No engineer in history has come close to rivalling the fame of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. His career reads like fiction. At nineteen, he worked for his father on the first tunnel to pass beneath the Thames, a feat of engineering still connecting Wapping to Rotherhithe on the East London Line. Before it was even finished, he won a competition to build the Clifton Suspension Bridge. This secured his reputation.
In 1833, aged just twenty-six, Brunel was appointed chief engineer of the Great Western Railway. This was an unlikely break: he possessed little specialist knowledge and had only travelled by train on one occasion. That trip had not impressed him, for he scrawled in his journal: ‘The time