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Churchill, our Science and Engineering Ambassador shares her thoughts about one of the greatest engineering feats ever carried out, The Channel Tunnel between England and France. As told to an open mouthed Magneto on the Eurostar, November 5th 2004.


We wanted it to reach from the green bit on the left to the
green bit on the right, or vice versa.

 

 THE UNTOLD TALE OF THE SCUBA DIVING BRICKIES

The Channel Tunnel is a 50.5 km-long rail tunnel beneath the English Channel at the Straits of Dover. It connects Dover, Kent in England with Calais, northern France. The undersea section of the tunnel is unsurpassed in length in the world.

A proposal for a Channel tunnel was first put forward by a French engineer in 1802. In 1881, a first attempt was made at boring a tunnel from the English side; the work was halted after 800 m for political reasons – namely the Bricklayers Union wanted a cut of the action. The Teamsters have nothing on these guys.

Again in 1922, English workers started boring a tunnel, and advanced 120 m before it too was halted for political reasons – mainly because by that point the Mortar Board had decided they wanted a slice too.

The most recent attempt was begun in 1987 after agreement was reached to not bore the tunnel but to build it in the traditional English way using bricks and mortar in the sea and then all the seawater being pumped out afterwards. Clearly the damp course would have to be up to snuff as well. The tunnel was officially opened in 1994. 

Firstly the bricks were laid by the brick layers holding their breath but this quickly became a problem. Frequently they would resurface after a few minutes and in answer to the question "how many did you lay?" they often gasped out "not many, ran out of breath". This clearly was not going to work. Our brave brickies then underwent intensive scuba training before being taught to free dive with their hod carriers and trowels. We see here in this picture the first set of recruits in basic training.

 

 

             
 

The dramatic tunnel design was created by top architect and engineer Terry Mullet-Over. We see in this detailed plan how the bricks are laid to form a  tunnel shape.                                   

 

 

It was proposed at one point to use ponies to carry the bricks and mortar and a team of equine scuba divers were assembled. Sadly it all went horribly wrong when they got too close to the French coast and were caught and eaten by French fishermen, delighted at their catch.

 

 


We see here champion free diver Alf Baxter putting the finishing touches to the tunnel, his only comment, “ This mix is a bit wet.” Shortly afterwards the water was sucked out in readiness for the rail to be laid. But that's a whole other story.

 

In researching images for this article, Magneto felt that it needed some photographs of your actual underwater brick laying and searched Google images for underwater AND bricklaying. Below is one of the images returned. Yes, it's Jesus playing football.


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