Horn Hill Tunnel, A Drama by Marie Eadle 1982







About 10 o’clock on the morning of June 29th, 1832, 150 years ago, a splendid procession left the Market Place in Beaminster.  It wound its way along Hogshill Street and turned up Horn Hill Lane, now to be re-named Tunnel Road.

First came the Bridport and Taunton Mailcoach followed by an open carriage with the Patron of the undertaking, Giles Russell, and the Treasurer of the Turnpike Trust, Samuel Cox,  with about 60 other carriages of all descriptions, several hundred gentlemen on horseback and on foot and the tradesmen and labourers who had worked on the construction of the tunnel carrying their tools.

On the procession coming within view of the tunnel a salute of 21 guns was fired from a battery on top of Horn Hill.  The sides of the road, and the slopes of the hill were lined with thousands of spectators.  The procession went over the whole line of the new road as far as Whetley Cross and retuned to the market place about 12.30.

The labourers had been paid for a day’s work, with a bonus of 2s. 6d. and they went off to regale themselves at the inns and beer houses in the town of which there were, at the time, about 16.  Under the Beer House Act of 1830 any householder could sell beer by a payment of two guineas’ Excise Duty.  Workmen employed by the tradesmen involved, and those at the various factories which made sailcloth, sacks and bags from hemp and flax, were entertained by their bosses.  Dinners were provided at nearly all the inns in Beaminster including, no doubt, The Red Lion and The Greyhound in the Market Place, The Swan in Fleet Street, The New Inn in Hogshill Street and the Crown in North Street.  

At the head table at The White Hart about 70 people, we are told, sat down to a very superior dinner served up by Mr. John Hearn the Landlord with great taste and liberality.  It was a local affair.  Michael Lane, the engineer for the tunnel, was not present and, no doubt, he was being entertained elsewhere by the Turnpike Commissioners and the County Gentry.  

The Chairman at the dinner was Samuel Cox, Treasurer of the Bridport Second District Turnpike Trust which was responsible for the building of the tunnel.  Samuel Cox was Lord of the Manor of Beaminster Secunda and lived at the Manor House in North Street which he had inherited ten years earlier.  A sailcloth manufacturer, with a factory at Yarn Barton in Fleet Street, he was then aged 41 and was married to Virtue, niece of Giles Russell.  On Samuel’s right, in the place of honour at the dinner, sat Giles Russell to whose ‘zealous exertions’, runs the inscription on the portals of the tunnel, ‘the public are principally indebted for the erection of this tunnel’.  Giles Russell, a solicitor, had been the prime mover in getting an Act of Parliament passed to build the tunnel.  He had put up a large sum of money and encouraged others to invest in the project.  Giles was then about 64 years old and lived at (? Bered’s unclear) a house which stood in Prout Hill next to Bridge House.  At Bered’s (?) he, and his son Thomas, solicitor to the Turnpike Trust, had their office.

After the Loyal Toasts had been drunk Samuel Cox addressed the assembly:  (Noise of people talking as if at a drunken party.  The sound of a gavel banging the table)


“Gentlemen, we are met to celebrate the completion of a great, I may say a magnificent, work.  It is not going too far perhaps to say that it is a work which would be worthy of those ancient Romans who erected aquaducts which, even now, excite admiration and wonder.  Or of Napoleon Bonaparte who made the stupendous road over the Simplon.  For a long time we were, as it were, cut off from the connection with the great part of Somerset because no communication could be affected in that direction unless with great difficulty.  By the completion of this work, however, the opening of which we are now assembled to celebrate, that difficulty, so long thought insurmountable, has been overcome.  A free passage is granted to us.  Commerce will be greatly assisted by it.  The traffic of our neighbourhood will be increased and great convenience will ensue to the public in general.  I am sure, gentlemen, that you will readily join me in doing due honour to such a work and, therefore, propose Success to the Tunnel with three times three”.

The Toast was drunk with deafening cheers.

“Success to the Tunnel, Hip Hip Hooray, Hip Hip Hooray, Hip Hip Hooray!.”

(Hurrahs, shouts of ‘splendid!’ etc.)

Samuel Cox went on:

“Gentlemen, I must now propose another Toast.  We shall not need any eulogio from me to recommend it to your kindness though I cannot but regret that it has not fallen to more able hands to propose it to you.  I propose the health of a man who has had the strength of mind to conceive, and the heart to bring forward and to prosecute towards its consumation, the great work which we have this day completed.  Had it not been for the exertions and perseverance of Mr. Giles Russell this work (shouts of agreement, etc.) this work in all probability would never have been undertaken or, if undertaken, had it not been for the zeal and determination, such as has been displayed by him, it could not have been brought to so happy a conclusion.  

