BRUNEL, Isambard Kingdom, letters, autographs, documents, manuscripts

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BRUNEL, Isambard Kingdom (1806-1859). Civil engineer.
Autograph Letter Signed to a contractor for the Great Western Railway J[ames] B. Bedborough, 1 page 4to with Bedborough's reply on the reverse, Bristol, 14 August [1839]. Bedborough's reply has been scored through, probably because it was a draft, but remains legible. (Some small splits but in generally good condition).

Relating to the progress of the Great Western Railway through Wiltshire, and illustrating the difficulties placed in the way of the enterprise by recalcitrant land-owners and tenants.

'Bristol Aug 14th
G West Railway
Contract No 7 C

Sir
'I hereby give you notice to commence the works of your contract No 7.C. on Monday next Aug 19th from which day the period for the completion of these works will date.
 'I have to request that you will
[one word deleted] acknowledge the receipt of this notice and the date fixed therein.
I am Sir
Your Obed[ien]t Serv[an]t
IK Brunel
J Bedborough Esq'

Bedborough's reply to this letter reads as follows:

'... I beg to acquaint you that I am not in possession of the land East of the Cutting No 1 so as to enable me to commence the examination on that side of the Hill.
 'Previous to the receipt of your Notice I had commenced upon what I understood was Ld. Clarendons land, but a Mr Knighton who has a life interest in the field in which the Cutting commences refused to let me proceed - before he was paid the Sum agreed upon and which I have advanced to him.
 'A Mr Maskelyne has also refused to allow me to continue on his Land unless he is first paid. I therefore trust you will consider me justified in requesting the withholding of your Notice - until these portions of the line can legally be entered upon'.

The construction of the Great Western Line to Bath was one of the great feats of engineering of any age, and the section between Hay Lane (between Wootton Bassett and Swindon) and Chippenham caused Brunel immense trouble, requiring deep cuttings and lengthy embankments. The severe winter of 1839 [the year of this letter] brought particular problems in the form of constant slipping of the heavy clay. The Box Tunnel, almost two miles in length and destined to be for a time the longest railway tunnel in the world, was at this time also under construction. The tunnel was driven through most difficult ground and took the lives of 100 navvies. Work had started in September 1836, and although there had been a projected completion date of August 1840 the tunnel was not opened until June of the following year after Brunel had assembled a force of 4000 men and 300 horses to work night and day. [See Isambard Kingdom Brunel, by L.T.C. Rolt, 1967, pages 136-142].

The contracts for the section of this line, including Wootton Bassett, had been let in the Spring of 1839, and one can only speculate whether James Bedborough was aware of what he was letting himself in for, not only in the matter of recalcitrant landowners but also, and most particularly, in the difficulty of the terrain.
[No: 25544]

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