The acclaimed engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel was one of the most versatile and daring engineers of the 19th century. His career saw him responsible for the design of numerous great feats of engineering and his many achievements still form an important part of our everyday lives.

Born in 1806 in Portsmouth, Hampshire, Brunel was the son of a French engineer and under his father’s guidance reportedly mastered some of the basics of engineering by the age of 8. After being educated in England and then later Paris, Brunel returned to England where he undertook his first engineering project in 1823, which saw him work alongside his father on the construction of the Thames tunnel from Rotherhithe to Wapping in London. In 1829 he also created a design for a suspension bridge, that traversed the river Avon at Clifton, and which subsequently became known as the Clifton suspension bridge.


The most iconic piece of engineering design for which he is best remembered is undoubtedly his work on the Great Western Railway. He was appointed chief engineer on the project at the age of only 27.

In total he was to build 25 railway lines helping to connect the South West of England with London. The Great Western Railway is home to a number of impressive feats of engineering including vast viaducts and gigantic tunnels, such as the Box tunnel, which at the time of its construction was the longest railway tunnel in the world.

Notably during the construction of the railway Brunel made the controversial decision to introduce and use a broad gauge for the tracks instead of a standard gauge, as he reasoned that this would reduce friction, allowing trains to run more freely, thus enabling him to build a better railway.

Interestingly Brunel was also responsible for the design of several famous steam ships, demonstrating the versatility of his engineering genius. For example he was involved in the construction of a grand steam ship designed to cross from Bristol to New York, which was the largest steam ship of its era. This project was soon overshadowed by his next project; the SS Great Britain, a truly revolutionary vessel, which was the world first screw propeller driven, iron hulled ship to transport passengers across the Atlantic Ocean. The ship was in many respects a forerunner of the modern ships we see today.


Brunel was a much celebrated engineer during his lifetime and in many respects he changed the engineering world forever. Indeed this legendary figure continues to inspire engineers and also the engineering field more widely. He also remains a celebrated figure in popular culture and in the BBC’s 2002 Greatest Briton survey he was voted the second greatest Briton of all time, coming second only to Sir Winston Churchill. What was truly unique about Brunel and his engineering vision is that not only were his projects incredibly versatile, they were also often on a remarkably grand scale, and this is something he did not shy away from.

Here at Airedale Springs we appreciate the contributions to the engineering industry, of which we are proud to be a part, made by iconic figures such as Brunel. We are expert spring suppliers and are able to provide a great range of high quality spring products including torsion springs to meet your requirements. For more information please do not hesitate to contact us and a member of our knowledgeable team will be happy to help you with your enquiries.