Geology Site Account
Brentwood Railway Cutting, BRENTWOOD , Brentwood District, TQ600930, Historical site only
Brentwood Railway Cutting
The railway from London to Brentwood was opened in 1840 but the task of extending the line beyond Brentwood involved the digging of the massive railway cutting that is now crossed by the Seven Arches Bridge. The cutting was dug entirely by hand using thousands of ‘navvies’, most of whom lived in shacks alongside the line. It was an enormous undertaking and geological problems, mostly with the ingress of water, bankrupted several contractors. The line from Brentwood to Colchester was finally opened in 1843. The great quantities clay and sand extracted from the cutting is said to have been dumped at the southern end of Shenfield Common which transformed the comparatively flat land in that part of Brentwood.
The geological section revealed in the cutting was described by Joseph Prestwich (1812-1896) in the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society in 1890. Prestwich’s section is reproduced by Dines & Edmunds (1925). It revealed Baghot Beds resting on Claygate Beds, which in turn rested on London Clay. It has been suggested that the London Clay exposed at the base of the cutting is also Claygate Beds and that the base of the Claygate Beds was not reached. Numerous fossils from the Claygate beds were found and recorded by Prestwich.
Of particular interest is a short note in the first volume of the Essex Naturalist by Edward Fitch (Fitch 1887). He quotes from a newspaper article of about 1838 which reports that “great quantities of submarine shells embedded in blue clay” were found in the cutting. “One lump a ton weight was found the other day, which, however, was broken into pieces by the men, but some of it has been polished and sold at high prices for chimney ornaments, and the curious, we understand, may see specimens of it at the library of Mr Brown of that place”. It is almost certain that the lump was a large septarian nodule. It would be interesting to try to track down any surviving pieces of this stone which may still exist built into fireplaces of early Victorian houses in Brentwood.
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Reference: Dines & Edmunds 1925 (p. 11 & 15), Fitch 1887.
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