The Severn Tunnel/Chapter 12
THE MEN BY WHOM THE WORK WAS DONE.
Progress of the work—1886.At the head of these must be placed, of course, the chief engineer, Sir John Hawkshaw.
It would be presumptuous of me to say much about Sir John himself, or to speak of his vast experience, and the name he had made in connection with the great works he had carried out.
I had the honour of working under him on the East London Railway, continuing Brunel’s original Thames Tunnel under the London Docks, through Wapping, Shadwell, Whitechapel, to join the Great Eastern Railway—a work where the difficulties met with were second only to those encountered in the Severn Tunnel.
I also carried out for Sir John and Mr. J. Wolfe Barry, in 1883 and 1884, the completion of the inner circle of the metropolitan railways in London, by the construction of the City lines from the Mansion House Station to the Tower.
Born in 1810, Sir John was seventy-six years of age when the tunnel was completed.
Progress of the work—1886. He was constant in his visits to the works, and when there made the most minute and particular inspection of every part of them, riding in a skip-trolley, or walking through the headings, dressed in miner’s costume, and keeping the most wonderful run of all the details of every particular part of the works in his head.
His son and partner, Mr. J. Clarke Hawkshaw, took, under Sir John, the principal charge of the works. His visits were of course more frequent than Sir John’s, and every ordinary question with reference to the works was brought before him by the resident engineer.
Mr. Harrison Hayter, the third partner in the firm of Hawkshaw, Son, and Hayter, arranged all the details of the contract when it was first entered into; and during Mr. Clarke Hawkshaw’s absence in South America from the beginning of September, 1885, to the end of January, 1886, Mr. Hayter had, at a very difficult time, to enter upon the charge of the works, and to work out the details of the new pumping machinery and steam-power to be provided to pump the Great Spring.
The originator of the scheme for constructing a tunnel under the Severn, Mr. Charles Richardson, was born on the 29th August, 1814. He was the third son of Mr. Richard Richardson, of Capenhurst Hall, in Cheshire, a well-known landowner in those parts, and Deputy-Lieutenant for the county, and Chairman of the Quarter Sessions at Knutsford.
|Engraved by W. H. Gibbs from a photograph by Window & Grove|
He died in 1820. Mr. Charles Richardson, after leaving Edinburgh University, became a pupil of Mr. Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1834. He set out a good part of the Great Western Railway at the Bristol end, and put down the trial shafts on the Box Tunnel; but his first engagement on a public work was in the Thames Tunnel, under Sir M. I. Brunel, the father of Mr. I. K. Brunel.
In 1838 he undertook the supervision and setting out of the line from Swindon to Cirencester, and was afterwards resident on the Stroud Valley Railway, where he built his first equilibrated arch from his own design, under a trackway of 1 in 2⁹⁄₁₀.
M. A. G. Luke was the resident engineer under Messrs. Hawkshaw, Son, and Hayter. Mr. Luke was at the works from 1st January, 1881, up to their entire completion. He had to superintend the whole of the setting out, to keep all the accounts of the work done, and to make innumerable designs for new works required to meet emergencies. I can say that, in a long experience on public works, I have never known a resident engineer more cautious or painstaking, more anxious to protect the interests of the Company, and at the same time pleasant to transact business with.
Progress of the work—1886. Several younger engineers were employed under Mr. Luke as assistants; but perhaps the most remarkable character on Sir John’s staff was his chief inspector, Mr. Isaac Jackson.
Mr. Jackson had been with Sir John Hawkshaw for a great many years, and Sir John had great confidence in him. A thoroughly practical man he was, able to go into every detail, and to keep every department in proper working order, the terror of any of the men who tried to deceive him. He was now and then known to give way to a little temper, when it was as well to give him as wide a berth as possible.
He had been inspector for Sir John Hawkshaw on the East London Railway, through all the most difficult part of the work; and after ten years’ knowledge of him, I believe that no man could be found of sounder practical judgment in his department than Mr. Jackson—willing to assist in any proper way, fertile in expedients, but determined to have things done properly, and his orders carried out to the letter.
