January 17, 2010

Bicentenary of the birth of Isambard Kingdom Brunel

Isambard Kingdom Brunel was a true genius of the Industrial Age, whose vision and daring produced some of the greatest engineering wonders of Victorian Britain. To mark the 200th anniversary of Brunel’s birth Royal Mail worked with eminent Brunel historians to select six examples from his incredible portfolio of work.

1st class - Royal Albert Bridge (1854-1857).
The magnificent Royal Albert Bridge, designed and built to carry the Cornwall Railway at a height of 100 feet across the waters of the River Tamar at Saltash, must surely be recognised as one of his most outstanding works. Its unique design and handsome proportions, set in an idyllic location between the hills of Devon and Cornwall, give an aura of grace and majesty all of its own. As the “Gateway to Cornwall” it forms a fitting and lasting memorial to this great Victorian engineer. The stamp features a steel engraving of the Royal Albert Bridge, Saltash by Cornish artist R T Pentreath.

40p - Box Tunnel (1836-1841). This was the most difficult engineering problem that Isambard Brunel had to solve when building the London to Bristol line. Positioned between Bath and Swindon, Box Hill consists mainly of limestone. Five miles east of Bath and still in use today, it was built to bring the Great Western Railway down to Bristol from Swindon. The first train passed through on 30 June, 1841. The stamp image is taken from a coloured lithograph West Entrance to Box Tunnel on the Great Western Railway by John Cook Bourne, 1846.

42p Paddington Station (1849-1854). Brunel was ambitious in the design of the GWR’s London terminus, which he was charged with rebuilding in 1849 to accommodate the crowds expected to converge on London for the 1851 Great Exhibition. He was asked to construct a flexible covered space without columns to accommodate the railway’s future needs and to outshine the London terminus of the GWR’s arch-rival, the Great Northern Railway, at Euston. In an age when the new railways were regarded as the acme of modernity and sources of future prosperity for provincial cities and towns, public interest in Brunel’s daring schemes for the GWR was intense. The stamp image is a photograph taken by York and Son between 1870 and 1890.

47p PSS Great Eastern (1858). The Great Eastern was designed by Brunel. She was the largest ship ever built at the time of her launch, and had the capacity to carry 4,000 passengers around the world without refuelling. She would only be surpassed in length in 1899 (by the SS Oceanic), and in tonnage in 1901 (by the SS Celtic). She was built in partnership with an experienced ship designer, John Scott Russell. Unknown to Brunel, Russell was in financial difficulties, and the two men disagreed on many details. It was Brunel’s final great project, as he collapsed after being photographed on her deck, and died a few days later. She was built by Messrs Scott, Russell & Co. of Millwall, London, the keel being laid down on May 1, 1854. She was launched on January 31, 1858. She was 692 feet (211 m) long, 83 feet (25 m) wide, 60 feet (18 m) deep (draught was 20 ft (6.1 m) unloaded and 30 ft (9.1 m) fully laden) and weighed 32,000 tons (her tonnage was 18,915). Little is known about this image apart from the fact that it is dated around 1860.

60p - Clifton Suspension Bridge (1831-1864).
The story of the Clifton Suspension Bridge, spanning the Avon Gorge, began in 1754 with the dream of a Bristol wine merchant, who left a legacy to build a bridge over the Gorge. A competition in 1829 was held to find a design, being judged by Thomas Telford, the leading civil engineer of the day. Telford rejected all the designs and submitted his own but the decision to declare him the winner was unpopular and a second competition was held in 1830. Isambard Kingdom Brunel, only 24 at the time, was eventually declared the winner and appointed project engineer – his first major commission. The image is taken from the lithograph Clifton Suspension Bridge by G Childs, after a sketch by S Jackson circa 1834.

68p - Maidenhead Bridge (1838). Maidenhead Railway Bridge carryied the main line of the Great Western Railway over the River Thames in Maidenhead, Berkshire. The railway is carried across the river on two brick arches, which at the time of building were the widest and flattest in the world. Each span is 128 feet (39 m), with a rise of only 24 feet (7 m). The Thames towpath passes under the right-hand arch (facing upstream), which is also known as the Sounding Arch, because of its spectacular echo. As built, Maidenhead Railway Bridge carried two lines of Brunel’s broad gauge track. Subsequently the bridge has been widened, and now carries the four lines of standard gauge track that make up the Great Western Main Line out of London Paddington Station. The image is taken from a colour lithograph of the Maidenhead Bridge by John Cook Bourne.

Stamp Issue: 2006-02-23