Site Name: Channel Tunnel - 1880 attempt
Sub Brit site visits June 1984, June 1985 & December 1988
[Source: Nick Catford]
There had been numerous proposals for a tunnel under the channel throughout the 19th Century including one by Napoleon, but the first serious attempt to build a tunnel came with an Act of Parliament in 1875 authorising the Channel Tunnel Company Ltd. to start preliminary trials. This was an Anglo French project with a simultaneous Act of Parliament in France. By 1877 several shafts had been sunk to a depth of 330 feet at Sangatte in France but initial work carried out at St. Margaret's Bay, to the east of Dover had to be abandoned due to flooding. In 1880 under the direction of Sir Edward Watkin, Chairman of the South Eastern Railway, a new shaft (No. 1 shaft) was sunk at Abbot's Cliff, between Dover and Folkestone with a horizontal gallery being driven along the cliff, 10 feet above the high water mark. This seven foot diameter pilot tunnel was eventually to be enlarged to standard gauge with a connection to the South Eastern Railway.
Photo:Inscription on tunnel wall
Photo by Nick Catford
After Welsh miners had bored 800 feet of tunnel a second shaft (No 2) was sunk at Shakespeare Cliff in February 1881. This tunnel was started under the foreshore heading towards a mid channel meeting with the French pilot tunnel.
Both tunnels were to have been bored using a compressed air boring
machine invented and built by Colonel Fredrick Beaumont MP. Beaumont
had been involved with the Channel Tunnel Company since 1874 and had
successfully bored a number of tunnels without the use of explosives
and 3 ½ times faster than manual labour. It was not however Beaumont's
boring machine that was used. Captain Thomas English of Dartford, Kent
patented a far superior rotary boring machine in 1880 capable of cutting
nearly half a mile a month and it was this not Beaumont's machine that
was used on this first attempt at tunnelling under the channel. The
tunnel was credited to Beaumont in 'The Engineer' magazine and despite
letters of protest from English the editor refused to correct the mistake
and Beaumont did nothing to clarify the situation. Even to this day
this early Channel Tunnel trial is often credited to the Beaumont machine.
Photo:The Beaumont - English boring machine
The Channel Tunnel Company expected the pilot tunnel to be completed by 1886. Sir Edward Watkin applied to the government for public funds to complete the 11 mile section to meet the French mid channel. These funds were not forthcoming so Sir Edward formed a new company, The Submarine Continental Railway Company that took over the shafts and headings from the South Eastern Railway in 1882. The company prepared a new Bill to put before Parliament but by now the government were getting worried about the military implications of a link to Europe and a new military commission heard evidence from Lieutenant General Sir Garnet Wolseley that the tunnel might be "calamitous for England", he added that "No matter what fortifications and defences were built, there would always be the peril of some continental army seizing the tunnel exit by surprise." Despite assurances from Sir Edward that the defence against invasion was adequate by flooding the tunnel, cutting of the ventilation and forcing smoke into the tunnel and cutting the cables on the lifts in the shaft thereby trapping any invader at the bottom, the commission was not convinced.
Proposed route of the tunnel
This tunnel is admirably ventilated, and on visiting days is lighted with electric lamps, the steam power at the mouth of the shaft being sufficient for all purposes. The stratum through which the experimental borings have been made is the lower grey chalk. This material, while perfectly dry, and very easily worked, is sufficiently hard to dispel any apprehensions of crumbling or falling in.
The length of the Submarine Continental Railway Company's Tunnel, under the sea, from the English to the French shore, will be twenty-two miles; and, taking the shore approaches at four miles on each side, there will be a total length of thirty miles of tunneling. The shaft goes down to the beginning of the tunnel, which is here 100 feet below the surface of the sea. A heading, now three quarters of a mile long, has been driven in the direction of the head of the Admiralty Pier [Dover], entirely in the grey chalk, near its base, and a few feet above the impermeable strata formed by the gault clay
Further information and pictures about the 1880 Channel Tunnel attempt click here
[Source: Nick Catford]