Mr. Jackson had at one time eight other inspectors working under his orders, so that the execution of the work was carefully looked after.
To come to my own staff. This contract, being an exceptionally heavy one, was not entrusted to the charge of an agent with more or less independent authority; for, considering the magnitude and Progress of the work—1886. the anxieties of the work, I had determined to live as near to it as possible, and to keep the principal charge of it in my own hands.
My first lieutenant was Mr. F. R. Kenway. At the time the tunnel works were commenced by me, Mr. Kenway had been with me seven years on several railway contracts, the last of which were the East London and the Dover and Deal railways.
The post of first lieutenant at the Severn Tunnel was something like the post of first lieutenant on board a line-of-battle ship, with a good deal of responsibility, and a vast amount of detail to attend to; but as the other heads of departments, engineering machinery and works were men thoroughly competent to carry out their own parts, this labour was considerably lightened to him.
Mr. A. O. Schenk was chief of my engineering staff, and was responsible for all the setting out, a work which he performed in a manner most highly creditable to him. Giving the lines in a tunnel is always a difficult operation, and requires great care. In the Severn Tunnel the difficulties were much greater than in an ordinary tunnel.
Mr. Schenk had been a pupil of Sir William Armstrong’s, and was therefore a thoroughly mechanical, as well as civil engineer. His assistance in the mechanical department was often of the greatest value, and his application of compressed air to the pumps for lowering the heading proved a perfect success; and some of the setting out was really extraordinary.
Progress of the work—1886. I have stated before that there were about 1,500 ‘lengths’ in the whole tunnel, and under the river the tunnel is straight for about 2¾ miles; and though these separate lengths were put in from more than forty different ‘break-ups,’ connected by small headings, it is impossible to detect any deviation from the straight line upon the work that has been executed.
At 5.4 the pumping-shaft, about 45 feet to the south of the tunnel, was built from the bottom, from a centre point given by Mr. Schenk, which was set out from the tunnel through a small heading, and proved to be perfectly true with the shaft as set out from above; but the following was the most extraordinary piece of ‘setting out’ executed by Mr. Schenk: The original pumping-shaft at Sudbrook had been tubbed with iron, and three large pumps were fixed in it. When the 5-feet barrel-drain was completed to the new shaft, a heading on a sharp irregular curve was driven, and the bottom of the Iron Pit was excavated, with a roof of about 10 feet of rock between it and the bottom of the pumps, the pumps being constantly at work. A careful survey was made from the 5-feet barrel to find the centre of the Iron Pit. A point was fixed by Mr. Schenk, the lower part of the shaft built; and when a hole was broken through the roof into the Iron Pit, the point given did not vary one inch from the true centre-line of the shaft.
Mr. J. H. Simpson, who was chief of the Progress of the work—1886. mechanical department, had been with me for about fourteen years before the Severn Tunnel contract was entered into. Thoroughly careful and painstaking, it was amusing to try to pin Mr. Simpson to a promise to finish anything by a given date. He certainly had not the same opinion of the value of time as men of this generation are supposed to have. ‘Slow but sure’ was his motto, and not a bad motto either on such works.
The principal foreman on the Monmouthshire side was Joseph Talbot.
Joe came to me from some works abroad in the year 1865. He carried out a large part of the Metropolitan District Railway, doing the work from Gloucester Road Station to South Kensington, and afterwards doubling the South Kensington Station. He also did the works in front of Somerset House on the Thames Embankment. He was for some time on docks, then did the heaviest part of the East London Railway, and afterwards the tunnel on the Dover and Deal Line.
He was born in a tunnel on the South-Eastern Railway, not far from Dover, and has been engaged on tunnel-work all his life up to the present time. His father was a good miner before him, and five of his brothers also followed the same occupation.
Thoroughly at home in all that a miner had to do, the only complaint he ever made was against the hardness of the ground. He once gave it as his Progress of the work—1886. deliberate judgment that no tunnels ought to be made in hard ground; they ought to be made only where the ground was soft.
