I.K. Brunel and William Gravatt, 1826-1841: their professional and personal relationship

  • David John Greenfield

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The study concerns the personal and working relationship between Isambard Kingdom Brunel and William Gravatt during the design and construction of civil engineering projects in which they were jointly involved between 1826 and 1841. Brunel and Gravatt first worked together on the Thames Tunnel construction in 1826-1828 where, according to Brunel, they became 'intimate friends.' Subsequently Brunel employed Gravatt to assist him during the parliamentary process leading up to the passage of the second Great Western Railway Bill in August 1835. Gravatt then superintended, under Brunel, the design of bridges in the early stages of construction of the GWR. Having accepted the position of Engineer to the promoters of a railway from Bristol to Exeter in October 1835, Brunel selected Gravatt to manage the parliamentary survey for the line. Afterwards he engaged him as his Resident Engineer on the B&ER when construction of the line began in 1836. Meanwhile, the promoters of a scheme to improve navigation on the river Parrett engaged Brunel in late 1835 to appraise their proposals and to assist them in gaining their Act in 1836. On Brunel's recommendation, the newly incorporated Parrett Navigation Company engaged Gravatt as their Engineer. By 1839 Brunel and Gravatt were arguing vehemently over 'important engineering questions' affecting the B&ER. Their personal relationship deteriorated rapidly, culminating in Brunel dismissing Gravatt from the B&ER in June 1841. The study examines evidence of their working and personal relationship, with three objectives: firstly to establish their particular roles in the projects, secondly to establish the circumstances that led to the breakdown in their relationship, and thirdly to evaluate aspects of Brunel's leadership qualities based on the evidence of his professional and personal relationship with Gravatt.
Date of AwardMar 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorJohn Williams (Supervisor)

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