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Rolling back the years To round off this special issue, we recall some of the key moments in British geotechnics since Ground Engineering was first published at the beginning of 1968. They cover landm


Ground Engineering makes its debut as a sister publication to International Construction, published by IPC under the editorship of AJK Moss, with field editor Richard Tilden Smith.

Chairman of the Federation of Piling Specialists, C Young, says in the opening editorial comment: 'A journal dealing solely with the special techniques involved in ground engineering has long been needed and it should, amongst other things, provide organisations such as my Federation with opportunities for publicising efforts we are making to improve working conditions for the benefit of civil engineering contracting generally.'

Reflecting on GE's launch for its 10th anniversary in 1978, long term editor Derek Patey comments: 'Our observation at that time was that here was a subject of which a very few brilliant men really understood the laws and mechanisms... In practice often very little attention was paid to these theories, partly because practical men had evolved techniques and practices which actually worked on site in the vast majority of cases.'

Other engineering developments this year include:

Approval of a rail link between Victoria and Heathrow Airport.

John Mowlem carries out foundation work on the new London Bridge.

Hydraulic Research Station starts building a scale model of the Thames Barrier. The original concept, which incorporated a road bridge, has already been discounted on cost grounds.

All Building Research Station publications now use SI Units.

The first incarnation of 'Dial before you dig' is launched by the Post Office as a site check for underground services - but only for telephones. Editorial comment suggests that a 'masterplan' is needed for the London area. 'For many years to come, roadway roulette will be a popular pastime, unless a really efficient system of divination can be developed.'

Soil Instruments launches its inclinometer.

Preliminary study for rail tunnel approach to Channel Tunnel gets under way, by Kent County Council for British Rail.

First section of London's new Victoria Line opens from Walthamstow to Highbury.

ELE starts to market triaxial cells for rock strength testing, an idea originally developed by Dr E Hoek at Imperial College, London.

Electron beam cutter that can shoot a narrow 1/16' (1.5mm) beam of electrons to melt rock is launched. It is suggested that it could be used for tunnelling.


Channel Tunnel 'slightly nearer reality' and could be open to traffic 'by 1976'. Suggested designs are bored tunnels through the Channel's lower chalk, or immersed tube.

Consortium headed by Costain Civil Engineering wins £18.75M contract for construction of 1.6km immersed tube tunnel under Hong Kong Harbour from Hong Kong to Kowloon. Work is due to start in September and should take three years.

UK road congestion is the worst in the world, according to British Roads Federation figures. Currently 59.2 cars per mile, with some 14.5M cars in the UK, one car for every 5.2 people.

A letter to Ground Engineering shows not everyone is keen on the Channel Tunnel: 'Yet another circumstantial proposal is construction of the Channel Tunnel which the nation has fought against for a century of time and should continue to do so to avoid an invasion of Britain.

'Those in favour are obviously leaning towards the breakdown of any barrier likely to make it difficult for us to create an abiding link with Europe as though our future depended upon it.

'Wars in the past decades of time have been fought with the tenacity of purpose which recognises no obstacles and it is indeed frightening to think that we could become so weakened as to discard our native land and characteristics to lease them to all and sundry.'

Metrication is a mixed blessing, says a GE leader. 'It will probably take quite a while before engineers become reconciled to the Newton, however well the name may be known.'


A bonanza for tunnellers in London. Work is under way on Victoria Line extension to Brixton, while contracts are up for grabs on the Baker Street to Strand section of the proposed Fleet Line. An underground link to Heathrow Airport is looking increasingly likely - and there is also hope of a Bakerloo Line extension to Peckham and the Wimbledon branch of the District Line, which would run through Fulham, Chelsea, Victoria, Waterloo, Holborn, Hackney and Leyton.

A Dutch-style immersed tube tunnel is the favoured option for a proposed River Thames crossing in east London at Thamesmead.

Greater London Council uses a new French method of sonic testing of cast insitu concrete piles after poor concreting is revealed on some sites in the capital.

Cementation installs what are thought to be the largest piles in the world for Bank of Singapore's headquarters, at 6.86m diameter and 61m long on average.

Rofe & Raffety, Sandeman Kennard & Partners and Herbert Lapworth Partners merge to form Rofe, Kennard & Lapworth.

ELE takes over activities of Soil Mechanics (Equipment).