Joe, of course, was first in exploring everything. He was the first to go through the Shields into the western heading, the day before he took Mr. Clarke Hawkshaw and me up the same heading. He was first up the long heading when the water was out, and brought me back a mile in the dark, when our lights went out on my first trip up, saying, ‘Put your hand on my shoulder; I can go along all right in the dark.’ He was first up the heading after the ‘panic,’ and though he could see nothing then to alarm him, took the wise precaution of shutting the door in the head-wall before he returned. He generally was the one chosen to act as guide to strangers visiting the works, and I think there are very few visitors to the underground workings who will not remember ‘Joe;’ and I have no doubt he often has a quiet laugh to himself when he recalls the adventures of some of them. On one occasion two ladies expressed a wish to go through a certain part of the workings.
‘You’ll find it rather wet,’ said Joe.
‘Oh! we do not mind that,’ they said; ‘we have come prepared to get wet.’ And so they had, as far as regards water falling from the roof, being equipped in miners’ donkey-jackets and sou’wester hats; but they little thought they would have to wade through two feet of water for some Progress of the work—1886. distance! which they did pluckily, rather than turn back.
On the occasion of the visit of the mechanical engineers, Joe had quietly arranged that they should not go away without some idea of what blasting was like underground. A favourable spot being chosen in one of the ‘break-ups,’ about fifty holes were drilled, charged, and pinned all ready for firing at a given signal. The miners, being in the secret, were all quietly at work while the visitors were filing past; but as soon as the last of them had reached the safety point, each miner lit his fuse and ran, and the result was as successful as Joe could have wished. The fuses having been cut in various lengths, so as to give the effect of a bombardment, and the tunnel having been completed except just at this particular ‘break-up,’ the sound echoed and re-echoed along it to such an extent as to startle the most experienced of the underground travellers; and I think some of the younger ones were not sorry when the next shaft was reached, and they could get into the open air again, and get the ringing sound out of their ears.
The principal foreman on the Gloucestershire side was John Price. Price always said he was not a Welshman, but a Shropshire man. However, I think that matter is a little doubtful. He had also been at work through the Metropolitan and the Metropolitan District Railways, and was on the East Progress of the work—1886. London Railway when it was opened in 1876. The line was nearly ready for the Government inspection, and I was walking over it with Price, when he tripped over a board that lay upon the permanent way, and falling with his knee across the edge of a sleeper, split his knee-cap, which left him slightly lame ever since.
Whether from this or what other reason I do not know, he took to reading more than men of his stamp generally do, and being experienced in tunnelling and intelligent, he pushed his way forward more rapidly than others, and was able to take higher positions.
He carried out his part of the work in the most efficient manner, and with great rapidity, so that in November, 1884, I was able to remove him to another contract before the whole of the works of the Severn Tunnel were completed.
Second in position on the works on the Monmouthshire side was Joe Talbot’s brother. Mat Talbot, William Cox occupying a similar position on the Gloucestershire side.
Under these men, who were called ‘walking gangers,’ there were employed, when the works were in full swing, as many as fifty gangers on the Monmouthshire side, and seventeen on the Gloucestershire side; each ganger having under him, on the average, five miners and twenty-one labourers; and in addition to these, there were the men called ‘runners out,’ who pushed the full skips from the Progress of the work—1886. headings to the point where the ponies or the wire rope were attached to them.
The greatest number of men at work at one time was 3,628.
In almost all parts of the tunnel the men, when at work, had to wear either waterproof clothing or flannels. These clothes were provided by me, and large rooms were erected at each pit-top where the men could change their clothes, and at each room there was a man on duty day and night to see to the safety of the men’s own clothes, and to superintend the drying of the wet garments.
The average amount per week earned by the miners, taking into account all lost time, was £1 18s., and by the labourers £1 7s. 6d.
All the work except the brickwork was done ‘day-work,’ i.e., the men were paid by the day or hour.
The brickwork was done ‘piece-work,’ the tunnel being divided between two sub-contractors, Mr. Stephen Morse doing that portion which was under J. Talbot, and Mr. Edward Silverton that portion which was under J. Price.
