Isambard Kingdom Brunel, (April 9, 1806 – September 15, 1859), was an English mechanical and civil engineer who built dockyards, the Great Western Railway, a series of steamships including the first propeller-driven transatlantic steamship and numerous important bridges and tunnels. His designs revolutionized public transport and modern engineering.
Though Brunel’s projects were not always successful, they often contained innovative solutions to long-standing engineering problems. During his short career, Brunel achieved many engineering “firsts”, including assisting in the building of the first tunnel under a navigable river and development of SS Great Britain, the first propeller-driven ocean-going iron ship, which was at the time (1843) also the largest ship ever built.
Brunel astonished Britain by proposing to extend the Great Western Railway westward to North America by building steam-powered iron-hulled ships. He designed and built three ships that revolutionized naval engineering.
In 2002, Brunel was placed second in a BBC public poll to determine the “100 Greatest Britons”. In 2006, the bicentenary of his birth, a major program of events celebrated his life and work under the name Brunel 200.
The Clifton Suspension Bridge is a suspension bridge, which opened in 1864, spanning the Avon Gorge and the River Avon, linking Clifton in Bristol to Leigh Woods in North Somerset, England. Since opening it has been a toll bridge. The income from the tolls continues to provide funds for its maintenance. The bridge is built to a design by William Henry Barlow and John Hawkshaw, based on an earlier design by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It is a grade I listed building and forms part of the B3129 road.
The idea of building a bridge across the Avon Gorge originated in 1753. Original plans were for a stone bridge and later iterations were for a wrought iron structure. In 1831, an attempt to build Brunel’s design was stopped by the Bristol riots, and the revised version of his designs was built after his death and completed in 1864. Although similar in size, the bridge towers are not identical in design, the Clifton tower having side cut-outs, the Leigh tower more pointed arches atop a 110-foot (34 m) red sandstone-clad abutment. Roller-mounted “saddles” at the top of each tower allow movement of the three independent wrought iron chains on each side when loads pass over the bridge. The bridge deck is suspended by 162 vertical wrought-iron rods in 81 matching pairs.
Two men were killed during the bridge’s construction; since opening it has gained a reputation as a suicide bridge. It has plaques that advertise the telephone number of The Samaritans and above the railings on the bridge there are anti-climb barriers. The Clifton Bridge Company initially managed the bridge under license from a charitable trust. The trust subsequently purchased the company shares, completing this in 1949 and took over the running of the bridge using the income from tolls to pay for maintenance. The bridge is a distinctive landmark, used as a symbol of Bristol on postcards, promotional materials, and informational web sites. It was also used as a backdrop to several films and television advertising and programs. It has also been the venue for significant cultural events such as the first modern bungee jump in 1979, the last ever Concorde flight in 2003 and a handover of the Olympic Torch relay in 2012.