It has been said in a page of great authority that some men there are who die as though they had never been while others, when they perish, leave a name behind.  The gentleman of whom I speak is of the latter cast for when his days are completed, and late may that be, his name will still survive in the grateful recollections of that posterity who will derive so much benefit from his exertions.  That tunnel, with his other good deeds, will enroll his name in the annals of fame and I am sure that you all cordially join me in a wish that his life may be extended longer than we shall have time to tell his years and may his name be remembered to the day when that hill, which has been the scene of his zeal for the public good, shall dissolve and leave not a rack behind.  I give you, gentlemen, the health of Mr. Giles Russell.”


The Toast was drunk with three times three and followed with the most enthusiastic expressions of applause:

“Mr.Giles Russell!  Hip, hip  Hooray, Hip, Hip, Hooray, Hip Hip Horray.  (Sounds of merriment and the bang of the gavel)  Long life, well done.”

Giles Russell returned thanks:

“I think myself more than fortunate in having lived so long as to meet so respectable a company on such an occasion as that one which we are now met to celebrate.  The public wish has been long and ardently expressed, but never hitherto realised, that the barrier at Horn Hill – the barrier which cut off Bridport and Beaminster from the interior of Somerset – could be overcome and, it is thefore with feelings of no common pleasure, that I now join you in celebrating the completion of our common efforts to subdue the difficulty.  It is at all times a difficult task to speak of oneself and in the present instance the very flattering manner in which you have honoured me renders the task one of peculiar delicacy to me lest I should overleap the bounds of discretion.  In returning you my heartfelt thanks, however, for that honourable compliment which your kindness has paid me – a kindness far beyond any deserts of mine (shouts of no, no, never, etc.) – I may be allowed perhaps to say that in undertaking and proceeding towards completion with this beneficial work I was guided by upright, honourable and public motives and no personal idea, nor thought of filthy lucre, had place in my mind.  But my exertions, however pure in their origin and however ardent and zealous in execution, would I feel have been utterly useless had I not been supported by public spirit and purse.  I was so supported, I was encouraged by public spirit and liberally assisted by pecuniary help and I trust I shall not give offence to any man but I consider it as merely performing an act of justice due to two individuals now present  by distinguishing them in their support of this cause above all others.   I allude to our worthy Chairman, Mr. Samuel Cox and his brother, Mr. Peter Cox.  (Shouts of agreement)

There were times when the undertaking was placed in great difficulties when the resources were failing and when some would have been inclined to give it up in despair but, at such times, these gentlemen came to my aid, encouraged me by their assistance and renewed my drooping spirits.  If I utter a word in their praise it is not my simple tribute alone but will be echoed by the attestation given to their merits by all good and honourable men.

(Shouts of agreement, etc.  Banging of gavel)

I must, however say that, notwithstanding the difficulties which continually appeared to be surmounted, I never actually despaired.  I relied upon the good of my cause.  I had a presentiment that as my motives were good and honourable so would success untimately attend my exertions.  I was conductor of the ‘Good Ship Hope’, I was fortunate enough to procure the services of two able Pilots, Lane and Williams, and I selected a brave, bold crew from the service of the Messrs. Cox and, by their united exertions, I was enabled to bring my vessel into safe anchorage in the harbour of accomplishment and I now consign my cargo of the Tunnel, and all its benefits, to the public – to the world – and at the same time I surrender all Horn Hills to the demons of despair.  (Shouts of encouragement, etc.)

For the honour which you have done me I assure you that I feel it deeply and though my merits of splendour yet my gratitude is strong indeed.  I thank you from my heart and hope you will derive all the benefits that have been anticipated from the new communication between Bridport Harbour and Somersetshire”.

The Chairman then proposed the health of Mr. Michael Lane, the Civil Engineer.

“To those who have not heard of the professional talent of Mr. Lane I would say ‘go to the Horn Hill Tunnel’ and when there I would say to them, as was inscribed in the momument erected to the memory of the architect of St. Paul’s Cathedral, ‘Lector si monumentum requiris circumspia’.  Mr. Michael Lane………….. Hip, Hip, Hooray!  (Three times)”

The Chairman proposed the health of Mr. John Martin, the Surveyor:

“I would not do justice to the scientific acquirements of Mr. Martin did I not take this opportunity of saying that all surveys that this gentleman made on the undertaking were invariably found correct.  Mr. John Martin……….”

(Shouts repeating the words Mr. John Martin)

Giles Russell then proposed the health of their worthy Chairman, Mr. Samuel Cox:

“If at any time any body of men have a peculiar duty to perform, to my mind such a duty paramountly devolves upon us on the present occasion to drink the health of our worthy President…………………. (Hooray, quite right, well said, etc.)  Every man in the room is indebted to him, not only for the pleasure which has attended our meeting this day, but also mainly for the occasion which we meet to celebrate.  Mr. Cox is far above all praise which I can bestow on him but known as he is to all present there is perhaps the less to regret in my inability to bestow a due eulogium.  Mr. Cox is also above the praise due to most other men because to conquer prejudices, particularly existing in ones own mind, is one of the most difficult of fancies.  Mr. Cox once thought that my efforts were not feasible and would therefore be unavailing but, having since been convinced of their feasibility and the benefits which would accrue to the community from their completion, he cordially concurred and, by his assistance, greatly contributed to the successful termination of the undertaking.  I am sure that I need not say a word more to induce you to drink the Toast in an enthusiastic manner.”