At one time there were employed in taking account of the time made by the men, seven timekeepers by day, and five by night; and at the same period seven pay-clerks were employed, whose duty it was to make up the pay-books, and pay the men every Saturday. The pay was made at seven different places, in order to divide the men into gangs of Progress of the work—1886. resonable size, and to save them from walking long distances for their money.
The men who were on the night-shift, which on Saturdays commenced at 2 o’clock, were paid first, from 12 o’clock to 1 o’clock, after which the dat-shift were paid.
As many as thirteen assistants were employed in the engineering department, and thirteen clerks in the accountant’s office.
The amount paid in wages to day-work men in the largest pay, on Dec. 21st, 1884, was £4,72 13s. 9d. There were about 3,100 men on the pay book.
|Per hour.||10 hours per day.|
In addition to the day-work men about 500 bricklayers and labourers were emplopyed during the same week upon brickwork, which was done ‘piece-work,’ as before stated.
Progress of the work—1886. No less than 76,400,000 bricks were used in the construction of the tunnel and bridges.
These bricks were vitrified bricks, from the Cattybrook Brick Company, near New Passage, on the Bristol and South Wales Union Railway; from the Fishponds and Bedminster Company, near Bristol; from Staffordshire; and from our own brick-yard, near the Five-mile-four-chain Shaft
The quantity from each is as follows :
The quantity of Portland cement used on the works was 36,794 tons, the whole of which was brought from the Medway or the Thames, some by water to Newport, some by water direct to a wharf at the tunnel, but the greater part of it came by rail from Brentford, to which place it was carried in barges up the Thames.
The tonite used for blasting purposes amounted to about 250 tons, and several magazines had to be erected for the safe storage of this and other explosives.
The minimum quantity of water pumped when dealing with the Big Spring was 23 million gallons daily; the maximum quantity 30 millions. For more than a year the average quantity pumped daily was 24 million gallons.
Progress of the works—1886. To give some idea of this immense quantity of water: It is sufficient to supply a town about the size of Liverpool or Manchester, and is about one-sixth of the quantity daily consumed in London. In one year it would form a lake about 1000 acres in extent and 10 yards deep. The total pumping power provided—66 million gallons per day, about half the supply of London—would form in one year a lake nearly 3000 acres in extent and 10 yards deep.
All the water pumped from the Severn Tunnel during the time it was under construction would form a lake about 3 miles square and 10 yards deep.
The first passenger-train from London to South Wales passed through the Tunnel on July 1, 1887. Not the slightest hitch has occurred in the working, and the speed of the trains has often been as much as a mile a minute. The ventilation has been perfect, and the relief to the traffic between South Wales and the South-West of England has been very sensibly felt. No doubt this traffic—with the accommodation afforded by the Tunnel—will be greatly increased.
A considerable amount of the Severn Tunnel traffic for the south of England passes over the main line between Bath and Bristol, and thence on to the Salisbury line, which joins the main line at Bathampton. To provide for this traffic large sidings are being constructed near Bristol, and between Bristol and Bathampton a number of refuge Progress of the work—1886. sidings have lately been made, into which a goods train can be shunted quickly. A few refuge sidings have also been made between Bathampton and Trowbridge.
Sir Daniel Gooch, when speaking at the general meeting of the Great Western Railway Company, held at Paddington, on February 10th, 1888, said: ‘With regard to the Severn Tunnel, many of you gentlemen have passed through it, and it is going on as well as we can possibly expect. In fact, the traffic has now become so large that it is more than we can handle, particularly the goods and coal traffic, and we are at the present moment making arrangements for putting the block system in the Tunnel itself, so as to divide it into lengths. The distance between the two blocks is now 8 miles; we are dividing that into three intermediate blocks to enable us to get the traffic through it. We keep no separate account of the traffic which passes through the Tunnel, as that would be a troublesome and expensive operation. But I am glad to say that the tendency is to show that the traffic through the Tunnel is increasing very largely indeed. We have no difficulty with the Tunnel; it is working exceedingly well.’
No surer testimony than this, or from a higher authority, could be given of the success of the Severn Tunnel.