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were paid about 750,0001. for what had been originally estimated at 250,0002. The total expenses of carrying the bill through Parliament amounted to the frightful sum of 72,8681.
The landowners having thus been “conciliated," the promoters of the measure were at length permitted to proceed with the formation of their great highway, and allowed to benefit the country by establishing one of the grandest public works that has ever been achieved in England, the utility of which may almost be pronounced unparalleled. Eighty miles of the railway were shortly under construction; the works were let (within the estimates) to contractors, who were necessarily for the most part new to such work. The business of railway contractors was not then so well understood as it has since become. There were no leviathans among them, as there are now, able to contraet for the formation of a line of railway hundreds of miles in length; they were for the most part men of small capital and slender experience. Their tools and machinery were imperfect; they did not understand the economy of time and piece labour; the workmen, as well as their masters, had still to learn their trade; and every movement of an engineer was attended with outlays, which were the inevitable result of a new system of things, but which each succeeding day's experience tended to diminish.
The difficulties encountered by the Messrs. Stephenson, in the execution of the London and Birmingham Railway, were thus very great; but the most formidable of them originated in the character of the works themselves. Extensive tunnels had to be driven through unknown strata, and miles of underground excavation accomplished in order to form a level road from valley to valley under the intervening Iges. This kind of work was the newest of all to the contors of that day. The experience of the Messrs. Stephen
in the collieries of the North, made them, of all living gineers, the best fitted to grapple with such difficulties;
CHAP. xxv.] EXECUTION OF THE WORKS.
333 but even they, with all their practical knowledge, could not have foreseen or anticipated the formidable obstacles which were encountered in the execution of the Kilsby Tunnel.
The opposition raised to the railway on the part of the inhabitants of Northamptonshire had compelled the engineer to carry the line through the Kilsby ridge. A tunnel was thus rendered necessary of about 2400 yards in length, penetrating about 160 feet below the surface. The exact nature of the strata throughout could not be ascertained with precision, except by the expenditure of vast sums in boring. Before the contract was let, however, trial shafts were honestly sunk at different points, to enable the contractor to judge of the nature of the ground through which the excavation was to be carried. On this being, as it was supposed, sufficiently ascertained, advertisements for tenders were issued, and the work was let to a contractor for 90,0001. The result cannot be better described than in the words of Sir F. Head, in his interesting account of the London and North-Western Railway*:
“ The work was in busy progress when, all of a sudden, it was ascertained that, at about 200 yards from the south end of the tunnel, there existed, overlaid by a bed of clay forty feet thick, a hidden quicksand, which extended 400 yards into the proposed tunnel, and which the trial shafts on each side of it had, almost miraculously, just passed without touching.
“ The traveller in India could scarcely be more alarmed at the sudden sight of a crouching tiger before him than the contractor was at the unexpected appearance of this inyincible enemy. Overwhelmed at the discovery, he instantly took to his bed, and though he was liberally, or, to speak more correctly, justly relieved by the Company from his engagement, the reprieve came too late, for he actually died!
• “Stokers and Pokers." London: Murray, pp. 19-21.
“ The question then arose, whether, in the face of this tremendous difficulty, the execution of the Kilsby Tunnel should be continued or abandoned. The general opinion of the several eminent engineers who were consulted was against proceeding, and certainly the amount of the difficulties which were subsequently incurred justified the verdict. But in science, as well as in war, the word “Impossible' can occasionally, by cool and extraordinary exertions, be divested of its first syllable; and, accordingly, Mr. Robert Stephenson offering, after mature reflection, to undertake the responsibility of proceeding, he was duly authorised to do so.
“ His first operation was of course to endeavour by the power of steam-engines—the comrades of his life to lower the water with which he had to contend; and although, to a certain degree, this attempt succeeded, yet by the draining of remote springs, and by the sinking of the water in wells at considerable distances, it was soon ascertained that the quicksand in question covered several square miles.
