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Brunel chamber discovered during flood defence works

A chamber, which is thought be to be part of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s atmospheric railway, has been discovered during flood defence works in Devon.

The chamber was unearthed by the Environment Agency whilst undertaking work for the Starcross and Cockwood tidal defence scheme.

Work has been suspended due to the discovery and surveys have identified two 32m long chambers, joined by 10 underground arches.

Plans to widen the road in Starcross were also being considered, before the discovery. Devon County Council will no longer pursue the scheme.

Brunel’s Atmospheric Railway moved trains by extracting air from pipes laid between the rails, using pumping stations along the track.

The pumping stations used water from the underground reservoir to create steam ad the recently discovered chambers held the water.

The system proved more expensive than using conventional steam-power and operated for less than a year closing in 1848

In a statement the Environment Agency said: “The project team are currently liaising with archaeologists and completing structural assessments to determine the next steps.”

The chamber has been fenced off and the entrance locked.

A Devon County Council spokesman added: “We had been considering the possibility of a widening scheme in Starcross, and although it couldn’t be tied in with the Environment Agency’s programme for their tidal defence scheme they provided us with their plans while we started preparing preliminary drawings.

”However, the EA’s discovery of the vacuum chamber, which is of national importance as it’s part of Brunel’s atmospheric railway, means that a widening scheme is no longer viable.” 

The flood defence project ws accelerated as part of the March 2015 Budget announcement regarding England’s six-year flood defence programme and was identified as one of the priority schemes detailed in the Exe Estuary Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy.

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