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An Abortive Severn Tunnel

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1810, 2nd March: First reading in House of Commons of a Bill for making a tunnel under the Severn from Newnham [1]

1811 'The Tunnel now making under the Severn, about a mile on the Chepstow side Newnham, is proceeding rapidly, and with every prospect of success ; it is 13 feet high and 12 feet wide: the engine pit, through which the work is drained, is 72 feet deep, and a very excellent engine has been erected, of a twelve-horse power. —We are very sorry to state, that on Sunday last Job Tipping, a nephew of Mr. Tripping [ Robert Tipping ], the engineer who is conducting the Tunnel, while bathing in the river Severn, went beyond his depth, and was unfortunately drowned.'[2]

1812 'On Friday morning, about four o'clock, the miners employed in excavating the Tunnel under the River Severn, at Newnham, discovered a small breach, through which the water issued. This, for a moment, they conceived was occasioned by a spring; but the aperture increasing, they were instantly aware of their danger, and had barely time to be drawn up before the water filled the tunnel. This public spirited undertaking was completed to the extent of 226 yards, of the breadth of 12 feet, and 13 feet high.'[3]. Note: The river Severn is about 500 yards wide in this area.

1814 'GLOUCESTERSHIRE. STEAM ENGINE. TO BE SOLD BY PRIVATE CONTRACT, an excellent STEAM ENGINE, of full Twelve Horse Power, on Bolton and Watts' principle, in a good state of preservation, with two Boilers, one of them entirely new. Working Barrels of different sizes, Fly Wheel, and all its Gearing complete, together with the Engine House, &c. of the best materials.—-The same situate and being at the Mouth of the intended Severn Tunnel, near Newnham, in the said County, and adjoining the River Severn, from whence the same may conveyed at easy expence. For further Particulars, and to treat, apply Mr. B. Palmer, St. George’s Place, Cheltenham, who will appoint a Person to shew the same.' [4]

1828 'Tunnel under the Severn. — A Tunnel under the Severn, near Newnham, was attempted to be formed many years since. The work had not arrived at any great degree of forwardness, when the water and sand of the river broke in and completely arrested its progress. A few years previous to the commencement of this undertaking, and almost in its immediate vicinity, a small brig had been ingulphed by the sands, and remained buried for nearly seven years. On the changing of the channel, at the expiration of that period, she re-appeared, and was brought again into active service. It cannot be a matter of surprise, that a tunnel begun in such a situation failed of success.'[5]

Ron Huxley wrote[6] that tunnelling was abandoned after the 1812 flooding incident. The work on the tunnel had commenced on the west bank of the river, in a field midway between Newnham church and Bullo Pill. Here a shaft was sunk to the workings, traces of which can still be seen today, although heavily overgrown and almost filled with debris, the masonry lining is still exposed.' However, that was in 1984, and an update follows.

In 2006 Keith Walker[7] updated information he had presented in an article entitled 'The First Severn Tunnel'[8]. Regarding the remains of the tunnel, he included photographs of the collapsed tunnel engine house shaft on the Severn foreshore. This was a vertical circular shaft which was collapsing into the river. It cannot be safely seen from the adjacent riverbank, which has an unstable cliff edge. It was photographed from the river in 1980, and from the opposite (eastern) bank in 2005. The author quoted another source which identified another shaft just inland, between the shore and the railway. It was described as a 'well defined shaft mouth, about 12 ft square, masonry lined, and filled to within about 6 ft of the top.' In 1999 the shaft 'had been completely filled in, but was marked by a characteristic ring of small trees with nettle undergrowth between the trees .... Unfortunately since 1999, the field has been 'improved' and the ring of trees has been removed.' A Victorian map accompanying the article shows the tunnel engine house and a signal box located slightly north of west, and, between them is a square feature taken to be the inland shaft. Mr Walker assumes that it was used for spoil removal. Today (April 2015), there is just an isolated patch of nettles in the field at what is assumed to be the position shown of the map (there is uncertainty due to the lack of landmarks, the signalbox having gone. This end of the field is elevated. Due to spoil tipping?


1811 August 1st. Burial. 'Job Tippings who was drowned the preceding Sunday near Bulls bathing in the river' Age 15. He was born 26 Jul 1795 at Matlock, the son of Laurence Tipping, a miner, and his wife Ann Rowson.[9]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Cheltenham Chronicle, 15 March 1810
  2. Hereford Journal, 7 August 1811
  3. Morning Chronicle, 19 November 1812
  4. Gloucester Journal, 2 May 1814
  5. Morning Post, 11 January 1828
  6. 'The Rise and Fall of the Severn Bridge Railway 1872 - 1970' by Ron Huxley, Alan Sutton and Gloucestershire County Library, 1984
  7. 'The Severn Tunnel Revisited' by Keith Walker in 'The New Regard' - The Journal of the Dean Local History Society, No. 21, 2006-7
  8. 'The First Severn Tunnel' by Keith Walker in 'The New Regard' - The Journal of the Dean Local History Society, Vol. 15.
  9. Parish Registers