Tag Archives: channel tunnel

50 objects 18: Perceived effect of the Channel Tunnel on tourism

Amongst the opposition faced by supporters of the Channel Tunnel was the idea that the easier crossing would have a detrimental effect on tourism and related economies in Britain; that, for instance, families from the north of England would holiday in northern France rather than on the south coast of England and so the hotel trade would suffer.

In the late 1920s, a sub-committee of the Channel Tunnel Parliamentary Committee contacted businesses involved in UK tourism to ask for their views on the Tunnel, in particular whether it would help or hinder their business.

Letter showing summary of bodies in favour and against

Letter showing summary of bodies in favour and against

The Channel Tunnel archive holds three files of this correspondence, annotated in blue pencil by the committee, and divided into “in favour”, “against”, and “neutral”. While the majority of the letters are short and business-like, the collection as a whole reflects an intriguing range of attitudes to the Tunnel and to tourism.

The tone ranges from terse to discursive, from uninterested to fiercely invested, and some letters go beyond the tourism issue and investigate other aspects of the Tunnel.

One of the longest and most eloquent letters in the “against” section, pictured below, reasons that not only would the Tunnel be detrimental to the  hotel trade, but it would also lead to problems with foot and mouth disease, with a knock-on negative impact on farming; the shipping industry would also suffer, and “with our glorious traditions of the sea, it would not look well for Britons to enter the Continent by a rat-hole.”

Letter against the Channel Tunnel

Letter against the Channel Tunnel

Selections from letters on all sides of the question

Selections from letters on all sides of the question


50 objects 3: Military aspects of the Channel Tunnel

The Channel Tunnel: military aspect of the question. Important address by Rt. Hon Lord Sydenham of Combe.

The idea for the Channel Tunnel was first mooted in 1802, and a brief history of it is set out here and here. Feelings ran high on both sides of the debate, and the Channel Tunnel Association Archive gives an insight into not just the scientific, political, and financial processes involved, but also the personalities and emotions.

The Channel Tunnel: Military Aspect of the Question

The Channel Tunnel: Military Aspect of the Question

“Military aspect of the question” is a case in point. Lord Sydenham of Combe – the first and last bearer of that title – was a military strategist. He served with the Royal Engineers and later became Secretary of the Committee of Imperial Defence, and published widely. This is the transcript of his address and the discussion afterwards by Members of Parliament, in the summer of 1914. While facts and theories involving national defence are discussed, the transcript also shows the pride those present took in the Royal Navy, and their belief that the Navy could rise to any occasion; and there are poignant mentions of England’s friendship with France, and their anticipated future of peace.

Objections to the tunnel on security and defence grounds had been made a number of times. The chairman of the meeting reported here, in introducing the speaker and the Channel Tunnel background, noted “it is the military question alone which has for upwards of thirty years prevented the carrying out of this great scheme.”

Pamphlets addressing military aspects of Channel Tunnel

Pamphlets addressing military aspects of Channel Tunnel

Lord Sydenham dismisses the tunnel as a cause for anxiety as a breach of security, showing various ways in which the tunnel could be rendered unusable if taken over by an enemy force, mentioning the advantages it could provide for troop movement during warfare, and ending triumphantly “I hope I have been able to show that there are no valid military objections”.

On tunnels and female freedom fighters: archives inspire local writers

Guest post by Emma Filtness, Creative Writing Tutor

Over the course of this academic year, I have run two more writing workshops with Brunel’s Special Collections. The first involved a session with the Creative Writing class from the Brunel Arts Centre – a mix of staff, students and members of the public – the second with the London Borough of Hillingdon’s Creative Writing group based at Uxbridge Library.

The participants spent an evening browsing a selection of materials from across the collections. The materials were introduced by Katie Flanagan, Special Collections Librarian, who provided the writers with some information on the specific item and the archive or collection it was from, including entries from The Burnett Archive of Working-Class Autobiogrpahies, editions of the Ladies’ Home Journal from the 1940s and 1950s, items from the South Asian Diaspora Arts Archive (SADAA) and books and memorabilia from the Channel Tunnel Association collection. Participants then picked an item that particularly appealed to them and used it as a springboard for creativity, producing poems, short stories and articles in response to the item they chose.

All our own workA poem and a short story inspired by materials in the collections were recently in an anthology on display as part of the All Our Own Work exhibition at Brunel’s Beldam Gallery.

Memory is a poem by Viraj Chouhan, an Anthropology Master’s student, inspired by an article in issue 18 of Outwrite, a feminist newspaperfrom the South Asian Diaspora Arts Archive. “It described the plight of Zimbabwe’s female freedom fighters who had participated in the guerrilla struggle for independence from white colonial rule,” said Viraj, speaking about the article that inspired his poem. “Soon after achieving an independent state, they were somewhat spurned by society, particularly older women who were loathe to let their sons marry these strong-willed girls.”