Government approves construction of London's third airport at Maplin Sands on a 4,000ha artificial island in the Thames estuary, some 80km from London (plans are axed in 1974).

Site Investigation, drilling and grouting operations of Norwest Foundations and Holst & Co merge to form Holst Site Investigations Division under Ken Child at Leeds and R Harris in Liverpool.

British Tunnelling Society is formed as a sister organisation to the British Geotechnical Society.

Dangers of compressed air working are highlighted following a study of workers on Tyne Tunnel (1962-1966), some of whom are found to be suffering from bone necrosis.

A new precast diaphragm walling system is developed in Paris. Soletanche's Parasol system uses slurry that stays wet while panels are installed and then the whole thing cures, the mortar on the 'inner' wall being removed after excavation.

Wykeham Farrance takes over Clockhouse's soils division to increase its range of testing instruments.

Construction of the Gotthard motorway tunnel in Switzerland gets under way. The 16km long tunnel is being built at an estimated cost of £1.8M/km.

Peter Lind & Co forms Lind Piling, specialising in bored piling and associated works.


John Burland is appointed head of the Building Research Station geotechnics division. Later in the year the government Fire Research Station and Forest Products Research Laboratory join BRS to form the Building Research Establishment. The Road Research Laboratory becomes the Transport & Road Research Laboratory (TRRL).

British Steel Corporation 'takes a big step towards metrification, by selling products, wherever practicable, with metric dimensions'.

Cement & Concrete Association maintains that with earnings rising more steeply than materials costs, builders will find it up to a third cheaper to fill foundation trenches completely with concrete rather than using brickwork to get out of the ground.

Power generators spearhead a major drive to increase use of pulverised fuel ash as a replacement for cement in concrete.

Soletanche starts operating in UK in joint venture with Tarmac, offering alluvial grouting, rock grouting, ground anchors and dewatering. Early contracts include diaphragm walls for the Barbican Arts Centre in London, and walls for the approaches to the second Dartford tunnel project.

Hong Kong government decides in principle to go ahead with the building of an underground railway system.

Two trains plough into a rockfall halfway along a 2km long brick lined tunnel at Vierzy, France, killing 115.

The Institution of Civil Engineers' new magazine, New Civil Engineer, reports that 'girls' are among school pupils who attend a short course at Portsmouth Polytechnic's civil engineering department.

Ground treatment required for driving the second Dartford tunnel is to be carried out by Cementation Ground Engineering under a contract worth £365,000, awarded by the main contractor Balfour, Beatty & Co. Consulting engineer is Mott, Hay & Anderson. The tunnel is 1.4km long and 10.3m in diameter.

In September, engineers from Europe and North America visit London to look at a British development which will take soft ground tunnelling into a new era.

They are watching the newly developed bentonite shield in action - the first in the world to work effectively in a full range of granular material. In such conditions as the water bearing gravel of the short proving run being driven in south London, the machine is showing that it can cut the cost of rival tunnelling methods by as much as a third.

Two years ago the bentonite shield was just a piece of paper - a patent held by Mott Hay & Anderson partner John Bartlett. But the London Transport Executive, with the projected Fleet Line of the underground tube system due to push south of the river, knew that the extensions would need radically different methods of construction from those possible in north London's clay.

John Mowlem completes foundations for the 182m high Natwest Tower in London. The company installs some 375, 1.22m diameter piles to 40.5m depth, carrying a total load of 160,000t.


Britain enters the Common Market on New Year's Day.

Contractor Leonard Fairclough (now Amec) establishes a Ground Engineering division, to carry out bored and driven piling, SI, soil and rock testing, dewatering and grouting.

GKN Foundations extends services to include diaphragm walls in association with Johann Keller of Frankfurt, strengthening the long term association between the two companies.

Robert McAlpine-owned Economic Foundations is acquired by WGI and incorporated into West's Piling & Construction.

Pressure grouting, drilling and anchor specialist E Reader & Son becomes a wholly owned subsidiary of Soil Mechanics.

Colcrete and PSC Equipment set up new company Ground Anchors.

First ever cut-off wall consisting entirely of solidified bentonite slurry is completed in Paris by Sepicos, the French subsidiary of ICOS. The 650m long wall is 10m deep and just 0.5m wide.

