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Beautiful Buildings: Bristol Temple Meads

The iconic steel-glass roof in 1878. A style that can been seen at London Paddington as well as Bristol Temple Meads.
The station’s iconic steel and glass roof, a style that can also been seen at London Paddington.

Bristol’s first passenger railway terminus, Bristol Temple Meads, was one of the most important buildings created by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and connected Bristol to London Paddington via the Great Western Railway. It was in 1833 that Brunel began designing this fundamental building in his beloved city – a much needed transport hub.

At age 26 Brunel was made chief engineer for the Great Western Railway. He was instructed to create a high-speed link between London and Bristol. Brunel designed the stations at each end of the line and everything in-between including the tracks, bridges and offices. His Tudor Revival style can be seen in many of the buildings surrounding the station. However, Brunel only designed one original station at Bristol Temple Meads, consisting of two platforms. Today, there are 9 passenger platforms which are a culmination of the work of various architects over the years.

Steam Engines rolling out of Platform 5.
An express steam engine rolling out of Platform 5 from Paignton to Leeds.

Most people know Bristol Temple Meads for its stunning roof. The curving 38m steel and glass roof was designed by engineer Francis Fox to house five new platforms as part of an extension in 1859 and Matthew Digby Wyatt designed the rest of the interior. Now trains could reach many new destinations including Exeter, Gloucester and other local areas such as Portishead. A final development was implemented in the 1930s by P.E. Culverhouse in an Art Deco style adding a further five platforms and widening islands in the centre of the main passenger and train sheds.

The whole station as it looks today - a gateway to London and the Southwest.
The whole station as it looks today – a gateway between London and the South West.

The grand entrance that all passengers enter through today wasn’t built until the 1870s by Wyatt after the much needed extension to Brunel’s original two platform station. In Gothic style, the extra platforms aided the congested station and cemented Bristol Temple Meads’ reputation as a major transport hub and a new city landmark. Being at the intersection of many different lines, the station became the main connecting route between the East and the South West.

The current main passenger entrance into Bristol Temple Meads, built after Brunel's Original Station.
The current main passenger entrance at Bristol Temple Meads, built after Brunel’s original station.

What I find fascinating about Bristol Temple Meads is that it is a product of changing technology, ideas and architecture over the course of two hundred years. Three different styles of architecture can be seen when one walks around the historic Grade I listed building and site. It’s almost a museum, an insight into the past – from Brunel’s original two platform station and grand passenger shed to P.E. Culverhouse’s platform extension underneath one of the most beautiful roofs in Bristol.

Brunel started a new era of travel in the South West and his original train shed functioned for 125 years until its closure on 12 September 1965. His mock hammer-beam roof, built out of wood to echo the design of Westminster Hall in London, created an interesting sight for all travellers. Brunel’s love of grand designs can still be seen today, as the Brunel Train Shed is now used as a car park for the station.

Not a bad place to park your car.