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History of Severn Tunnel in UK Report

Historical Development

This is an underwater tunnel that links South Gloucestershire to Monmouthshire in the UK (Fahey, 2010). South Gloucestershire is located on the west part of England while Monmouthshire is located on the southern part of wales. The tunnel construction began in March 1873.

However, the actual tunneling of this project had to wait for commencement in the year 1874. It has a length of 4 miles that have facilitated attainment of global recognition. This recognition arises because it is the longest subaquatic railway line constructed so far.

The project was managed by Thomas Walker who was a contractor of the massive project. On the other hand, Sir John Hawkshow was the engineer responsible for the development of the tunnel (Negro, 1998).

The route stretching from London to Wales was pretty valuable to the Victorians. In fact, they disregarded an alternative route and used this tunnel to enhance their trade linkages between the two places (Mitchell & Smith, 2004). There were high tides and adverse weather that affected the ferry.

These challenges made travelling tedious and risky for the travelers. The challenges became more prevalent between the two land masses that had challenging tides and weather than other sections. Consequently, the Victorians decided to build a tunnel for efficient travelling.

The Victorians were renowned engineers because they had some of the most respected engineers at the time. This implies that the Victorians were willing to undertake the ambitious process of constructing a tunnel inconsiderate of the risk involved.

However, the Victorians were not aware about the existing underground geological process. Therefore, this magnified their risks because no one else had performed a similar massive project initially. It is, therefore, apparent that the project was a trial and error option in realizing their goals.

Since the tunnel construction was commenced, workers were worried about the safety of the process due to the danger of flooding. In fact, the construction encountered a number of springs along the tunneling process that the workers had predicted. These springs were encountered in the sandstone series believed to be Pennant series and New Red series.

Thomas Walker described the incidences of this construction. In his description, Thomas anticipated that drilling through the deep-water channel would be the vital part of the project. However, this anticipation did not arise in accordance to Thomas’ predictions. In October 1879, the actual problem began when the drilling process was 130 yards away from completion.

This implies that the English shore and the Wales shore were separated by this distance. The problem appeared when the workers tampered with the underground water system termed as hitting the Severn spring by the engineer.

The hitting of the Severn Spring arose due to tampering with the underground water system by the construction works. This led to spurring of water from the spring. The report described that the engineer and the contractor differed about the exact date when this phenomenon occurred. Walker claimed that it happened on 18th October while the engineer claimed that the incident arose on 16th (Fahey, 2010).

However, the two individuals confessed about the surprise regarding the water that was oozing. They found that the water not salty. In accordance to the book, Walkers expected that the water would be salty. Also, the engineer had a similar opinion. The tunnel became flooded to river level within one day. Fortunately, there was no deaths in the tunnel.

The contractor and engineer agreed on bringing pumps to remove the flooding water from the tunnel. Although these pumps were extremely powerful, they did not manage to pump out the water from the tunnel explicitly. This was because the water that was being produced by the spring was not within the capability of pumping. The pumps had a capacity to pump at least 50 litters of water every day.

Therefore, they establish other strategies to prevent flooding. They consulted and decided to bring a diver who would help in sealing the spring (Fahey, 2010). Lambert Bravely dived into the tunnel and sealed the spring successfully. Lambert claimed that sealing the spring was tough because he had encountered many difficulties. However, the diver managed to seal the spring to a manageable level where less water was produced.

After sealing the spring completely, the work of completing the tunnel resumed. However, the engineer opted to come up with a new heading to divert from the repeat of the earlier occurrence at 180 meters from the spring point. In 19th December 1884, the workers arrived at an open joint where water had formed its entrance route. Walker did not manage to explain this issue explicitly in his book.

However, it is believed that they used this opening to connect the two landmasses. Two years later, the work was completed to service people. However, challenges from high sea tides characterized the remaining sections of the construction process.

Society and culture

There is no available formal record relating to the construction of the tunnels. However, the data relating to the localities is used to drive some of questions regarding culture and society. In Caldicot, the population increase is attributed highly to the construction work of this tunnel (Walker, 1888). The rise in population of Portskewett Parish is linked directly to the beginning of the tunnel construction.

A massive imbalance that rose sharply between the two genders justifies the sudden increase in male immigrants. This is because construction work was reserved for men at that time. Thomas Walker constructed lodges to cater for the young men hired to do the work.

The church registry avails other details that concern this setup. The marriage registry was categorical in recording the occupation of the bridegroom. In some occasion, some brides’ occupations were recorded, and the couple of fathers’ occupational records were availed. In addition, it was a common practice for the father’s occupation to be recorded in the child’s baptismal card.