Dr Laurits Bjerrum, director of the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute, dies in London just before he is due to introduce Professor TW Lambe's Rankine Lecture. Bjerrum, who gave the Rankine Lecture in 1967 while president of ISSMFE, became the first director of NGI in 1951.

A Dutch-led group of industrialists and contractors plan to build a series of islands in the North Sea for industrial and related activities, with the support of the Dutch government.

TRRL awards a £200,000 contract to Sir Robert McAlpine for mechanised tunnelling trails in the lower chalk at Chinnor, near Oxford. The award marks the first major step of TRRL's new tunnels division, headed by Myles O'Reilly.

About 1.75M.m3 of chalk is removed to form the 47m deep, 1,200m long M40 Chiltern cut. Side slopes stand at 65degrees and crests are modelled to make the cut resemble a coombe valley

A £0.5M, 70m diameter, 30m deep reinforced concrete diaphragm walled cofferdam built by ICOS for the cooling water pump-house for the Grain power station in east Kent is claimed to be the largest structure of its type constructed in the UK.

Fleet Line under construction. Only stage 1 is eventually built, opening as the Jubilee Line. Stage 2 (between Strand and Fenchurch Street) and Stage 3 (Fenchurch Street to Lewisham) are never built.


Enterprise Bachy works in JV with Edmund Nuttall on 23m deep diaphragm wall in Bristol.

Canadian-based Golder Associates establishes a UK office in Maidenhead trading under the name Golder Hoek & Partners, with Professor Evert Hoek as senior partner.

Contractor Ground Engineering carries out site investigation for Channel Tunnel terminal at Folkestone, supervised by Building Design Partnership, consultants to RTZ Development Enterprises, project managers to the British Channel Tunnel Company.

GE publishes an article headlined 'The investigation business - a matter for concern', which quotes TRM Wakeling. 'In my experience, site investigation companies which promote a complete service at a competent level cannot obtain an adequate financial return by working in Britain at rates which have been established by competitive tendering. Probably this has been the situation for 15 years.'

With the three day week and the oil crisis biting hard, FPS makes a statement that it could be possible to effect economies in piling without endangering safety by reducing pile diameters, limiting the quantity of reinforcement, restricting use of sulphate resisting cement and using lower strength concrete. FPS says lack of site information at the design stage means there is a widespread tendency to overdesign.

Central Electricity Generating Board awards an £8M foundation contract to Raymond Concrete Pile for Littlebrook D oil-fired power station at Dartford, Kent. It is the highest value piling contract yet in the UK.

Johann Keller of Frankfurt, one of Europe's leading foundation contractors, is acquired by GKN Foundations of Coventry - giving GKN world licence for the Keller vibroflotation and vibro replacement processes.

Sir Robert Meredydd Wynne-Edwards dies. He was responsible for bringing Terzaghi to England to consult on the Chingford reservoir collapse in 1937, triggering development of soil mechanics in the UK.

Henri Vidal, the French patent holder for reinforced earth, sues the Department of the Environment for an alleged infringement of the UK patent of his 'earth embankment building system'. The dispute centres on a 100m stretch of reinforced soil wall at Whitley Bridge on the M62 between Ferrybridge and Pollington, where Sir Alfred McAlpine used the 'York Method', patented by Dr Colin Jones, who developed the system as engineer for the old West Riding County Council.

British Rail denies reports that plans for the high speed rail link between London and the Channel Tunnel have been abandoned.


Channel Tunnel project abandoned after one year on site, when the British government fails to ratify the Anglo French Channel Tunnel Treaty.

House of Lords is told it would cost about £230M to clean up derelict land in Britain, at an average of £2,000 an acre.

Trials for the 27.7km Kielder tunnel in Northumberland - the longest hard-rock drive in the UK - begin, with a Swiss-German dominated partnership, pioneering the UK use of a sprayed concrete and rock bolted support system.

Bored rotary piling under bentonite is introduced to London, and promises to be 'a major problem solver for the city's numerous foundation problems'.

Failure of cuttings holds up construction on the A45 Daventry bypass.


GKN Keller is formed by amalgamation of GKN Foundations and its subsidiary Johann Keller.

British Drilling Association formed.

Deep Foundations Institute established in USA.

Exploration Associates sets up Geotechnical Instruments, selling soil testing equipment and sampling accessories.

First UK land reclamation conference held at Grays in Essex, with emphasis on mechanical issues relating to redeveloping former sand and gravel pits.

