Happy Birthday Isambard Kingdom Brunel!

IKB By Gill Howard (Volunteer)

This is my favourite photograph of IKB because without his hat and his usual working clothes, he appears more accessible and human. It makes me realise that as well as being an incredible engineer, architect, pioneer, hugely brave and driven individual, he was a father, a friend and a husband.  I like the story of him doing conjuring tricks for the children just before his birthday in 1843 when he accidentally swallowed a half-sovereign.  Like many accidents in his life, it could easily have killed him. Despite the fact that the coin remained close to his lungs for 15 days and he went through many unpleasant procedures (including a tracheotomy) to dislodge it, he remained cool and good-humoured throughout.

This is my favourite Brunel structure.  The Maidenhead Bridge, with two 128 feet main spans. Not the most famous or perhaps the most impressive of the many hundreds of things he built, but both elegant and brilliant.  As it was being built the sceptics said it would fall down once the wooden supports were taken away, let alone bear the weight of trains. They were wrong! Over 180 years later it is still carrying trains; many more and much heavier modern trains than it was designed to carry.