Iron, Stone and Steam: Brunel’s Railway Empire

25 October 2023


25 October 2023


Tim Bryan, Director of the Brunel Institute at the SS Great Britain Trust, has written a new book about Brunel's railway empire. Tickets are now on sale for the book's launch event at Brunel's SS Great Britain on Wednesday 22 November.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel: Victorian icon, engineer, artist, architect, designer and visionary, entrepreneur and celebrity. His astounding feats changed the British landscape, and this new book tells the story of his awe-inspiring achievements and innovations as a railway engineer.

New to the developing world of railways in the early 1830s, Brunel soon came to rival George and Robert Stephenson, as he embarked on what he called ‘the finest work in England’. The construction of the Great Western Railway, arguably the most revolutionary of British railways, opened in 1841.

Tim Bryan, Director of the Brunel Institute at the SS Great Britain, chronicles how, in almost thirty tumultuous years, Brunel created a rail network covering much of the South and West of England, the Midlands and Wales. The network included masterpieces like Paddington Station and the Royal Albert Bridge and still carries millions of travellers today.

The book also describes how Brunel’s successes were matched by ‘monumental failures’ – the ill-fated atmospheric system used on the South Devon Railway, and the far-reaching implications of the broad gauge for his railways, which ultimately cost millions of pounds when abolished.

‘Iron, Stone and Steam’ is also the story of the great engineer’s complex character and the roles of the people who helped the creative, and sometimes dictatorial, genius create his railway. These range from the navvies who built his bridges, tunnels and lines, to contemporaries like Daniel Gooch, without whom his vision would never have been fully realised. Above all, this is the story of Brunel’s vision to create a railway empire like no other.

The book will publish on 15 November and is available to pre-order from the SS Great Britain shop.

On Wednesday 22 November, the SS Great Britain Trust is hosting the launch of ‘Iron, Stone and Steam: Brunel’s Railway Empire’. The event will begin with a talk, Q&A session and book signing by Tim Bryan, followed by a viewing of specially selected GWR-related materials from the Brunel Institute. Tickets to the event also include a welcome drink and an exclusive discount on the book. Buy your tickets for £12 online in advance.

Buy the book

You can order ‘Iron, Stone and Steam’ online now. The book will be available in our bricks-and-mortar shop from 15 November.
Buy online

Brunel in Bath

Tim Bryan, Director of the Brunel Institute takes a stroll around Bath’s surviving railway heritage and discovers some Brunel engineering treasures.
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