It began as a dream – could it be done –
To bore a tunnel under the mighty Thames,
From Rotherhithe quay to the Wapping shore?
Of course it would need massive effort, they knew,
An army of brickies and navvies with picks and pumps
Perhaps a thousand men, or more.
Now here we all were, sweating away,
Inching ahead the huge tunnelling shield,
Just four inches, and four, and another four.
But what’s that? A trickle that
In a second, grew into a spout, a cascade, a flood
A roaring deluge that swept all before –
With a rending, a crashing, the timbers collapsing,
And all hope gone for the men on the floor.
A black stillness, a chance for some to catch breath,
“Help, help, here, here!” plaintive cries from the depths,
Echoing faintly, and then no more.
We counted the men and the bodies out of the shaft,
Smith, Watson, Collins, Evans – is that the lot?
But surely there should have been more?
“We have gone just as far as we possibly can”, the backers said,
“And now we intend to withdraw”.
So Old Father Thames had won – the dream was a nightmare –
And the tunnel was tunnel no more.
Chris Moller, 23Nov04