The Channel Tunnel
by Barbara Lewis Webb
With the opening of the
Channel Tunnel a few years ago, we are apt to forget how long this idea
had been exercising the imaginations of engineers and others. It was
certainly to my great surprise, when looking through the Carmarthen
Journal for 1874, to find that the Channel Tunnel was even then a
In the Journal for September 11 1874, the Editor wrote, in his usual
'The visions of one generation became realities of another, and the dreams
of a Channel Tunnel which for 40 years have perturbed the minds of
engineers, are at last assuming something like definite form, and seem to
be changing into a palpable existence.'
A committee of promoters had been formed, including Sir John Hawkshaw and
Mr. Brunlees (no doubt well-known figures in their day) and under their
direction the project had been formulated which was 'simple and
intelligible': a horizontal tube was to be bored through the grey chalk 'a
mass of strata 500 ft. thick and impervious to water'. Soundings and
samples had been taken and a complete geological chart constructed from
the data. The projected line was from St. Margaret's Bay (near Dover) to a
point nearly midway between Calais and Sangatte. 'The promoters knowing
the cost of the tunnel railway will be ten times that of an ordinary one …
seek to levy fares to say five times the French rates.'
The financial arrangements, however, left a good deal to be desired, as so
often happens with great ideas which need much hard practical thought to
be brought to fruition.
The project was to be carried out by a French and an English company, each
company to contribute £80,000 to preliminary engineering works. £60,000
had already been promised by the French but the English company had so far
not added to the original £30,000 subscribed in 1872. But the Editor of
the Journal expressed the view that the English company's share of the
preliminary total was expected to be subscribed privately. It was probably
because these rather hopeful expectations were not fulfilled that the
project then foundered.
Readers of the Carmarthen Journal in 1874 would no doubt have been amazed
to learn that it took until nearly the end of the 20th century before the
Channel Tunnel became a reality.