Curiosities from 150 years of The Engineer archive

In a somewhat theatrical departure for The Engineer, this article describes an ingenious feat of engineering in which Paris venue, the Salle Valentino, was rebuilt and converted into an aquatic circus.

The magazine wrote that the feat recalled the spectacular entertainment of the Roman empire where, in a flooded Coliseum, gladiators carried out mock sea-battles in a fight to the death.

The article describes a great hall 110ft (just over 33m) in diameter, containing a 79ft diameter tank with a seated gallery running around it.

In the centre of the tank is a hydraulic ram with a 25-tonne, 44ft-diameter iron saucer attached to the top. The saucer could, reported the magazine, ‘be sunk below the level of the water, the surface of which is then available for aquatic performances.’ the magazine marvelled that the saucer was ‘constructed so as to be quite rigid under the tread of numbers of horses and men’ and was ‘capable of disappearing during a performance, and without delay.’

Perhaps even more remarkably, in the summer season the removal of the seating areas, orchestral balcony, horse stalls, and café, would see the building transformed into a giant swimming bath. However, the water — which was kept at a steady 77°F (25°C) — presented considerable ventilation problems, with the ‘vapour rendering, by condensation, everything in the building damp’. To prevent this, continued the piece, ‘a powerful fan, fixed in the cellars, draws the air from a turret in the roof and after forcing it through a heating chamber delivers it into the hall under the seats at a temperature of about 86°F.’

According to the article, the whole interior of the building is luxuriously fitted and the entertainments provided are of the highest class. It quotes an impressed punter M Henri Mamy who, though vague about the kind of entertainment on offer, was nonetheless impressed by the ingenuity of the mechanics.

‘We saw the immense saucer descend slowly and immerse itself majestically in the waves. When the water began to rush across the flooring in clear view of the audience, the effect was irresistible and the warmest applause saluted this new attraction, which permitted the audience to realise the progress of modern mechanical science.’