Story Card / Banquet


A Toast to The King!

A flamboyant Isambard Kingdom Brunel organised an underwater public relations event after the Thames Tunnel flooded in 1827.
The western archway was draped in crimson and a long table was covered in white damask and set with silver and crystal.
Fifty guests feasted, lit by decorative candelabra from the Portable Gas Company, whilst the uniformed band of the Coldstream guards played the National Anthem, Rule Britannia, and See the Conquering Hero Comes.
The gleam of their instruments can be seen above the red dais in the background. Above the deafening noise, guests toasted ‘The King’ and ‘The Duke of Wellington’.
Isambard organised the whole party. Aged 19 years, this was his first project with his father Marc and the two men are pictured foreground.
Marc was not actually there, but the artist put him in anyway!
The father stayed away so the son could enjoy all the glory.
This is the only painting of father and son together…Eleven weeks later, just hours after Lady Raffles and a group of dignitaries walked the Tunnel, the Thames broke in for a second time.
Brunel, half drowned, was sent to Bristol to convalesce, and although the Tunnel was repaired and pumped dry, there was no money.
The Times said it was now only good for wine racks.
In 1834 another dinner party saved the project, but this time in the pub across the road! |
Here the Fellows of the Royal Society celebrated on Marc Brunel’s 65th birthday and founded the Tunnel Club.
They vowed to meet each year and toast his health. The Duke of Wellington, now Prime Minister, arranged a huge government loan and the Tunnel finally opened in 1843.
The banquet hall is now the oldest tunnel in the oldest Underground system in the world. This is the birthplace of mass urban transport and is designated an International Landmark 2008 I was proud to film in the Brunels’ Tunnel for BBC’s The One Show’.
My own father does not appear in the frame but I have worked so often alongside him that I always feel he is there. I am very moved by Isambard’s relationship with his father.

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