This short documentary looks at the development of the British Empire through feats of engineering. The narrative starts in 1066 with the victory of William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings. William went on to build castles across England, perhaps the most famous of which is the Tower of London. The Tower of London was considered impenetrable due to a number high walls and moat, and many prisoners of King Henry VIII were held there. Henry also sought domination over Europe, but being an island nation this necessitated a large navy. These battleships, including the famous Mary Rose, aimed to have as many guns on board as possible, and were feats of naval engineering. Guns were gradually cast from iron rather than bronze due to the cost of production, and this necessitated the development of the blast furnace. Over the next 150 years Britain’s Empire gradually expanded. The American war of independence, followed by the naval prowess of Napoleon Bonaparte in France challenged this. However, the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 confirmed their naval dominance.
England’s great engineering feat of the nineteenth century was the steam engine, powering locomotives such as Stephenson’s Rocket. Alexander Brunel’s desire for a fast, effective Great Western Railway, led to the construction of the box tunnel which cut through mountains rather than running over them. Following a fire that destroyed Westminster Palace London, Charles Berry proposed a daring design for the new houses of parliament. The clock Big Ben, constructed as part of this, was the most ambitious timepiece constructed to date.
The reign of Queen Victoria saw the development of the telegraph, which allowed messages to be sent round the world in a matter of hours. The expanding population of London necessitated the development of the modern sewerage system, designed by Joseph Bazalgette. Similarly, the imposing Tower Bridge was an innovative drawbridge solution to overcrowding crossing the river Thames.