in Victorian times. He was born on 9 April 1806 near Portsmouth and was responsible for many of the biggest constructions of the time. He designed the world's first large screw driven steamship the SS Great Britain, launched in 1843, as well as the massive SS Great Eastern and the SS Great Western - the first ship of the Great Western Steamship Company. He also designed and built the Clifton Suspension Bridge which crosses the Avon Gorge near Bristol and the Great Western Railway which connects London with the west country.

His father was Sir Mark Isambard Brunel, the French civil engineer who built the first tunnel underneath the River Thames which is still in use today as part of the London underground network. It was this project that Isambard worked on as assistant engineer that gave him his interest in engineering. He was only 18 at the time. The Clifton Suspension Bridge was the result of a competition won by Isambard Kingdom Brunel for submitting drawings and plans. However, this project suffered many mishaps and delays and was not finished until 1864 which was after Brunel's death.

The Great Western Railway is considered by many people to be Isambard Kingdom Brunel's greatest achievement. When building this railway his aim was to make the journeys as comfortable as possible so a lot of time was spent with accurate surveys to ensure smooth gradients and curves. The tracks were first laid with a 7 foot wide gauge instead of the standard gauge as Isambard was convinced that the wider gauge would offer greater comfort at high speeds for passengers. It was soon found that this was not the case and the tracks were converted to the standard gauge. The Great Western Railway also benefited from new well-built tunnels, bridges and viaducts such as the one at Ivybridge in Devon. He also designed Paddington Station in London which was opened in 1854 and numerous other smaller stations.

Brunel designed and built many bridges, the most famous being the Clifton Suspension Bridge, including the Maidenhead railway bridge which was the largest span for a brick built bridge at the time. He also designed the Royal Albert Bridge which crosses the River Tamar in Cornwall, and the Windsor railway bridge in Berkshire.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel began to suffer greatly from ill-health and suffered a stroke in 1859. He died on 15 September that year at the age of 53 and was buried in the family grave in Kensal Green Cemetery in London.

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