Isambard Kingdom Brunel – Famous Faces on Cheyne Walk, Chelsea
Another Cheyne Walk resident deemed significant enough to receive blue plaque status is Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Uniquely, he shares the plaque with an equally impressive man: his father, Sir Marc Isambard Brunel.
The Brunels spent 17 years at 98 Cheyne Walk, from 1807 to 1824. While under this roof, both father and son went on to complete some of Britain’s most impressive feats of engineering.
Sir Marc was born in France and settled in London in 1799 with his English wife, Sophia. He is known above all for designing and building the first tunnel under the Thames, between Wapping and Rotherhithe, which is now part of the London Overground. This was the world’s first underwater tunnel through soft ground and was completed in 1843 after 18 years.
His son, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, had learnt the rudiments of arithmetic and geometry by the age of four.
It was in this house on Cheyne Walk that Isambard spent his childhood and served as assistant to his father, developing the skills that were to result in his greatest achievements: the construction of the Great Western Railway, the design of the Clifton Suspension Bridge, and the construction of ocean-going steamships, the most important of which was the Great Eastern, launched in 1859.
These projects ultimately resulted in Isambard being regarded as Britain’s best engineer: a title still widely believed to be true to this day.
The Brunels moved from Chelsea to Blackfriars in 1824 in order to be closer to the Thames Tunnel, which was to make heavy demands on their time for many years to come.