If Isambard Kingdom Brunel had taken the advice of his father, the iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol would have looked very different than it does today, according to previously unseen family letters.
The designer of the 19th-century bridge rejected the suggestion of his father, Sir Marc Brunel, also an engineer, that it should be supported by a 300ft Chinese pagoda.
Instead Brunel, who was 24 at the time, drew up the now famous design in which two 86ft arch towers on either side held up the bridge, using large chains.
In one of the letters in 1829, Sir Marc told his son that a bridge of “that size could not be crossed in one” and that there needed to be support in the middle.
He added that “you should do it like this” and enclosed pen and ink plans that included the pagoda.
In another letter, Brunel wrote to his father following the laying of the first stone of the bridge, stating: “I should have wished you to be with us.”
The letters and other items, which have remained in Brunel’s family for 180 years, have been sold at auction for £170,000.
Nick Toovey, of Toovey’s auctioneers near Pulborough, West Sussex, which sold the archive, said: “There was massive influence from Asia at that time and Sir Marc’s recommendation was to build a huge Chinese pagoda in the middle of it.
“He was coming up with something that would have looked quite a spectacle but not as revolutionary in engineering terms.”
Michael Rowland, manager for visitor services at the bridge, who is also a registered tourist guide, said: “The suggestion of a pagoda is new to me. It is exciting and adds to the fascinating history of this iconic structure.”