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Following ATG’s coverage of the Brunel Thames Tunnel drawings archive lots sold at Bonhams in November now forming displays at museums in London and Bristol, a Northamptonshire saleroom has sold a set of Isambard Kingdom Brunel technical drawing instruments.

On February 22 Humbert & Ellis Auctioneers near Silverstone offered the set estimated at £800-1200, but after a competition between room and internet bidders it was hammered down at £6000 (or £7400 including premium).

And it seems that Brunel museum displays are also like those horse buses: auctioneer Jonathan Humbert told ATG that the drawings set was bought by Swindon council for a new Brunel exhibition it is holding.

The set is contained in an oak case, with a brass plate inset into lid engraved I K BRUNEL.


Humbert & Ellis sold an Isambard Kingdon Brunel set of technical drawings instruments for £6000.

Humbert said: “It came from an octogenarian client of mine, a lady whose great-grandfather was a contemporary of Henry Marc Brunel, Isambard’s son. I’m a little unclear as to whether my vendor’s great-grandfather and Mark Henry might have studied together.

“Henry Marc was also an engineer. In about 1902, shortly before his death, the drawing set and a set of Smollett’s History of England books were gifted to my client’s great-grandfather by Mark Henry.

“The drawing set has IK Brunel written upon so would have been his father’s, and it is likely Brunel had many such drawing instruments, travelling round for many jobs. He probably wore a few out, kept his best for home maybe, but what is lovely is to suppose what feats of engineering were invented using this very set - possibly the Great Western Railway, Clifton Suspension Bridge, the SS Great Eastern – who knows?

“They had been in my client’s family ever since and were consigned without expectation or reserve. Her phrase was long the lines of ‘if they make couple of hundred quid and do somebody a good turn, I’ll be delighted’. She was certainly delighted by that result.”

The Smollett’s, a four-volume full set from 1848, were also offered at Humbert & Ellis, each with IK Brunel’s written signature on the insides of the front cover. Estimated at £800-1200. They sold for £1250 to a private buyer.

More museums

As covered recently in ATG, design drawings from the Thames Tunnel archive relating to Isambard’s father Marc sold at Bonhams in November was bought by two museums: The Brunel Museum in Rotherhithe, south London, and the new Being Brunel exhibition in Bristol.

The former plans to use the drawings as a centrepiece of a £4.5m museum and gallery expansion plan. Marc Brunel was the tunnel designer, but Isambard Kingdom was also involved - and at one time nearly lost his life in a flood.

WEB SS Great Britain Trust.jpg
The SS Great Britain moored in Bristol. Being Brunel, The SS Great Britain Trust's new museum, is opening on March 23 and will be based in the buildings between the ship and the River Avon (including the restored Dock Office).

Meanwhile, the Being Brunel exhibition is being launched by the SS Great Britain Trust (next to IKB’s mighty ship, the Great Britain, preserved and open to the public in sight of his Clifton Suspension Bridge).

Being Brunel will open on March 23, dedicated to IKB. A spokesperson said: “This will bring together the world’s most significant Brunel collection, celebrating the engineering genius who ‘built Britain’ and helped shape the world.

“The £7.2m new visitor attraction will feature six galleries setting out some 150 of Brunel’s personal artefacts - many never seen in public before - to provide unprecedented insight into his life, family, interests and creative mind.

“Visitors will step inside Brunel’s original and fully restored Dock Office located in the historic Great Western Dockyard, where he designed and built the SS Great Britain.”

Among a few others, the items bought in the Bonhams auction to be displayed in Being Brunel museum include a watercolour design for Marc’s steam-powered sawmill at the Royal Naval Dockyard at Chatham and a design for a bridge across the Neva at Petersburg.

Tunnel peep show

Yet another Brunel-related item sold at Penzance auction house David Lay on February 27: a ‘peep show’ titled A Perspective View of the Thames & The Thames Tunnel.

In four sections, published by Azulay, it was bought by a Frenchman while visiting The Great Exhibition on July 4, 1851, said the sale cataloguer.

At the auction, it sold at a top-estimate £400.