However, this method faced some challenges. For instance, not all children were baptized at that time. Furthermore, some marriages did not take place in churches. The country recognized and allowed people to participate in civil marriages.

The church marriages, therefore, could not be used solely to compute the proportion of the marriages performed. Also, the church restricted scrutiny of its records to facilitate the generation of accurate figures that could be used in comparing the baptism rate and the marriage rate.

The construction officials were reasonable and sensible in relation to spiritual food for non-conformist. It is documented that nonconformist used to meet in Magor. Magor was a meeting house design for people. The meeting house had been built at Caldecott Cross in 1865. The church was built later in the year 1872. Additionally, the supervisor of the tunnel project constructed a mission hall in Sudbrook.

This mission hall hosted students in a day school. This helps to explain that many of the nonconforming tunnel workers could have resided for the entire period without being detected in the parish (Walker, 1888). From the limited information, it is also possible to derive some economic activities that were prevailing during this period. These activities were mainly construction work and agricultural works.

However, when the tunnel was under construction, tunnel workers dominated the registry. This was evidenced by the church registry that showed an increased number of marriages in those years. It became prevalent when it was compared to the years after and before the construction period.

The period between 1870 and 1890 depicted increased rate of baptism. Considerably, the average was higher during the construction years than the period before and after construction. This outlines the social setup that was evident at that period.

The church was the dominant factor that determined the way of life during this period. Moreover, nonconformists encountered rejection that was unprecedented. Although the society was embracing the civil order slowly, Walker seemed to be aware about the credible part that the church played.

Consequently, he organized accommodation for his labor force to prevent outsider from differentiating the conformists and non-conformists. The Christians were intertwined with the British culture on both sides of the tunnel. Family value through marriage was respected highly. Therefore, the inhabitants respected weddings that were solemnized in the church. Civil marriages were common to nonconformist.

Labor force

The workforce was not constant throughout the construction years. At the initial years, the workforce incorporated four hundred men who worked on fulltime bases. The number expanded over the years to a maximum value of three thousand six hundred and twenty eight people at the end of the construction. The payment records outline that $4,327.13 were used to pay for the construction expenses.

However, the total cost of the entire project was not documented. The workforce included seventy seven supervisors, one thousand six hundred and forty skilled laborers (engine drivers, carpenters, fitters and carpenters), one thousand one hundred and six laborers and two hundred and forty four boys (Walker, 1888).

There were supportive personnel who comprised of forty-five timekeepers and pay clerks. The contractor and the engineer depended on them when conducting the administrative functions.

The work was structured properly where each component of the labor force had defined roles. The excavation activities were supervised by the ganger who managed twenty-one laborers and five miners. The spoil skips were inspected by runners who ensured the punctual delivery of the excavation products.

These labor combinations were present on both sides of the tunnel where fifteen of similar units were stationed on the Monmouthshire shore. On the other hand, seventeen units were located on the Gloucestershire shore (Walker, 1888). Although this work was risky, it attracted many candidates from across the two regions. These two areas were predominated by agricultural activities.

Therefore, the young men from the regions preferred joining the construction for high salaries. This triggered high level of migration from the agricultural dominated areas.

It is documented that a shaft worker earned 110 pounds per week. The miners received a payment of 17 pounds per week. These payments were higher than the agricultural wages of 12 pounds per week at the beginning of tunnel construction and 14 pounds at the height of the tunnel.

Shafts men were the largest batch of employees at the begging of the construction. They were needed highly because they participated in excavation process that dominated the project during the initial phase. Miners took their influential roles where they were the integral part of the construction later in the project. Walker recorded that laborers were to render their services on the surface.

However, the attempt to separate their wages from other laborers working elsewhere was not executable. This is because the other workers were not needed hugely (Walker, 1888).

This is evidenced by the recording that seemed to discredit the importance of other workers who were not in the initial plan. These low rated workers included brick makers and bricklayers. This low rating was influenced by their insignificant necessity in large part of tunnel construction.

Blacksmiths played an essential role in the construction. However, they were not required in large capacities. The major role that they played involved making of ponies. Stickers, fitters, and other skilled laborers were used in multiple activities. These activities included engine operation, running the boilers, and other technical jobs that needed formal training in the engineering field.

Some carpenters were deployed to perform underground works. Their role was to make platforms in places where the miners and other underground workers performed their duties. At the mouths of the tunnels, sawyers were stationed to make timbers and shape the used logs (Fahey, 2010).