The Toast was drunk with four times four:

“Mr. Samuel Cox, Hip, Hip, Hip Hooray(4 times).” (Much shouting and banging of tables)

Samuel Cox acknowledged the honour:

“I am grateful, deeply grateful, to Mr. Russell and the other gentlemen for the honour they have so kindly done me.  I am free to confess that in the outset of this business I saw difficulties which appeared to me insurmountable and I really stated my objections.  But in this, as in all other cases, truth has prevailed and having seen the feasibility of the plan, and the happy results which it held out in prospect, I have gladly done all in my power to promote the undertaking.  I thank you again for the compliment you have awarded to me for which I am exceedingly obliged and the more so because I am convinced that my efforts were too humble to deserve such kindness.  It is, however, gratifying to anyone to be allowed to have done good in his generation but the good I have done has been so little that I attribute the flattering manner in which you have drunk my health rather to your indulgence than to any merits of my own.”  (Shouts of no, no.)

The health was now drunk of Peter Cox, younger brother of Samuel, who had Chaired the Committee responsible for the very orderly and well arranged procession for the opening of the Tunnel.  Peter Cox the solicitor was then 31 years old and living at Farrs in East Street.  At the age of 21 he had been taken by John Bainder Russell, elder brother of Giles, into the firm which their father, John Russell, had founded in Beaminster in 1756.  This firm was later to become Kitson & Trotman.  Peter Cox returned thanks:


“I am extremely obliged for the extremely flattering manner in which my health has been drunk.  I assure the company that if ever any exertions of mine can contribute to the advantage of the town, or of the public generally, they are freely at their service.  As the traffic through the Tunnel will depend in a great measure upon the trade of Bridport I cannot do better than propose ‘Success to Bridport Harbour’.”  (Repeats ‘Success to Bridport Harbour’.  Shjouts of agreement)

Peter Cox then wished prosperity to the town and trade of Crewkerne and its neighbourhood:

“The Town and Trade of Crewkerne.”  (Shouts of agreement).

A Toast was then drunk to the Church and the Health of the Rev. R. Cox who was seated on the left of the Chairman.  The Reverend Gentleman replied;

“No-one can more sincerely wish success to the Tunnel than I do.  As a Clergyman I have always endeavoured to do my duty and I hope that it will be found that there are many others who also do theirs.  May the feelings of the inhabitants on both sides of the Tunnel be enlarged tenfold towards each other as the communication is now rendered more easy.”

During the proceedings a poem, specially composed by Mr. William Gardner to celebrate the opening of the Tunnel was sung.  William Gardner had quite recently become the Proprietor and Master of a Grammar School which he called The Beaminster Academy.  He was a Classical Scholar and boys could learn to do Merchants’ Accounts, Drawing and Land Surveying as well as the standard subjects of English Language, Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, Composition and Geography.  The school was held at Shadrack House.  R. Waygood, Senior, who sang the verses, was apparently the Choirmaster of Beaminster Church Choir.

“Hail favoured town, to thee my muse shall tune a cheerful lay.

In all thy sons the joy to infuse for this auspicious day.

Whenever studious of thy wheal thy commerce to promote

A Russell’s Patriot Zeal shall live when we’re forgot.

With liberal hand he op’d his store an easier path to farm

Then turning Horn to labour o’er exposed to wind and storm.

E’en such a path ’twas wisely thought this verdant base might yield

In excavation to be sought by men in mining skilled.

The yielding soil through able hands a tunnel wide displays

And lays efficient aid demands our warm admiring praise.

In swelling streams may cheering wealth to Beaminster descend

And ever join inspiring health her social sons attend.

May Patriots successive rise this peaceful town to grace

And future ages richly prize her enterprising race.

Now, will we all in loud acclaim, our worthy Patriot cheer

United with those envied names Horn Tunnel shall appear.

Then drink, my friends, a bumper Toast and make the welkin ring

Of Russell, Cox, we’re proud to boast, Huzzah!  God Save the King! “

A fair was held on Horn Hill during the day and the evening concluded with a splendid display of fireworks which were discharged from the Church tower.  A large hot air balloon ascended from a field adjoining the town.  The account in the Dorset County Chronicle concludes with the words:

‘The day altogether is one which will not be readily forgotten in the annals of Beaminster and so long as the Tunnel itself shall exist, so long will the traditionary (?) tale of its happy opening be handed down from Grandsire to Grandson.