Collection highlights

Brunel Collection

The Brunel collection is a particular highlight at STEAM, containing significant objects that belonged to the great engineer.  The collection contains drawing equipment and technical instruments that Brunel would have used both in his drawing office and while he was out surveying and planning his railway network.

  • Brunel’s Geological Specimen Collection

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    This set of geological specimens was collected by Brunel during the surveying and building of the Great Western Railway. The collection of rock samples, with varying colours and features, is a fascinating insight into the geological make-up of the landscape along the Great Western route.

    Knowing the geological bedrock of an area influenced how the railway and its structures were built. The geology of the land during the planning of the route would have determined where bridges, tunnels, cuttings and embankments were most suited to a particular area. Especially as the properties of a rock can greatly affect the stability of engineering work.

    Brunel also used his collection of geological specimens to identify stone building materials that could be used for bridges, tunnel fronts and stations. The most popular building stone was Bath stone which is a golden coloured oolitic limestone. Brunel used this on the west portal of Box Tunnel. You can see some of the limestone specimens in this collection.

    You can view Brunel’s Geological Specimen Collection as part of the ‘Building the Railway’ exhibition area at STEAM.

  • Brunel’s Paper Knife

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    This paper knife was owned and used by the famous engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The previously unseen Brunel artefact dates from around the 1830s when Brunel was Chief Engineer for the Great Western Railway and would have been used to slit open the uncut pages of newspapers and other large documents.

    The object has a hugely significant and fascinating history. With an ivory blade and ebony handle, the paper knife has a decorative silver neck bearing the inscription I K B. It measures 46cm in length.

    The paper knife has excellent provenance, having been given to the vendor’s ancestors as a gift by Brunel’s son, Henry Marc Brunel.

    You can see Brunel’s paper knife in STEAM’s ‘Building the Railway’ exhibition area.

  • Brunel's Technical Drawing Instruments

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    This set of drawing instruments belonged to Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It probably dates from around the time that he was planning the route for the Great Western Railway. The size of the set suggests that these may have been instruments that he took with him when he travelled across the railway network.

    The oak case is inlaid with a brass plaque inscribed I K BRUNEL. The inside is lined with purple velvet with individual compartments for each instrument.

    This set of instruments was purchased for the museum collection with support from the Friends of Swindon Railway Museum and from visitor donations to STEAM’s Acquisition Fund.

    You can see Brunel’s Brunel’s Technical Drawing Instruments in STEAM’s ‘Building the Railway’ exhibition area.

  • Brunel’s Walking Stick*

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    This unique item was designed by Brunel himself to convert from a walking stick into a track gauge set to measure the 7ft broad gauge.  As Brunel visited locations along the GWR surveying the track he could quickly extend the walking stick to check whether the rails had been laid to exactly the correct width.

    You can view Brunel’s Walking Stick as part of the ‘Building the Railway’ exhibition area at STEAM.

    *On loan from the National Railway Museum.

  • Drawing Board*

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    Brunel’s drawing board is a well-used piece of equipment from his drawing office, as shown by the historic marks and worn edges of the wooden board.  The copy of a drawing from STEAM’s archive collection is of Bullo Pill Tunnel, dated 1855.  Brunel’s home address, 18 Duke Street, is written in the bottom right corner.

    You can view Brunel’s Drawing Board as part of the ‘Building the Railway’ exhibition area at STEAM.

    *Drawing Board on loan from the National Railway Museum.

  • Theodolite and Tripod Stand

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    Brunel’s theodolite and tripod were made by W & S Jones, London in c1830.  This precision surveying instrument was used for measuring angles both horizontally and vertically.  Brunel would have taken his theodolite with him while he was surveying the route for his railway.

    You can view Brunel’s Theodolite and Tripod Stand as part of the ‘Building the Railway’ exhibition area at STEAM.

    *On loan from the National Railway Museum.

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