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The changing riverside landscape
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  Themes Homepage > Maidenhead
The changing riverside landscape

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Brunel's Revenge
The railway bridge at Maidenhead is an example of the genius of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the great Victorian engineer. The bridge was needed to take the Great Western Railway over the Thames at Maidenhead, but Brunel was told by the Thames Commissioners that any bridge should not obstruct the towpath. This increased the distance to be spanned.

Maidenhead Railway Bridge
Maidenhead Railway Bridge
Brunel solved the problem by designing a bridge with the widest and flattest arches that have ever been built of brick.
These are Brunel's plans. His critics thought this was a folly, that the arches were far too flat and that the bridge would collapse under the weight of the trains. Bridge elevation Drawings
Bridge elevation Drawings
1892 Bridge & workmen
1892 Bridge & workmen
But Brunel went ahead and the bridge was finished in the summer of 1838. (This photograph is from 1892, when additional work was carried out)

To pacify the skeptics, Brunel agreed to leave the timber centerings in place to give the bridge additional support. But several months later, during a storm, these centerings blew down, leaving the bridge standing firm on its own. In fact it had stood firm all along. Brunel had secretly eased the timber supports clear of the brickwork without telling anyone. Maybe this was a riposte to his critics. He knew his design was sound.
The bridge was eventually recognised as a supreme feat of engineering. It has featured in paintings by many artists, including this watercolour of 1846. Here the painter contrasts the new, high speed railway with the conventional barge traffic on the river below. Maidenhead railway bridge over the Thames
Maidenhead railway bridge over the Thames
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  Themes Homepage > Maidenhead
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