Monday, 19 March 2012

Last week, I visited Bristol for the Ecclesiastical Architects and Surveyors' Association spring meeting.  The main topics were of course based around churches and cathedrals, but one of the highlights for a Brunel fan was not on the official programme, it was the journey from Paddington to Bristol Temple Meads.  Isambard Kingdom Brunel was appointed chief engineer for the new railway in 1833, and by 1840 it was complete.  It must have been an incredible feat, and reduced the fastest journey time from 16 hours by mail coach to four.

Brunel was notoriously unable to delegate, and had a hand in the design of not only the route, but most of the structures along it.  The most famous is probably the Box Tunnel, between Chippenham and Bath, then the longest driven tunnel in the world.  The entrance is not just a utilitarian structural brick arch, but a grand front, impressive, masculine and proud.

Paddington station itself was designed partly by Brunel and partly by Matthew Digby Wyatt.  It is a grand cathedral of a space, whose beautiful ironwork is decorated with little leaf shaped overlays.

At the other end is the world's first railway terminus, Temple Meads station. Its detailing is reminiscent of a grand castle gatehouse, a statement of the Great Western Railway's pride in its achievement.  Behind it is the passenger shed, which is now used as a car park. 

Brunel's railway was such a success, that by 1870 it was already over capacity, and a new building and platforms were added, possibly by Francis Fox.  It is another grand, opulant, decorative structure, impressive, masculine, and beautifully built.

The grandeur, beauty and above all, the pride that these structures convey was wonderful to behold.

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