Long summer drought produces spate of housing subsidence claims and remedial underpinning projects. More than 40,000 structures are thought to be affected by subsidence resulting from shrinkage of clay. Early estimates suggest the problem may cost £80M to put right.

Norway's Vestre Gaustdal earthfill dam fails when filled for the first time. About 3M.m3 of water sweeps through a 30m wide breach in the middle of the 9m high dam, and 1,000 people are evacuated.

Flooding delays work on the 54km Seikan Tunnel, the world's longest undersea tunnel, despite probing up to 500m and pumping sodium silicate grout 70m ahead of the face, to provide a seal. Linking mainland Japan with the northern island of Hokaido, the tunnel passes through extremely variable igneous rock, with nine major fault zones.

Abutment leakage triggers the failure of an 8M.m3 earthfill dam across the Teton river in Idaho. More than a third of the embankment is lost.

Nationwide unrest in the tunnelling industry escalates, with many sites affected by unofficial strikes called in sympathy with workers on Tyneside metro in dispute over guaranteed minimum earnings.

At least 22 people are killed and 63 injured by landslides triggered by high rainfall in Hong Kong in August. Some 30 major roads are blocked by mud and debris after 420mm of rain fell in 24 hours.

South West Water Authority installs 100 standpipes by mid- August to preserve dwindling water supplies in north Devon. Other water authorities soon follow suit.

West Yorkshire County Council constructs a 3.6m high experimental retaining wall made from 4500 earth-filled tyres.


Association of Ground Investigation Specialists (AGIS) formed.

The father of British soil mechanics, Dr Leonard Cooling, dies.

EEC urges revival of Channel Tunnel and says the project is eligible for grant aid.

Government stops funding the proposed London Jubilee Line extension from Charing Cross to Woolwich Arsenal.

Hong Kong Government sets up the Geotechnical Control Office.

A 10m gap is torn in an 8m high earthdam near Kircheim in West Germany, just four weeks after completion when it is impounded at 90% capacity.

Pakistan's Tarbela dam, the world's biggest with a 473m top water level, is completed after a catalogue of disasters including tunnel collapse, destruction of irrigation tunnel stilling basins and discovery of a 3.5m deep swallow hole in the dam's upstream face. But after only 26 days massive erosion is found downstream of the service spillway and shortly after four more depressions are found in the upstream face.

Tunnel contracts throughout London and the South East come to a halt over a dispute between tunnel miner members of the Transport & General Workers' Union and J Murphy for employing miners not in the union.

Foundation contractor Fondedile carries out an emergency anchoring contract to arrest movement of a 110 year old brick retaining wall adjacent to the London Midland railway line. The 8m high brick wall near Gospel Oak retains London Clay topped off by 2m of mixed rubble.

Liverpool's Loop-link tunnel, part of Merseyside's planned rapid transit system, opens two years late as a result of design changes and industrial disputes.

Mohammed Al-Fayed resigns from the board of Costain because of 'pressure from worldwide commitments'.

The UK's first commercial tunnel drive using bentonite face support has advanced less than 1km in three years. Serious doubts are cast on the original borehole survey, according to Edmund Nuttall director Alistair Biggart, who says: 'The original boreholes do not bear out the conditions we have found. Ironically the bad ground conditions have forced us to produce an even more versatile machine, and I am very pleased with the way it is coping.'

Eight people are killed and 73 injured in a landslide in Gothenburg in Sweden. The 600m by 800m slide in soft quick clay deposits leaves about 700 homeless.

The Dutch government considers building a 10km2 city off the coast near The Hague, to help alleviate the land shortage.

Welsh Office consultant Travers Morgan evaluates an immersed tube road tunnel across the Conwy estuary in North Wales, as an alternative to various bridge options already considered.

ICE publishes Piling: model procedures and specification, nearly nine years after work on the document started. The Piling Specifications Committee appointed to draft the book had its first draft rejected in 1973. According to Sir Kirby Laing, then president of the Institution, the document combined a code of practice with a form of contract and it 'was felt that this did not comply with the normal Institution documents.' It was also speculated that contractual provisions in the piling draft were in possible conflict with the just published [and now widely discredited] fifth edition ICE Conditions. The guidelines aimed to introduce conformity and standardisation of specifications and contract documents and rationalise the industry's fragmented approach.

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