Phillimore & Co Ltd
"Royal Navy and Maritime BOOK REVIEWS Provided by Rob Jerrard

Marc Isambard BRUNEL

Edition: Second  (1st 1970)

Author: Paul Clements

Publishers: Phillimore

ISBN: 1860774008

Date Published: 2006 (First Published 1970)

Price: £16.99

MARC ISAMBARD BRUNEL (1769-1849) nourished an extraordinary intellect, in spite of a tyrannical father. After serving in Louis XVI's navy as an officer cadet, he left France and, at the age of 30, came to Britain via America; 50 years later he died here.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) nourished an equally extraordinary intellect. On leaving his native island of Corsica he went to France, where he became First Consul aged 30 and waged war against Britain. He died in St Helena 22 years later.

This revised biography of Marc Brunel reveals, for the first time, how both these temperamentally opposed men laboured, unceasingly and with great courage, on behalf of their adopted countries, and how much Marc Brunel contributed to Napoleon's ultimate defeat.

Marc Brunel was a man without malice. In addition to being an inventor, artist and musician, he was the 19th century's most innovative engineer. Until recently, however, he has been acknowledged less for his achievements than for fathering his brilliant and indefatigable son Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-59).

Until the age of 56, Marc Brunel was primarily an inventor, but Isambard took his father's and others' inventions when they were barely visible seeds and turned them into highly visible fruits in the shape of steam ships and railways.

This authoritative work must represent the definitive exploration of this remarkable man's life and brings his considerable achievements into focus for the modern historian. Entertaining yet highly informative, and enhanced by a selection of beautifully produced illustrations, it will be widely welcomed.

The Author

A crow that has followed many ploughs, Paul Clements spent the first 15 years of his adult life farming and market gardening in Sussex.

A conviction that there is a better, or more expeditious, wav of undertaking most tasks has led to several inventions, in diverse fields, most of which have been unprofitable.

Marc Isambard Brunel was his first book, but he has subsequently edited and published French and German language courses and has run a translating business, specialising in the translation of patent specifications, for the last 30 years.


Marc Isambard Brunel; when asked, some would say "Who?"  That name sounds familiar but it doesn’t roll off the tongue so smoothly as his more famous son Isambard Kingdom Brunel.  Say it twice and let it roll.

Who was Marc and why does he take second place behind his son Isambard?  We are told in the Foreword that it was because of his ‘unworldliness’.  He was more equable in temperament than his son.  Isambard was driven by pride and ambition, whereas the father failed because of his virtues.  Both were engineers of singular genius. 

As an engineer Marc is popularly remembered for one work only – the Thames Tunnel, which was taken over by the East London Railway Company in 1865.  Now of course you will use the tunnel if you travel by Underground between Whitechapel and New Cross and perhaps whilst travelling under the River Thames you could reflect on the great shield that made digging possible.  "It's the only project that Brunel and his father worked on together.

Operations began in 1825 to build the tunnel under the Thames River between Rotherhithe and Wapping. The shield covered the area to be excavated and consisted of 12 separate frames, comprising altogether 36 cells in which a workman was engaged working independently of the others. Propulsion for the device was a screw, which drove the device forward in 114mm/4.5in steps (the width of a brick).

This scheme, was halted a number of times but, fortunately the shield held. The stoppages did, however, place the scheme's finances under severe strain.  At one point the operation was halted for seven years and the tunnel bricked up.  When it was started again a much larger shield was used to cover the 120m/400ft of tunnel already constructed.  At its lowest point construction took place only 4m/14ft below the riverbed.  The Thames tunnel was eventually opened in 1843.

I am reminded of many achievements, but three things in particular when I think of the son.  His statue near the entrance to the City of London on The Embankment, that bold statement on the Royal Albert Bridge spanning the Tamar, ‘I. K.  Brunel, Engineer 1859’ and the fact that the son of a Frenchman came close to being voted the Greatest Briton ever, he was up against such giants as Nelson, Churchill, Cromwell, Darwin, & Newton.  The list also included Princess Diana, Elizabeth I, John Lennon, & Shakespeare!  No competition there!

However, since I am an ex-Royal Navy man who was raised in Portsmouth, I was at least aware of the block-making machines installed in Portsmouth dockyard.  Forty-five in all were installed and three of these were still in use at Portsmouth 20 years after the end of WWII, a working life of 150 years.  It seems that remnants of the plant were used in recent years to make replacement blocks for Nelson’s Victory.  Appendix B gives full details of the Portsmouth block-making machines, listing all items on display at the National Maritime Museum, Portsmouth Museum, Portsmouth Dockyard and the Science Museum.  The Portsmouth installation was one of the earliest examples of completely mechanised production. 

I am reminded of something Jeremy Clarkson said at the end of his TV presentation about the son, "Brunel took us where we were going" and "Put a girdle (of steel) around the world".

Although it isn’t always the case, much of this genius came from the father, Marc Isambard Brunel, Engineer, 1769-1849.

A well-written book from which I learnt a great deal.

Rob Jerrard

Portsmouth In Defence of the Realm

Author: John Sadden

ISBN: ISBN : 1 86077 165 3
ISBN 13 : 978 1 86077 165 1

Publishers: Phillimore

Price £16.99 RRP UK

Publication Date: 2001

Publishers Title Information

Portsmouth Harbour has offered a secure anchorage for fighting fleets since Roman times.  The growth of 'Pompey' from an adjunct to the ancient military centre at Portchester to the world's premier naval base in Britain's imperial heyday is fully explained and described in this book, which, for the first time, lending together the history of the harbour's fortifications; military garrison, dockyard, naval and air defence establishments.

