We celebrate five of our favourite Great Britons, who have made extraordinary contributions not just to Britain, but worldwide – from medicine to fashion, and everything in between.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel
Born in Portsmouth in 1806, Isambard Kingdom Brunel was an English civil engineer considered one of the most important figures in engineering history and of the Industrial Revolution. He built dockyards, the Great Western Railway, the first propeller-driven transatlantic steamship, and the first tunnel under a navigable river (the Thames). He was also responsible for numerous bridges – perhaps, most famously, the dramatic Clifton Suspension Bridge, which spans the River Avon and links Bristol to North Somerset, providing breath taking views across the Avon Gorge.
Stay nearby to Bristol at Bath’s Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa (45 mins).
Dame Vivienne Westwood
Dame Vivienne Westwood, born in 1941 in Tintwhistle, Cheshire, is an English fashion designer responsible for bringing modern punk fashions into the mainstream. The revolutionary designer first came to public attention when she designed clothes for the King’s Road boutique owned by Malcolm McLaren – manager of punk bands the Sex Pistols and the New York Dolls – which synthesised clothing and music and shaped the 1970s UK punk scene. Westwood opened shops in London, eventually expanding across the UK and around the world. Much of her merchandise promotes her many political causes, such as climate change and civil rights. Her designs are known for their rebel aesthetic and edginess, featuring tartan, metal chains and safety pins.
Stay nearby at The Chester Grosvenor, Cheshire
English mathematician Alan Turing was highly influential in the development of theoretical computer science. Developing the Turing machine, he devised the concepts of algorithm and computation, and is widely considered to be the father of artificial intelligence. During WWII, he worked for the Government’s codebreaking centre at Bletchley Park, playing a crucial role in cracking intercepted messages that enabled the Allies to defeat the Nazis, shortening the war in Europe by more than two years and saving an estimated 14 million lives. Tragically, Turing was prosecuted in 1952 for homosexual acts, and died in 1954 of cyanide poisoning in a suspected suicide. In 2009, an official public apology was made by PM Gordon Brown on behalf of the British government, and in 2017 the unofficially named ‘Alan Turing law’ was passed, retroactively pardoning men convicted under such historical legislation. Today, he is rightly recognised as a true hero, and has recently been revealed as the figure on the new £50 note.
Stay at Bedford Lodge Hotel & Spa in Newmarket, a 30-minute drive from Cambridge where Turing attended King’s College Cambridge.
Dame Millicent Fawcett
Dame Millicent Fawcett was an inspirational feminist and politician. From 1897 to 1919, Fawcett led Britain’s largest women’s rights association, the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. One of her key beliefs was education for women, and she tried to broaden women’s chances of higher education, serving as a governor of Royal Holloway University and co-founding Newham College, Cambridge. In 2018, Fawcett became the first woman honoured by a statue in Parliament Square.
Stay at The Swan at Lavenham in Suffolk, an hour’s drive from the coastal town of Aldeburgh, where Millicent Fawcett was born.
Known as ‘the father of immunology’, English physician and scientist Edward Jenner is credited with pioneering the concept of vaccines. Jenner created the world’s first vaccine, for smallpox, in 1796, after he observed that milkmaids who previously had caught cowpox did not catch smallpox and showed that inoculated vaccinia protected against inoculated variola virus. His work is said to have saved more lives than the work of any other humans. Jenner was born in Berkeley, Gloucestershire, where he returned to in 1773 to practice family medicine. The village of Berkeley is home to Dr Jenner’s House, Museum & Garden, which tells his story and celebrates the ongoing legacy of this pioneering scientist who changed the world.
Stay at Calcot & Spa, near Tetbury in Gloucestershire, a 30-minute drive from Berkeley.