The Gentleman's Magazine/Volume 253/July 1882/An Improvement on the Channel Tunnel

THE merits and the demerits of the proposed Channel Tunnel were very fully discussed lately at the Society of Arts, and among other suggestions was that of Dr. Siemens, who proposes to suffocate the enemy by pouring a small rivulet of hydrochloric acid upon lumps of chalk, and thereby generating carbonic acid.

Assuming that a sufficient number of unfortunates can be found to supply the enormous capital required for digging the tunnel, I think I could improve upon the carbonic acid suffocation by a much simpler and more effectual application of chemical science. A few gallons of bromine in a glass carboy, connected with a device for breaking the bottle, would do it at once. No army could survive the resulting vapour which would be immediately given off, and would presently fill the tunnel with horrible fumes. I once spilled less than a quarter of an ounce in the midst of a class of young ladies, and we all had to make a hasty retreat, though the room in which the accident happened was a rather large one.

But this, and the carbonic acid, and the dynamite, and the floodgates, and all the other devices for killing the supposed enemy, are equally open to the objection so clearly stated by Mr. E. A. Cowper—viz., that if the arrangement is kept ready for immediate operation it may "go off" by accident at any time, and thus despatch a train or two of passengers; while, on the other hand, if it requires any elaborate preparation, it is likely to be frustrated by military vigilance.

I have been looking out for a counter project to the tunnel, expecting it to be proposed by some enterprising engineer; but, as he does not come forward, I will now propose it myself.

This is to do all the philanthropic, cosmopolitan, fraternising, and other sentimental business, so eloquently described by Sir Edward Watkin, by means of a ship canal connecting Paris with London viâ the Seine. Seeing that the carriage of pork from Chicago to Liverpool costs less than its carriage from Liverpool to London, the commercial advantages of direct water communication between the two cities would be far greater than that obtainable by any further development of the already overdone railway monopoly.

There are absolutely no difficulties in the way of such a canal, either from Folkestone or Dover, or Newhaven (for Dieppe), to London. It would be cut through soft chalk all the way, and not a single lock would be required beyond the entrance of the tidal basin that should form its mouth. Two or three short tunnels, or deep cuttings, across the Downs, are the only costly work to be done. By commencing at the sea end, all the material of the cuttings could be loaded on barges at once, carried out to sea, and then discharged; or shipped to ports where limestone is in demand. If I am not mistaken, one-half the capital required for the Channel Tunnel would suffice.

Besides communicating with Paris, such a canal would supply London with sea-water for baths and other purposes, thus covering all the conduit schemes that have from time to time been projected for this purpose.

If to Newhaven, it would open a route for all our shipping trade to the Mediterranean, to the Cape, and from London to Canada and America, by cutting off the tedious tidal journey of the river, and the dangers of the Straits of Dover, the Goodwins, &c. I have myself spent five weary days in a dipper schooner between Beachy Head and Blackwall, and vessels are sometimes detained for two or three weeks by fogs and east winds when homeward bound, or west winds when going outwards. Whole fleets are commonly to be seen lying at anchor in the Downs between the Goodwins and Deal.

I am not speaking of a petty gutter like the Paddington Canal, but a cutting worthy of the maritime greatness of Great Britain, and fit to connect its metropolis with all the southern and western regions of the world, by an unbroken water way, wide enough and deep enough for half a dozen ships to pass at once, and walled to resist the wash of screws and paddles.

On the French side, a canalisation of the Seine between Paris and Rouen, and a cut of thirty-five miles to Dieppe, would complete that route; or from Boulogne or Abbeville, the Somme and the Oise would be utilised. Compared with the existing Canal de Midi, with its ninety-nine locks, either would be but a trifle. London is on the sea-level, and Paris is a small trifle above it. The barriers between the sea and either capital are inconsiderable.

Probably the French would display no remarkable eagerness to co-operate in a scheme affording them no military advantages; but putting them aside altogether, the saving of time, tugging, pilotage, and risk on all our vast navigation to and from London viâ the Channel, would amply repay the fifty miles of chalk cutting between Newhaven and Deptford Reach.

This work was published before January 1, 1925, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.