TODAY is the feast day of Saint Waldetrudis a 7th-century widow who came from a family of quite astonishing holiness. Her father was Saint Walbert and her mother Saint Bertilia. Her sister was Saint Aldegundis of Maubeuge, while her husband was Saint Vincent Madelgar. She and her husband had four children, all of whom naturally became saints themselves. Having sired four saints, her husband entered an abbey, while Waldetrudis stayed in the world for two more years before seeking seclusion in a humble house where she lived in poverty and simplicity. Plagued by visits from those who wished to experience her holiness (and miracles of healing) she founded her own austere convent.
9 April, 1859: Isambard Kingdom Brunel (above), engineer and inventor, died. Brunel followed the career of his French-born father, Sir Marc Isambard Brunel. Today he is popularly regarded as the greatest of the Victorian engineers, though this reputation stems in part from his modern appeal as a visionary genius thwarted by the dull practicalities of commerce. His ideas were brave and grand. His ship, the Great Eastern, launched in 1858 and until 1899 the largest vessel ever built, never succeeded in the Atlantic passenger trade. His gauge for the track of the Great Western Railway - 7ft 1/4 ins - was never adopted by other railway companies, despite the fact that it could carry more goods and passengers than the 4ft 81/2 ins that eventually became the standard for Europe and North America as well as Britain. That gauge had no particular merit but money and progress in those days came from the industrial North rather than the rural South. Brunel, building lines to link London with the West Country, was unlucky.