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Our history

In 2016, Brunel celebrates 50 years as a university.  However, our history can be traced back much further to 1798 through our predecessor colleges of Borough Road College, Maria Grey College, Shoreditch College and the West London Institute of Higher Education and as well as through Acton Technical College then Brunel College.  Our rise since 1966 has been impressive and our reputation grows year on year.  Now a university of 12,746 students – 3,309 students engaged in postgraduate and research study – our special approach is to combine academic rigour with the practical, entrepreneurial and imaginative approach pioneered by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. 

The decision to be name after Isambard Kingdom Brunel was taken after much discussion.  Rather than name the new College after a location, Dr Topping, the first Vice Chancellor of Brunel University (and former Principal of Brunel College) pleaded that the name should be a well-known person preferably an engineer or scientist associated in some way with Middlesex or Acton.  Agreement was reached in March 1957 that person would be Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859)  is one of the great British engineers of the 19th century. Isambard was born into an industrious family in 1806, with his mother Sophia Kingdom working for the Royal Navy and father Marc Brunel being a prominent French engineer. Isambard took on formal training as an engineer and went on to build twenty-five railways lines, over a hundred bridges, including five suspension bridges, eight pier and dock systems, three ships and a pre-fabricated army field hospital.To add to this he was a keen social engineer, building housing estates, churches and hospitals.

In order to learn more about Isambard Kingdom Brunel and his legacy, visit the following links:

Thousands of files, letters, photographs, committee papers and published material relating to the University’s origins, buildings, students and staff are managed and preserved in the University Archives.  Please visit our Brunel memorials page and our University Archives pages for further information.