Why write about I.K. Brunel?
In 1983 I was commissioned to write a book which would be relevant to the ‘GWR 150’ of 1985. I decided to write a kind of history of the 110 years of the GWR by trawling through the official records of the Company and finding facts which I could research further and make into historic anecdotes. Thus came about ‘Grub Water & Releif’ and ‘Grime & Glory’. The first thing I wanted was something hitherto unknown about Brunel. So I opened my first edition of L.T.C Rolt’s ‘definitive’ biography quite by chance at page 138 and saw at the top of the page ‘No strikes marred the building of the Great Western Railway.’ I thought ‘That cannot be true, surely there was one strike during the 6 years the railway was under construction and then I thought ‘why should a strike necessarily mar the construction’? Maybe the employer was marring the job by causing the men to go on strike. I realised that the whole book has got this rose-tinted spectacled slant and I had something to research. I found from the pages of ‘The Times’ between January and March 18328 there had been two strike and two riots. So now I had a great story about the navvies digging Sonning cutting and I knew that Mr. Rolt was guilty of fabricating history to please himself. After I’d written these two books I had to set out to write an objective biography, warts and all, of Mr. Brunel. That came out in 1991. I never stopped developing my study of him. Professor of Industrial Archaeology, Angus Buchanan brought out his biography of Brunel in 2002 which may or may not have been an answer to mine – but on page 183 he does concede that ‘Adrian Vaughan is probably right in modifying L.T.C. Rolt’s rosy picture of Brunel…….’ Rolt made things up to suit his purpose and generally ‘spun’ the narrative to produce his desired effect. Not so ‘definitive’ after all. On page 16 he states that Brunel had a ‘precocious inherited talent’ because ‘by the time he was six he had mastered Euclidian geometry’. But in 1817 when he was 11 a letter his father, Marc, wrote states that ‘he has not yet started Euclid.’ I produced my second biography of Brunel in 2006 which contained my developed thoughts up to that time and now in 2010 and I brought out my last offering on the subject. I want to set the record straight and tell the true story of I.K Brunel – mainly, but not entirely, where railways are concerned.