What a wonderful name, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. He was the son of European naming convention with his father Marc Isambard Brunel and his mother Sophia Kingdom. “Isambard” is of Germanic origin, meaning “iron-bright”, so prophetic for this future engineer.
His father was a prominent engineer and taught him from an early age the rudiments of drawing, observational techniques, geometry and principles of engineering. Interestingly his ‘formal’ apprenticeship was completed by the age 16 in France under the guidance of a prominent clockmaker, Abraham-Louis Breguet. How do you make the transition from clocks to bridges or the Great Eastern? I suppose the link is precision and attention to detail.
He returned to the UK in 1822 and was thrown in at the deep end (maybe literally) helping his father with the construction of the Thames Tunnel. By 1831 he had made his mark and was starting the construction of the Clifton Suspension bridge. This was the start of his bridge-building, most of which were designed for his railway projects.
In 1833 he was appointed chief engineer of the Great Western Railway from London to Bristol and then Exeter. He designed the start, Paddington Station, and the railway also served as the start of a Londoner’s voyage to New York since it linked up at Bristol with the Great Western steamship, also designed by Brunel, for the transatlantic voyage.
Brunel had two links with Teignmouth. The first was the South Devon Railway, the extension of the GWR from Exeter through Teignmouth to Newton Abbot and beyond. Of course this stretch was also the experiment for the innovative “atmospheric railway” which was ahead of the technology of its day and sadly ended up as one of Brunel’s failures.
The second link is bizarre. In 1843, while performing a conjuring trick for the amusement of his children, Brunel accidentally inhaled a half-sovereign coin, which became lodged in his windpipe. A special pair of forceps failed to remove it, as did a machine devised by Brunel to shake it loose. At the suggestion of his father, Brunel was strapped to a board and turned upside-down, and the coin was jerked free. He recuperated at Teignmouth, and enjoyed the area so much that he purchased an estate at Watcombe, about five miles from Teignmouth. Here he designed Brunel Manor and its gardens to be his retirement home. He never saw the house or gardens finished though, as he died before it was completed.
The above has been extracted from Wikipedia