‘Rare‘ Isambard Kingdom Brunel letters found in Bristol

A collection of “extremely rare” letters written by engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel has been found.

The 15 documents, authored by Brunel from 1832 to 1846, were discovered in an archive room at Bristol Port.

They were written around the time he designed the city‘s Clifton Suspension Bridge and built the SS Great Britain in Bristol docks.

The letters have been donated to the SS Great Britain Trust where they are being prepared to go on public display.

Nick Booth, from the trust, said the letters offered a “remarkable and unique insight into Brunel in his formative years”.

“It is extremely rare to receive a single letter or report written by Brunel, so we are enormously grateful to receive such a generous donation of a whole collection,” he said.

Most of the correspondence is from Brunel to the directors of the Bristol Dock Company about the problem of the city‘s floating harbour becoming filled with mud, causing large vessels to run aground.

The collection contains four letters from 1833 to 1846 and five reports from 1832 to 1842, as well as quotes from Brunel for completing work on the southern entrance dock.

They were found by retired engineer Roger Henley, who was carrying out research for a new book about Bristol Port Company at its head office in Avonmouth.

He said: “There are thousands of rolls of historic papers in the archive room and as I was going through them, I found a yellowing folder, inside of which was a stack of carefully penned, hand written documents.

“They didn‘t stand out until I got to the bottom of the first letter and to my amazement realised it was signed I.K. Brunel.

“I didn‘t need an introduction to that name. It was an incredible moment and a surreal feeling to realise I had in my hands original letters penned by the world‘s greatest engineer.”