50 objects 5: Gilbert Blount’s letter to Isambard Kingdom Brunel

Gilbert Blount was an English Catholic architect born in 1819 and active from about 1840-70. He received his earliest training as a civil engineer under Isambard Kingdom Brunel (c.1825-28) for whom he worked as a superintendent of the Thames Tunnel works. After a period in the office of Sydney Smirke, Blount was appointed as architect to Cardinal Wiseman, the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster.

Annotated flyleaves of Blount's diary.

Annotated flyleaves of Blount’s diary.

The Blount archive held in Special Collections covers Blount’s early career, including correspondence with the Brunel family. It was given by Michael May, his grandson, in 1976.

The collection includes diaries, notes on engineering subjects, and letters to, from, and about Blount. The diaries give an intriguing insight into daily social life in Blount’s time, but also show aspects of this thought processes and work; there are jottings of various kinds in margins and flyleaves, and drawings of mechanisms and architecture.

Draft letter from Blount to Brunel

Draft letter from Blount to Brunel

Item 17 in this collection is a draft of a letter from Blount to Brunel, resigning his work on the Thames Tunnel in order to take up what he describes as “employment which seemed likely to prove advantageous to me”. The frequent crossings-out and changes of phrase shed light on Blount’s thoughts as he wrote, as well as on business etiquette of the time. For comparison, here is his diary entry for the same day as the letter was written, 17 October 1842 (the bottom entry on the left-hand page). He notes, with characteristic lack of punctuation, “Rose 7 1/2 wrote a note to Sir I Brunel acquainting him with my intention to leave his office I went out shooting with the keeper went to bed 11 O’c.”

Blount's diary for mid October 1842

Blount’s diary for mid October 1842

Other archives concerning Blount are at Birmingham Archdiocesan Archives and the Architectural Archives at the University of Pennsylvania.

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