Portsmouth was an important naval base by the early Middle Ages, but it was not until the 18th century and the beginning of the long series of wars with France and Spain that it began its rapid rise to pre-eminence.  Many establishments sprang up to support this growth, on both sides of the harbour.  Naval, Military and Marine barracks, the Gunwharf, the great Dockyard, Haslar Hospital, Priddy's Hard, Clarence Victualling Yard and the Gunnery School, HMS Excellent.  All are fully featured in this comprehensive, yet compel­ling, condensation of tons of archives into a very readable book.

Not confined to the evolution of facilities and fortifications, the' author's narrative high­lights the many defensive and offensive innovations that were developed locally, and the parts played by such individuals as Jonas Hanway, Agnes Weston, Sarah Robinson, Admiral Sir Jacky Fisher, Dr James Lind and William and Robert Froude.  Well illustrated by carefully selected engravings and rare photographs, many never previously published, this book will, undoubtedly become the standard work; essential to interested residents and visitors and of great value to naval and military historians everywhere.

The Author

John Sadden was educated at Portsmouth Southern Grammar School and Portsmouth Polytechnic, where he gained a first class honours degree and qualified as a teacher, he went on to study at the University of North London adding a qualification as librarian. Following work at the County Planning and Surveyors' Library, in Win­chester, and public libraries in the Fareham area, he is currently both Lending Librarian in Petersfield and a Reference Librarian at the University of Portsmouth.

His consuming, combined interest in local, naval and military history was successfully - expressed in his first book, Keep the Home Fires Burning 1990, a history of Portsmouth and Gosport in the First World War.  He has also compiled be volumes of local archive photographs- and contributes: to Hampshire; the county magazine.

John currently maintains a large collection of photographs recording changes in the built environment of the Portsmouth area, as a record for future historians.  Another on-going project covers the county's growing number of periodicals.  The first fruit was The Hampshire Index, a 27,000  entry compilation published in 1998 and in use throughout the county's public libraries, which enables local historians to access these valuable secondary sources.


I note that the author is Portsmouth born and bred, attended the Southern Grammar School and now lives in Gosport.  Had it not been for the Luftwaffe, I would also be both.  However I was born near Southampton but immediately returned to Southsea, where I lived in and around Portsmouth for the next 27 years including Gosport when stationed at HMS St Vincent and HMS Dolphin. 

My father and Grandfather were born in Portsmouth. My Great-Grandfather came to Portsmouth from Devon to join the RMA (The Blue Marines) at Eastney Barracks.  When my Great-Grandfather left the RMA he worked at HM Gunwharf, which later became HMS Vernon where I trained as RN diver.  My earliest memories of Portsmouth are of hiding from the bombs, Haslemere Road and the canoe lake, which I am told I had the habit of falling in.  Fortunately it was not very deep!

Inside the front cover there is an excellent reproduction of a map of Portsmouth and Gosport circa 1920.  Just looking at it brings back memories eg Haslar Bridge is shown as a toll bridge at that time.  Could this be what we called 'Windy Bridge', which I used as a short cut to HMS Dolphin?  Forton Barracks stands alone, as it must have been then.  To my generation it was of course HMS St Vincent, but in 1920 it was the RMLI barracks (Red Marines). 

Moving across the water we find on the map many places that no longer exist - Colewort Barracks, Barracks by Lion Terrace, Cambridge Barracks, Victoria Barracks, Clarence Barracks, Eastney Barracks and Lumps Fort give some indication of the military presence in what is really a famous naval port.  In fact on reading the book I discovered there were other Barracks’ as well, some of the names meant nothing to me.

If you have ever lived or had an interest in Portsmouth, you will find the book fascinating and a treasure to keep.  It includes the Army, the Royal Marines, the Dockyards, Naval recruitment and education, Naval gunnery training, Naval communications, navigation and radar, and Naval military hospitals inter alia. 

Another chapter called, "Off Duty" was of particular interest to me because I have just finished reading, "My Life among the Blue-Jackets" by Agnes Weston the founder of The Royal Sailors’, Rests, did you know there were once 170 Public Houses in Portsmouth and 70 in Gosport with between 2,000 to 20,000 prostitutes at any given time.  Presumably it depended whether the Fleet was in, I can remember in my youth how the numbers increased with them travelling down from London when US ships were in port.  I am sure many of us ex-navy men remember Aggie’s’. 

As a Portsmouth boy I had become aware of the Royal Sailors’ Rest through my involvement with the Royal Marine Cadet Corps at Eastney Barracks in Southsea.  In her book she explains her attempts to attract the Boy Seamen from the Sail Training Ships Impregnable, Implacable, Lion and Foudroyant (Food I want) off the streets of Plymouth in 1873.  She says she hired the Mechanics Institute and “I hoped a basket of buns might pave the way but the buns failed utterly; the boys fled”. 

For me the book was a journey through a lifetime because it had so many family connections.  I would thoroughly recommend this book to past and present residents of Portsmouth and Gosport and members of the Royal Navy and Army who may have served in the area because as well as interesting reading there is a fine collection of old photographs, many of which I had never seen before.

Rob Jerrard

Previous Reviews

Portsmouth Harbour has offered a secure anchorage for fighting fleets since Roman times. The growth of 'Pompey' to the world's premier naval base in Britain's imperial heyday is fully explained in this book.

' ... a banquet of information on Portsmouth ... even long-term Portsmouth residents are sure to learn something of the city from this very thorough and well-presented publication.' Hampshire Family Historian