Robert Douglas-Fairhurst

The triumphs and disasters of 1845

It was a year packed with drama – from the transatlantic crossing of the SS Great Britain to the start of the Irish potato blight that would leave millions starving

The Irish potato famine, which began in 1845, would leave approximately two million starving or displaced. [Alamy]

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times: not France in 1789, convulsed by revolution, but Britain in 1845, when the period Dickens referred to as ‘the moving age’ was in danger of spinning out of control. It was the year when the SS Great Britain, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, left Liverpool docks on the first transatlantic crossing by an iron-built steamship; the Hungerford suspension bridge (another Brunel design) opened, and a Birmingham manufacturer obtained a patent ‘for Improvements in Springs to be applied to Girths, Belts and Bandages, and Improvements in the Manufacture of...

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