The SE catalogue of monkeys is doing well. The latest find from Agent Dragonblaze at the Brunel Museum, which has an interesting story (more later). First though, here are all the ‘SE monkeys’. These are monkey puzzle trees situated in the SE postcode area of London. And they are all lovely.
I have been very ably assisted by Agent Dragonblaze and Agent Millwall MPT (yes, a monkey puzzle tree as an agent, proudly supporting Millwall), they have been enthusiastic monkey hunters and helped create such a rich catalogue of monkeys.
The latest find in SE is at the Brunel Museum in Rotherhithe.
The Brunel Museum is a museum in the Brunel Engine House. The Engine House was designed by Sir Marc Isambard Brunel to be part of the infrastructure of the Thames Tunnel. The Thames Tunnel is an underwater tunnel, built beneath the River Thames in London, connecting Rotherhithe and Wapping. It measures 35 feet (11 m) wide by 20 feet (6 m) high and is 1,300 feet (396 m) long, running at a depth of 75 feet (23 m) below the river surface measured at high tide.
It was the first tunnel known to have been constructed successfully underneath a navigable river, and was built between 1825 and 1843. The tunnel was originally designed for, but never used by, horse-drawn carriages. It now forms part of the London Overground railway network and remains in use today. The Engine House was built to house the drainage pumps for the tunnel and has now been restored as the museum.
During the building of the Thames Tunnel, in 1828 the Thames broke into the works and six men drowned. The same torrent of water carried young Brunel to the top of the shaft, where he was rescued and sent to Bristol to convalesce for six months. From here, he visited his grandparents from Portsmouth, who introduced him to the landscapes and seascapes of Devon and Cornwall. As a young man, he fell in love with them, and many years later, formed plans to retire there. In 1847, he bought a piece of land at Watcombe, about three miles from Torquay – he discovered the land whilst surveying for the Great Western Railway. For the next 12 years, his chief delight was planning and planting his garden here. Yes, our greatest engineer was a gardener… Sadly Brunel suffered a stroke in 1859, and died age 53, before his garden was finished.
The gardens Brunel laid out include terraces, carriageways, an Italian garden, many original trees planted by Brunel, circular seats, the remnants of a bridge and a cascade and pond. Brunel planned it all with a typically meticulous series of drawings and designs. These cover everything from plans for hydraulic engineering contraptions to drawings showing the size of the branches on the monkey puzzle trees he planted.
In laying out the gardens Brunel was helped by WA Nesfield, the greatest tree expert in Britain, advisor to the London parks and to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Assisted by Mr Nesfield, he laid out the property in plantations of choice trees. The occupation of arranging them gave him unfailing pleasure. There can be little doubt that the happiest hours of his life were spent in walking about the gardens with his wife and children, and discussing the condition and prospects of his favourite trees.
The Museum commemorates Brunel the gardener as well the engineer because, during construction of his last ship, the SS Great Eastern, Brunel was planting trees in Devon. He spent as much time there as he could, and so the monkey puzzle is a link to Brunel’s love of trees and his garden at Watcombe.
The Monkey Puzzle – SE12 – was planted at a ceremony in Brunel’s Bicentenary Year in 2006. And on Twitter @WORG – What’s On in Rotherite Group – told us that the tree was seeded from trees planted by Brunel and his wife in Devon. So, a very special monkey with a lovely story.