Brunel 200 Legacy Brunel 200 Launch Celebrations
South West Arts Projects
Bristol Arts Projects
Brunel 200 Events & Activities
Brunel 200 Main Site Spacer
Brunel 200 Events & Activities Overview > Brunel 200 Launch Celebrations

Heading - Brunel 200 Launch Celebrations

Brunel 200 Launch Celebrations and birthday weekend

Brunel was born 200 years ago on 9 April 1806. To celebrate his birthday weekend and kick-off a year of Brunel-related activity, Brunel 200 organised an action-packed programme, culminating in the switching on of the Clifton Suspension Bridge new lighting scheme and a spectacular firework show on Saturday 8 April.

Crowds estimated at 10,000 gathered on Observatory Hill in Clifton to watch the evening’s entertainment, undeterred by lighting and a ferocious hailstorm! The programme included performances by the Bristol Choral Society and the 100-strong Brunel Brass playing one of Brunel’s favourite pieces “See the Conquering Hero Comes” (as performed at many of his activities, including the Thames Tunnel Banquet of 1827, as the first train arrived in Teignmouth in 1846 and at the bridging of the Tamar in 1857).

They were joined by Dance Bristol performing a specially commissioned piece – Parabolic – from choreographer Fleur Darkin, performed by the Darkin Ensemble and inspired by Brunel. Acta Community Theatre performed an extract from their new community play – Castles in the Air - celebrating the life and achievements of Brunel, which was performed in full later in April at the Bristol Industrial Museum.

The performances ended with a new piece of music written by Bristol-based international jazz musician Andy Sheppard, whose tribute to Brunel’s 200th birthday meant gathering 200 saxophonists to perform ‘The Living Bridge’.

200 saxophonists performing Andy Sheppard's ‘The Living Bridge’.

200 saxophonists performing Andy Sheppard's ‘The Living Bridge’ (Kevin Clifford).

Asked why they got involved in the project, giving up hours of free time to rehearse in chilly school halls, the saxophonists were unanimous in their appreciation of the event and the chance to play with Andy Sheppard:

"This is probably a once-in-a-lifetime event – certainly a unique opportunity and worth the investment of time and effort to be able to get the satisfaction back in spades and to say, to myself, I was there helping to celebrate something/someone special.”

"I am a Professional Engineer and a member of the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors, Brunel is an engineering hero who inspired me to take up engineering as a profession. To celebrate his 200th birthday seemed natural… it was going to be a wonderful experience – one that I am going to treasure."

"It was a wonderful, memorable event to be involved in – a huge sense of collective enjoyment. Andy Sheppard was an excellent Director of Music and his piece was superb for the occasion. Thanks for the opportunity to participate in this great event."

"The best reason – when am I ever going to play with, let alone meet, Andy Sheppard again?! Just [insert major swear word] brilliant! He came across as a remarkably warm individual, passionate about his music with a real human touch to his leadership of our event."

The Living Bridge’ was performed to coincide with Adam Hart-Davis and the three young winners of the ‘Send Brunel a Birthday Card’ competition link to Send Brunel a Birthday Card page switching on the new lighting scheme on the Suspension Bridge. As the last few chords of Andy Sheppard’s ‘Happy Birthday to you’ tribute resonated around Observatory Hill, a spectacular fireworks display exploded over the Avon Gorge to the cheers of the crowds.

The evening created an enormous sense of well-being and good humour out on the streets, with crowds filling the Cumberland Basin and Clifton village.

"It looked fantastic, and in the crowd where I was people were even actually *singing* 'Happy Birthday' to Brunel. Most un-British".

"Many congratulations to you and the team for the Brunel 200 celebration weekend. I was at the Cumberland Basin for the lighting of the bridge and the fireworks and it was a splendid occasion, which I shall always remember. The whole celebrations have given Bristol back its pride in itself and reminded us what a splendid city we live in".

"A HUGE THANKYOU TO ALL YOUR TEAM for organising such a wonderful day out on Saturday!! Our day commenced with an organised tour of the new restored Temple Meads building at 10 am – very informative guide and tour – then a tour of the photographs in the "loo" in Park Row with Nick Hand – excellent!! Then a general walking tour of Bristol until the evening activities. We positioned ourselves near the swing bridge for a fantastic view of the bridge but unfortunately were not able to be in two places at once – so had to forego seeing Andy and his team of saxophonists – a real shame, but watched the TV programme last night and thought it was amazing. Once again thank you all so much for all your efforts – indeed we felt proud to be Bristolians!!"

"Just wanted to congratulate you all and send you my warmest wishes for the spectacular evening you provided on Saturday. It was breathtaking. We travelled down especially from the Thames Valley and stayed at the Avon Gorge Hotel, so had a wonderful view. Brunel has long been a hero to my husband and I… Totally brilliant, thank you all so very much".

"What an amazing night – there were queues out of the door and round the corner past the pedestrian crossing. Can we have this every Saturday night please?"
Manager, Clifton Village Fish Bar, Princess Victoria Street, Clifton

"Fantastic – we took £1000 more than we would on a normal Saturday night. And there was a great buzz all night – a really good vibe".
Manager, The Quadrant pub, Princess Victoria Street, Clifton

Launch fireworks over the Clifton Suspension Bridge (Paul Box).

Launch fireworks over the Clifton Suspension Bridge
(Paul Box).

Many of the projects took part in the launch weekend activities and several exhibitions opened for the launch weekend:

Ashlee Taylor’s ‘Brunel Exposed’ was open at the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum (tying in with the large number of visitors enjoying guided tours run over the launch weekend).

Nick Hand’s ‘Brunel (Bristol) Limited’ opened two days before the launch weekend in the disused toilet block on Woodland Road.

Hotwells Community Group’s ‘Hats Off to Brunel!’ was open at the Create Centre on the Cumberland Basin.

Bridge’ by Home and the Royal West of England Academy previewed on the evening of the 8th to fit in with the timing of the event at the suspension bridge.

Glen Eastman’s ‘Anchor Chain Soft Sculpture’ was installed at the Maritime Heritage Centre at the ss Great Britain to open with the ‘Nine Lives of I K Brunel’ at the end of March.

David White’s exhibition of photographs taken with the reproduction of the Robert Howlett camera opened on Monday 10th April, featuring in Brunel coverage in the Western Daily Press of that day as a double page spread, alongside extensive launch and fireworks coverage.

C & M Associates ‘Fizzambard’ sparkling water was given away at the launch of the book ‘Brunel in love with the impossible’ on 6th April and was on sale at harbourside venues such as ss Great Britain and Brunel’s Buttery for the launch weekend.

The Brunel 200 launch was sponsored by Discovery Channel, Bond Pearce and First Great Western.