“ The tunnel, thirty feet high by thirty feet broad, arched at the top as well as the bottom, was formed of bricks laid in cement, and the bricklayers were progressing in ‘lengths' averaging twelve feet, when those who were nearest the quicksand, on driving into the roof, were suddenly almost overwhelmed by a deluge of water which burst in upon them. As it was evident that no time was to be lost, a gang of workmen, protected by the extreme power of the engines, were, with their materials, placed on a raft; and while, with the utmost celerity, they were completing the walls of that short length, the water, in spite of every effort to keep it down, rose with such rapidity that, at the conclusion of the work, the men were so near being jammed against the roof, that the assistant engineer, Mr. Charles Lean, in charge of the party, jumped overboard, and then, swimming with a rope in his mouth, he towed the raft to the foot of the nearest working
shaft, through which he and his men were safely lifted up into daylight, or, as it is termed by miners, to grass.'
“ The water now rose in the shaft, and, as it is called, drowned out' the works. For a considerable time all the pumping apparatus appeared to be insufficient. Indeed, the effort threatened to be so hopeless, that the directors of the company almost determined to abandon it; but the engineerin-chief, relying on the power of his engines, prayed for one fortnight more. Before that period expired, science triumphed over her subterranean foe, and — thanks to the inventors of the steam-engine—the water gradually lowered.
"By the main strength of 1250 men, 200 horses, and thirteen steam-engines, not only was the work gradually completed, but during night and day, for eight months, the astonishing and almost incredible quantity of 1800 gallons per minute from the quicksand alone was raised by Mr. Robert Stephenson, and conducted away!
“ The time occupied, from the laying of the first brick to the completion of the work, was thirty months. The number of bricks used was 36,000,000 — sufficient to make a good footpath from London to Aberdeen (missing the Forth) a yard broad!”
The cost of executing the Kilsby Tunnel was, in consequence of these formidable and unforeseen difficulties, increased from 90,0001. (the amount of the original estimate) to about 350,0001. Enormous sums were paid for land and compensation— far beyond the amounts originally estimated. Thus 3,0001. were given for one piece of land, and 10,0001. for consequential damages, when it was afterwards made clear that the land had been greatly improved in value by the formation of the railway. After compensation had been paid for land alleged to have been thus deteriorated, the Company, on purchasing any further quantity, had almost invariably to pay a higher price, on the ground of its increased value! All sorts of payments were demanded on the most frivolous pretexts. The landowners discovered that they could demand accommodation bridges, which they did in large numbers. One originally demanded five, but afterwards came down to four, with an equivalent in the price of the bridge given up. Then he found he could do with three bridges, provided the Company would pay him a further sum in hard cash, which they were ready to do; and, in like manner, he gave up the remaining bridges, on being paid a furtier round sum: in fact, the bridges were wholly unnecessary, and had only been insisted on as a means of extorting money from the Company. To these causes of increased expense must be added the rise in the prices of labour and materials which took place shortly after the letting of the works, by which many of the contractors were ruined, no fewer than seven of the contracts having thus been thrown upon the Company's hands. The directors had then to purchase all kinds of implements and materials at great expense, in order to carry on the works and avoid heavier loss. But the energy of the engineers, cordially supported by the directory and proprietors, enabled them at length, after many years' anxiety, to bring the stupendous undertaking to a successful completion, though at a cost far beyond that which had been originally estimated.
The estimates laid by Mr. Robert Stephenson before Parliament amounted to 2,750,0001.; and it was then confidently expected that the works would have been completed within this sum. The most eminent engineers of the day were brought forward to give evidence on the subject, and those of the greatest experience stated their opinion to be that the estimates were altogether too high. Mr. Walker said the prices allowed were 30 per cent. higher than any he could remember. Mr. Locke considered them too high; and Mr. Rastrick objected to support the estimates for the same reason. Yet the result proved them to have been