It’s the time of year where we honour the anniversary of the death of Isambard Kingdom Brunel by celebrating his life.
He achieved many impressive feats of engineering and developed significant portions of England’s infrastructure (some of his structures are still in use today, 162 years after his death).
Isambard died at 10:30pm on Thursday 15th September 1859.
What is left after his death? Tunnels, bridges, ships, railways – these most people are aware of. What else was there? And what is your favourite?
I have a soft spot for his gravestone (pictured above). It is a family stone, solid and unadorned. For me it puts him in the context of his family, and the web of connections and support that enable individuals to achieve great things.
If you look, you will find a wide variety of monuments to the life of this extraordinary man. He left a wife, two sons and a daughter. We still have variety of diaries and letters written in his own hand. There are also the tributes paid to him by his friends and colleagues. There are many biographies (written with varying levels of accuracy and bias) if you want to find out detail about his life, and of course you could visit our museum!
One of the most moving tributes was written in his own diary by Daniel Gooch:
“On the 15th September I lost my oldest and best friend…. By his death the greatest of England’s engineers was lost, the man with the greatest originality of thought and power of execution, bold in his plans but right. The commercial world thought him extravagant; but although he was so, great things are not done by those who sit down and count the cost of every thought and act.”
In 2002 Isambard was voted 2nd Greatest Briton (after Winston Churchill) in a BBC poll, so some of that sentiment has remained.
His friends, and some who may during his life have been classed as rivals, wanted to honour this engineer in death.
If you visit Westminster Abbey, you can see a beautiful stained glass window with the inscription:
“IN MEMORY ISAMBARD KINGDOM BRUNEL BORN APRIL 9th 1806: DEPARTED THIS LIFE SEPTEMBER 15th 1859.”
To read more about this memorial (and see a picture) you can visit the Westminster Abbey website ( https://www.westminster-abbey.org/abbey-commemorations/commemorations/isambard-kingdom-brunel ).
On the Embankment near Temple Underground Station in London you can find a bronze statue of IKB by Carlo Marochetti, commissioned by the Institute of Civil Engineers. There is a reproduction of this statue in Swindon and a half-length bust version in Saltash.
We’d love you to tell us about your favourite monument to this extraordinary engineer. If you send us a brief explanation of what it is, where it is, and why you love it, (with a picture you took of it, if you have one) we will post a few of the submissions on our website. Show us your monument / Brunel selfie (Brunelfie?) using #IKBAndMe and tagging the museum and we’ll pick our favourite each month to give a special prize to.
Submissions will remain open until the 31st March 2022 with the intent of posting submissions in April to celebrate his birthday.
Don’t do social media? You can email us your photo of your favourite IKB monument on firstname.lastname@example.org – be sure to include a note on how you would like to be credited, as well as why you love it.
We look forward to hearing from you!
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