TunnelsOubliette is a short story by Joseph Norman, an English PhD student and Brunel staff member. His story was inspired by The History of Tunnels by Patrick Beaver in the Channel Tunnel Association archive. “If I’m honest,” said Joseph, “I judged the book initially by its cover: for this edition, a wonderfully gloomy photograph of workers down a coal-mine. This image spoke to me of hardship and toil in an environment largely unfamiliar to myself, and – allowing my imagination to stray somewhat – with connotations of mystery and buried secrets. Flicking through, I isolated key words and phrases that caught my attention. I was struck by the variety of uses that tunnels have had throughout history, but more by the small details of life underground. Most important of the phrases that I chose was “an underground global system to connect the major cities of the Earth,” which forms the premise of my story. During the workshop I wrote a very loose and rambling first-person account of one man’s time working underground. Later I used this as a basis for a dystopian narrative of a man enticed into working underground, seeing the work as an escape from a suggested traumatic past. This gave me plenty of scope to play with metaphors linking tunnels and digging with remembrance and forgetting.”


Tunnel turns twenty

A blog post by Joanne Mcphie, Graduate Trainee, Library.

It could come as a surprise to know that our modern miracle of engineering, the Channel Tunnel, actually started out as a twinkle in an engineer’s eye over two hundred and twelve years ago. The speedy journey from London to Paris that we enjoy today might cause you to forget the painstakingly slow build up to the official beginning of transit on the 6th May 1994. This process can be seen in the huge collection of documents in our Channel Tunnel Association Archive, which contains everything from the details of engineer’s reports to the splendour of the Opening Day memorabilia and the overview of monographs on the history.

© Copyright Groupe Eurotunnel

© Copyright Groupe Eurotunnel

The history of the Tunnel is one of frustrated schemes and historical disruptions. Frenchman Albert Mathieu first suggested a passageway between France and England in 1802. While he had the vision, he hadn’t really considered the practicalities of such a plan and thought a tunnel could be dug through the soft chalk under the sea bed with horse-drawn stagecoaches passing through. Subsequently, though Napoleon Bonaparte was receptive to the idea initially, war between the two nations disrupted any permanent connections.

Progress continued in this stop and start vein for almost the next two hundred years. A second plan was envisioned in 1830 by another Frenchman,Thome de Gamond, who spent the next thirty years sketching maps for it, but it wasn’t until 1868 that a proper committee between the two nations was formed.

Thome de Garond's 1856 plan to cross the Channel

Following quickly (by Tunnel standards) in 1872 The Channel Tunnel Company was registered, but it was to remain largely ineffectual as it had no funding to complete research. Ground was broken in 1878-9 on both sides of the Channel, but the attempt was abandoned due to fears of French soldiers marching through the tunnel to conquer England. Although there were a few more efforts at generating interest, serious plans were not resuscitated until after the First World War. Strangely, while fears of invasion had quashed earlier endeavours, it was a belief that the Tunnel would have shortened WW1 and given the Allies an advantage that gave rise to another Parliament vote in 1930. The thought was that it would have been an excellent supply corridor, impervious to naval barrage. 1921 Booklet recommending the Tunnel

However, it was not until 1953 that military protestations were relaxed enough to seriously consider the scheme. In 1964 both the French and British government agreed that the Tunnel would be a good idea and to look into the costing and technical issues. Work began in 1970 to a mixed report in the press, but it became apparent that the cost of the Tunnel would be too high and it stopped in 1975. In 1984 the decision was taken that private investors had to be found. This opened the way for commercial companies like Eurotunnel to bid and the Tunnel became the profitable venture we know today, finally opening officially in May 1994.

The Channel Tunnel Association collection offers a comprehensive look at the history of the Tunnel, with particular information on the 1930 Parliament vote and including the papers of the Channel Tunnel Company and the Channel Tunnel Association. It includes correspondence, press cuttings articles, statistics and plans, as well as photographs and objects. 3D Tunnel PerspectiveFor more detail visit our webpage and learn more about the roots of one of Britain’s great engineering feats.


Next week…

we’ll be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the official opening of the Channel Tunnel by the Queen and President Mitterand on 6th May.

Look out for our display on the ground floor of the library, featuring images of items from the official opening.

 Further details about our Channel Tunnel Association Archive are available on our webpage, and there is a description of the collection on Archives Hub. Look out for further updates on our blog next week!

