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CHRIMES WATCH

ICE news - Brunel's original contract drawings for the Clifton Suspension Bridge ironwork have been uncovered in Network Rail archives.

ONE BENEFICIAL effect of the Brunel Celebrations in 2006 has been the flurry of original research it has stimulated.

The work done by engineering historian Malcolm Tucker and English Heritage inspector of ancient monuments for Greater London Steven Brindle on Brunel's use of cast iron was described in great depth at the Brunel Bicentenary Conference in July.

But perhaps less well known is the work done by consultant Adrian Andrews and Arup director Alf Perry on Brunel's designs for the Clifton Suspension Bridge. As a result Brunel's original contract drawings for the bridge's ironwork have now been uncovered in Network Rail's archives.

They portray a complicated network of ironwork that is difficult to visualise two-dimensionally. With Arup's support a model has been built and this will be on display in the ICE Library together with the drawings in the Exhibition to Show Brunel's (Ironwork) Drawings for the Clifton Suspension Bridge open from 6 November until Christmas.

It is generally well known that once Brunel had won the Clifton Bridge competition, progress was slow due to shortage of funds, and Brunel continually refined his designs. The abutments and towers were largely completed in Brunel's lifetime. It had not generally been appreciated, however, that the contract for the supply of the chains had been signed in 1840.

Fabrication and delivery of the ironwork from Sandys, Vivian & Company of Hayle commenced soon after, but by February 1843 the money ran out and work was halted.

The chains were sold off to the South Devon Railway for use on the Saltash Bridge.

Andrews and ICE Panel for Historic Engineering Works chairman David Greenfield are now researching how the ironwork was actually reused.

Allegedly 1,150 links were supplied at Saltash.

Perry will be talking about the research in the Godfrey Mitchell Theatre at ICE on the evening of 13 November.

When reflecting on the Brunel year as a whole it becomes clear there is much still to be learnt about this great engineer.

Let us hope engineering historians do not rest on their laurels and continue to research this field. Is it really true that Brunel would not delegate?

This just does not seem credible given the volume of work he undertook. If he was delegating, how much responsibility did he really devolve? Let the debate continue.

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