Cymdeithas Hanes Resolfen History Society

A web log for the Resolven History Society which publishes articles and stories related to Resolven and the immediate surroundings.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Two and a half tunnels


The title of this month’s lecture has raised some puzzlement from members, not least from our master artist John Rees who has been defeated as to how to illustrate “half a tunnel” on his poster. However, speaker Glyn William kept the mystery of the talk’s title to the very end.

Most of us have heard of Brunel, on which Glyn is very well read, however, how many know that there were actually three distinguished engineers in the Brunel family?

Sir Marc Isambard Brunel (1769 – 1849)

Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 – 1859)

Henri Marc Brunel (1842 – 1903)

Mr Williams then gave a talk on three projects including two complete tunnels which the Brunel’s had achieved.

Brunel senior was born in France, and preferred to be known as Isambard but is usually referred to as Mark in order to avoid confusion with his more illustrious son. His greatest achievement was the building of the Thames Tunnel which opened in 1843. A detailed account of the tortuous history of the building of the tunnel can be found at the following link
He was knighted in 1841 shortly before his death.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel , can rightly be described as a genius, though his life was cut short by an unfortunate encounter with a coin. Mr Williams explained that while recuperating from an injury while helping his father build the Thames Tunnel he arrived in Bristol in 1829. He then entered a competition to design the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Remarkably, Telford who was judging the competition, controversially gave himself the prize. Following a circuitous route Brunel’s designs were eventually accepted and are partially represented in the current bridge which was completed nine years after his death. However, during his time in Bristol, Brunel was offered the post of Chief Engineer of the fledgling Great Western Railway and set about building the railway from Temple Meads to Paddington. The building of the Box Tunnel in Wiltshire was a major achievement in the completion of the line and formed the second tunnel in Glyn Williams’ talk.
The least known of the Brunel family is Henry Marc Brunel. However, his achievements are no less illustrious or recognisable today. He alongside his business partner Sir John Wolfe Barry built Tower Bridge in London. Remarkably the stone used in the construction is merely cladding on an iron bridge designed by Horace Jones. The pair were also responsible for the construction of Barry Docks in south Wales.

So where was the half tunnel? The mystery was solved by the fact that the Brunels had been involved in various attempts at building the Channel Tunnel which eventually opened in 1994. The original attempt under Brunel Senior began in 1802 , however the various attempts were dogged by either lack of capital or a lack of entente cordiale at various junctures. However, the most successful attempt was begun by Henry Marc Brunel in 1870 reaching some five miles under the English channel, but was never completed hence “HALF a TUNNEL”.

Mr Gwyn Thomas , thanked Mr Glyn Williams for a very interesting topic.


1. Prior to the beginning of the meeting Mr Ken Young gave a short address on the future of the Welfare Hall in Resolfen. Ambitious plans are being set in train to revitalise the building which will include a heritage centre and a revamped auditorium.
2. Lorraine Surringer has been a great friend to the Society over many years in publicising our activities in the Evening Post and Neath Guardian. However, owing to the demise of the Courier and the Guardian recently this avenue will no longer be open to us. Many thanks to Lorraine for all her assistance.