The local people, who were there before the project, were used in accumulation of the raw materials that were used to make the construction process successful. These materials included coals that were used to run the steam engines and bricks.

There were other forms of laborers who did not work directly. They were involved in providing services to the employees. They included crafts men and clergymen. The crafts assisted to construct and maintain the lodges used as residential places for the labor force. The clergymen were useful in religious functions because religion was intertwined with the way of life at that time.


The construction was done at the end of the 19 century. At this time, substantial discoveries had been revealed. Therefore, the construction was based on the existing materials. This report clarified that the information provided was limited. However, that presumption was based on the comparative bases. It compares the current knowledge about the construction to the knowledge in modern engineering.

The material science facts were relatively dependable (Fahey, 2010). The predominant materials were metals consisting of iron and steel. Also, Wood and brick were featured in large contents. In this construction, materials were featured due to their high performance in holding structures rightly. The materials were rate in accordance to the direction provided by the engineer’s guidelines.


Shafts were used in the construction processes. They were used to excavate processes. Water pumps and pipes were used to empty the tunnel. On the other hand, the rebreathe system was used to cycle the air and facilitate aeration in the tunnel. Steel rail was used to make the railway line and hold surfaces.

Gas containers (knapsack) were used to carry pure oxygen for the diver (Fahey, 2010). Woods structures, boilers, engines, coal, and valves were used to support and complement the key materials that were steels and other metals.

There were other tools used to archive the success of this project. Some of these tools included nuts, bolts, rubber seals, air pipes, fire, and among others. However, these participated in covering the minor roles. This does not depict their lack of significance. Instead, it implies that their role was limited to a small extent. However, the reporter did not document the issues explicitly.

Construction of the tunnel

The construction of the tunnel was credible in accordance to the prevailing knowledge. It was constructed using untested methodologies because undersea mining had not been developed. Therefore, completing the tunnel was an adorable achievement. However, despite the challenges faced, the methods proved viable for future construction work. Although the project had experienced initial resistance, it turned out to be successful.

Building Imagination

If the tunnel was to be built today, there would be many technological and labor changes. First, there have been many geological discoveries. These discoveries would have prevented worker from hitting the spring. The underground water pathways have been studied well in the modern world.

Consequently, it would be possible to avoid the demises presented in this case. Probably, the diver would have effective underwater swimming gadgets. For instance, it has been discovered that pure oxygen is harmful to the body. The oxygen used by the diver could have killed him due to its purity.

Legal requirements would have prevented boys from being included in the labor. Child labor has been refuted throughout the globe by legal acts. The wages would have been higher than the amount provided during the Severn construction. This is due to the risk undertaken when the drilling of the tunnel.

The labor unions would push for risk allowances and insurance covers for the employees. The safety of the miners would have been easy and less risky. This is valid because the engineering knowledge has devised ways of conducting underground and undersea mining.

Blacksmiths would have elaborate equipment’s to make accurate, reliable and efficient working tools. The shaping of these metallic materials would be easier than the ones presented in this case.

This is due to the prevailing mechanization that specializes in tunnel building processes. Lighting in the tunnel would have been possible as opposed to working in darkness. This has been practiced in the modern tunnel engineering. In the modern world, tunnels are methods of enhancing rail and road network.

The cost load of the project would have been lower than it was in the Severn tunnel. Development of mechanization, highly qualified workforce, reasonable experience in handling similar projects, and liberation of the market would save on numerous cost that were associated to these factors. Social and cultural landscapes would have been easy to document and keep that record for future analysis.

Despite progress in the agricultural sector, the construction of the tunnel would have affected the sector in the same manner. This is because the agricultural sector is paying lower wages than the construction sector. In addition, extremely few people have been engaged in agriculture due to its inferiority.

This has facilitated the young people to venture into technical fields, such as engineering, that are more appealing to society than agriculture. It is, therefore, verifiable that there are differences and similarities expected in case the tunnel was being constructed in the modern environment.

Works Cited

Fahey, M. The Severn Crossings Toll. London: The Stationery Office, 2010. Print.

Mitchell, Vic, and Keith Smith. Swindon to Newport. Midhurst: Middleton Press, 2004. Print.

Negro, Arsenio. Tunnels and metropolises: proceedings of the World Tunnel Congress ’98 on Tunnels and Metropolises. Rotterdam: A.A. Balkema, 1998. Print.

Negro, Arsenio. Tunnels and metropolises. Rotterdam: Balkema, 1998. Print.

Walker, Thomas Andrew. The Severn tunnel: its construction and difficulties, 1872-1887. London: R. Bentley, 1888. Print.

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