April 9 was the 200th anniversary of the birth of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, which required a special trip to Paddington railway station, it being the nearest surviving monument to the man’s genius.
As Richard Savill wrote in the Daily Telegraph a few days before that:
“The vision of Brunel – who by the time of his death in 1859, aged 53, had built 25 railway lines, more than 100 bridges and three ships – helped transform the West Country during the Victorian era.”
It also helped to transform Britain, as Richard Alleyne pointed out on the same day:
“Along with a handful of other industrialists he transformed the country from a traditional, rural, agrarian economy to a modern, urban, industrial one. By the time of his death, it was the industrial superpower of the world.”
A legacy to be proud of and a man, whose loss to Britain cost France dear. His father was an immigrant to Britain and himself a notable engineer. Isambard Kingdom was part educated in France but trained on his father’s projects. He was injured on one of them and spent his convalescence in Bristol, thus starting his very fruitful career in the West Country.
Still I can’t help wondering about a comment made by Andrew Kelly, the director of Brunel 200:
“Although Brunel was born 200 years ago, his influence remains with us in Britain today.
We hope that by showcasing his huge breadth of mind, and how he excelled as an engineer, ship designer, architect, surveyor and artist, we will encourage the Brunels of the future to adopt his ‘can do’ attitude and determination to achieve.”
I appreciate the need to encourage the Brunels of the future but what makes the man think that someone born 200 years ago is of little relevance. I seem to recall that in a recent BBC poll for the greatest Englishman, Brunel came second to Sir Winston Churchill.
Mr Kelly must realize, surely, that apologizing for the past is not the way to build the future. He could start by meditating on Edmund Burke’s sayings.
Cross-posted (mostly) from the Conservative History Journal