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ISE – Brunel’s Bristol swivel bridge: its place in his office and his world

6 September 2019 - 09:00 - 17:00


Produced by the Institution’s History Study Group, this conference will present the exemplary work being done to record, understand and restore Brunel’s 1849 Swivel Bridge, built to span his new larger lock between the floating harbour and the tidal Avon.

It will also present the historical research that has gathered around that project, concentrating on Brunel’s smaller wrought iron girder bridges of which the Swivel Bridge was the first. It will show how he worked with engineers of considerable competence in their own right, both in his own office and in the iron industry, to create workaday as well as iconic works.

Following collaboration with Russian military engineers, Bristol’s Swivel Bridge was soon joined by a similar bridge in the fortified town of Kronstadt, remarkably also undergoing restoration: the history of this bridge will be presented and posters about its restoration will be displayed.  Another presentation will tell the parallel story of Brunel’s development of cast iron bridges.

It will examine how Brunel built up professional and social networks, and finally how he used photography not just to help him control construction processes but also to forge his own image.

Attend to hear from leading conservation engineers and engineering historians, and learn:

  • The complex history of the swivel bridge and its numerous descendants, including that in Kronstadt
  • How the simplistic story of “the great man” conceals a richer reality of his reliance on other engineers, both in his own office and in the industry around them
  • How he was seen in society and how he recognised the power of photography, not just to record the construction process, but to create an indelible mythic image of the Victorian engineering hero
  • A range of approaches to engineering history; material, cultural, social and iconographic


6 September 2019
09:00 - 17:00
Event Category:


Institution of Structural Engineers


Create Centre, Bristol
Bristol, BS1 6XN United Kingdom + Google Map

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