Brunel, Isambard (Statue)

Probably the first thing that most people associate with the place-name Paddington is Paddington Station. It was due to Isambard Brunel that the station came into being and, therefore, it is appropriate that his statue is mentioned. The seated figure of Isambard Brunel at the station was unveiled 26 May 1982. It is one of two statues of Brunel commissioned by the Bristol & West Building Society. Its companion, a standing figure, was unveiled in Bristol the same day.

The life-size bronze statue by John Doubleday was installed on Paddington Station – initially positioned at the top of the flight of stairs leading to the concourse from the Circle and District line platforms of the underground. A few year later it appeared that the figure had decided to take a short ‘walk’ because it was later to be found in the passenger waiting area beside Platform 1. In 2014 the figure took another ‘walk’ – this time being relocated to an area between Platforms 8 and 9. Network Rail secured listed building consent in June 2014 to re-position Brunel’s statue, providing it with a more prominent location, facing the Director’s Balcony (which is on Platform 1).

The figure of Brunel now has a fine view across the main-line platforms and it can certainly see everything that is going on. His seated figure is also easy to access for the public. He looks rather elegant in his suit, seated and holding his stove-pipe hat.

Early Life of Brunel

Isambard Kingdom Brunel was the son of a French civil engineer Sir Marc Isambard Brunel and Sophia Kingdom. Isambard was born on 9 April 1806 in Britain Street, Portsea, Portsmouth, Hampshire, where his father was working on block-making machinery. Brunel had two older sisters – Sophia and Emma. The whole family moved to London in 1808 because of his father’s work. Isambard had a happy childhood in spite of the family’s constant money worries. His father acted as his teacher during his early years. He taught him drawing and observational techniques from the age of four and by the age of eight Brunel had learned Euclidean geometry. By that time he had also learned fluent French and the basic principles of engineering. He was encouraged to draw interesting buildings and identify any faults in their structure.

When Brunel was eight he was sent to Dr Morrell’s boarding school in Hove, where he learned the classics. His father, a Frenchman by birth, was determined that Brunel should have access to the high-quality education he had enjoyed in his youth in France. At the age of 14 young Brunel was enrolled first at the University of Caen Normandy and then at Lycée Henri-IV in Paris.

When Brunel was 15 his father Marc, who had accumulated debts of over £5,000, was sent to a debtors’ prison. After three months in the prison, with no prospect of release, Marc let it be known that he was considering an offer from the Tsar of Russia. In August 1821, facing the prospect of losing a prominent engineer, the British Government relented and issued Marc £5,000 to clear his debts in exchange for his promise to remain in Britain.

In 1822 Isambard completed his studies at Lycée Henri-IV. He then studied under the prominent master clockmaker and horologist Abraham-Louis Breguet who praised his potential in letters to his father. Having completed his apprenticeship Isambard then returned to England.

What Isambard did next is the stuff of legends – except, in his case, it is all true. Isambard helped his father with work on the Thames Tunnel, the first subaqueous tunnel in the world. Isambard was responsible for building the large suspension footbridge across the Thames – known as the Hungerford Suspension Bridge. Its life was short because it was demolished to build Charing Cross Railway Bridge on the same site to carry trains into Charing Cross Station. The suspension bridge was taken down and the supporting chains were used on Isambard’s Clifton Suspension Bridge, at Bristol.

Isambard built the Great Western Railway, with Paddington Station as the London terminus. It was, therefore, felt that the station was the most fitting site for Isambard’s bronze statue.

Isambard was responsible for designing the ‘Great Eastern’ on the slipway at Napier Wharf, Millwall, on the Isle of Dogs. The ship was so huge that it was built ‘sideways’ to the river and eventually launched with the aid of enormous hydraulic rams. The work on the ship took a heavy toll on Brunel’s health, being eventually launched in January 1858. Just over a year and a half later Brunel died on 15 September 1859. He was only 53.


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