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 fully-fledged project.

In the Journal for September 11 1874, the Editor wrote, in his usual high-flown style:

'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.