Marcus the mole

Recently we received a donation of four issues of Tunnel Express to add to our Channel Tunnel Association ArchiveTunnel Express is aimed at children, featuring Marcus the mole as a guide to the world of tunnels. All four issues were published in 1988, the year that construction finally began on the Channel Tunnel. The magazines feature quizzes, games and information about tunnelling animals, and the tunnel itself. It obviously got a great response from teachers, as the second issue features letters and drawings sent in by schools who had read the first issue.


© Copyright Groupe Eurotunnel

Tunnel Express isn’t the only item in Special Collections aimed at children. Marcus the mole also features in a book in the Channel Tunnel Association Archive called The Tunnel. In it Marcus wants to meet up with his cousin Pierre, who lives in France. Between them they come up with the idea of digging a tunnel and, combating the monsters under the sea bed, as well as le Rat-Bureaucrate and Techno-Rat, along the way, their tunnels finally meet. Published in 1993, the year before the Tunnel was officially opened, the book is a fun way to get children reading both English and French.

DSC00362Other children’s book in this collection aren’t fictional! The story of tunnels is aimed at children, but features information and illustrations from tunnelling organisations, and is quite serious, including an index and detailed diagrams.

TunnelsThese aren’t the only children’s books in our collections. You can find out more by searching the library catalogue.

Ever heard of a passenveyor?

A blog post by Nigel Buckley, graduate trainee 2012-2013, who catalogued the Channel Tunnel Association Archive over the summer.

Model of the passenveyor

Model of the passenveyor

I must confess a dirty secret: I’m a Channel Tunnel enthusiast. You need to believe me when I say I’m struggling to accept it myself. It’s very new to me, and I assure you all that if you spend even a few hours with this collection you will look at tunnels and trains, maybe even planes or just transport in general, in a whole new iridescent light. Modes of transport are fascinating things: I recently moved to South London where the air is full of planes circling around, treating the space above the houses and gardens like their car park, waiting for a place to pull in. Around this area it is easy to spend whole afternoons admiring the giant iron wonders of construction and precision in the sky, and their unimaginable ability to stay afloat on the particles of oxygen, nitrogen etc… So that’s my confession – but believe me; I haven’t always been this way.

Why do I love the tunnel so much now? Well, it’s the tenacity and determination of people, since 1802, who (sorry for the cliché) dared to dream. Mr. Albert Mathieu, a French engineer, proposed the construction of a tunnel, linking France with England, through the chalk under the Channel and using an artificial island on the Varne Bank to provide oxygen for horses and really just a pleasant resting stop. However this was largely impractical because Mathieu had little idea about construction and didn’t understand the geology at work under the sea bed. Napoleon, however, kind of liked the idea as a symbol of the friendship of the two countries during the Peace of Amiens. However, he had to scrap it when all hell broke loose yet again.

 The following year an Englishman called Mottray suggested that a submerged tube would maybe be a better idea but all plans were short lived because hostilities were high. It wasn’t until 1872 that the Channel Tunnel Company was born in London and it took until 1878 for tunnelling to commence due to lack of funds. Tunnelling began on both sides of the Channel, at Sangatte and Shakespeare Cliff near Dover. Work was halted in 1882, when the tunnel had reached 2,000 yards under the sea, because military strategists imagined a French army marching while the English were defenceless on the over side of the tunnel.

 Plans in the early years of the twentieth century had to be postponed due to the First World War, but during the 1920s the project was revived but ultimately not passed in parliament in 1930, despite a Royal Commission turning out in favour. It was in the 1970s that real work began but by 1975 work was abandoned due to escalating costs and not until 1984 did it begin again thanks to funding from Eurotunnel.


Not everyone was thrilled with the prospect of the tunnel, it was, of course, quite pricey and some groups had their own interests to think about. Here’s a funny (well, I think so!) poster from Flexilink, an organisation specialising in road transport.

But, building the Channel Tunnel did lead to excellent investment in the infrastructure of London: the Victoria Line (my personal favourite) was built to handle the large number of people needing to travel between north and south London.

Oxford Circus

 Among the collection can be found very serious items, detailing the construction and engineering of tunnels and ticket halls, as well as military reports.

But there are also whimsical, interesting and charming moments of relief to be had:

tale of 2 tunnels

Pay particular attention to the porter!

tale of 2 tunnels 2

In addition to the charming pieces, there are also just the out-and-out curious items.

Ever wondered what a passenveyor is?

Ever wondered what a passenveyor is?

The endSo that is just a brief introduction to the collection. There is a description available on Archives Hub, and a finding aid available in Special Collections, which details fully the contents of the archival boxes. The book collection is currently being catalogued. Come to the third floor of the library and take a look and discover something interesting. Next year (2014) will mark the twentieth anniversary of the tunnel – come and see how it all began and admire the determination of some remarkable individuals.