Railway History

Isambard Kingdom Brunel - 1806 - 1859


Isambard Kingdom Brunel was born on 9th April, 1806. His association with the Great Western Railway (GWR) began in 1835 but he was an engineer to many railway companies which began independently of the GWR.
In November 1854 he noted that he had been responsible for building 1,046 miles of railway in the 18 years since 1836, an average of 58 miles a year, a remarkable achievement. As well as his railways Brunel designed the Clifton suspension bridge and three great ships, "Great Western" (1837), "Great Britain" (1843) and "Great Eastern" (1853).
I.K Brunel

Great Eastern

It was his work on the railways which brought Brunel to South Devon. In July 1836 Brunel married the beautiful Mary Horsley. They had three children - Isambard, Henry March and Florence Mary. In 1836 he surveyed the railway route from Teignmouth along the coast to Dartmouth and Plymouth. He fell in love with the area and in 1847 purchased an estate at Watcome.
He began laying out the grounds and engaged the foremost country house architect of his day - William Burn - to design a mansion for his retirement. Sadly he never saw it built. His health broken by overwork he died on 15th September, 1859

Brunels line reaches Newton Abbot

In February 1845, the South Devon Railway was approched by representatives from Newton Abbot asking for the railway line to be diverted half a mile closer to the town. Brunel had already been approched to draw up plans, to which the board agreed. However, one landowner held out, so nothing could be done. The Amendment & Branches Act did not receive Royal Assent until 28th August 1846.

Work on the bridge across the River Teign began the last week of July. The construction of the mile-long line including Newton Abbot station was ready for the public opening only five months after the work had begun.

train arriving in newton abbot

Train arriving in Newton Abbot

By August 1846 Brunel & the Board of the South Devon Railway had agreed that Newton Abbot would be the next opening. The first test train weighing 400 tons and hauled by two locomotives arrived in Newton Abbot on 22nd December. The opening Ceremony for Newton Abbot Station on 31st December 1846, began with the ringing of bells from 5.00am and the firing of "salutes" from the heights at daybreak!

The inaugural train hauled by 'Antelope' arrived at the station, on board were Gill, Lord Courtnay, and other Directors, but not Brunel himself. It's arrival at Newton Abbot was met with loud cheers and banners inscribed 'Brunel and the Broad Gauge' and 'Success to the South Devon Railway.' Officials then processed to The Globe Hotel for an elegant dejeuner. It was reported that immense numbers of passengers continued to use the new service all day.