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Dudley Tunnel

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Dudley Tunnel is a canal tunnel on the Dudley Canal Line No 1, England.

At about 3,172 yards long,but it is not continuous. The main tunnel is 2,942 yards, Lord Ward's tunnel is 196 yards and Castle Mill basin is 34 yards.

The tunnel was closed in 1962; and was further threatened with permanent closure by British Railways who wished to replace a railway viaduct at the Tipton portal with an embankment and a culvert.

The tunnel was reopened in 1973, as a result of restoration, which had been a collaboration between local volunteers (originally the Dudley Canal Tunnel Preservation Society, later the Dudley Canal Trust), and the local authority, Dudley Borough Council.

A private Act of Parliament to construct the tunnel and associated canal, later to be known as the Dudley Canal Line No. 1, was passed in 1776. However Lord Dudley and Ward started building a canal and tunnel, in 1775, to link his Tipton Colliery and his lime works to the Birmingham Canal Navigations, at Tipton, on the 473 ft Wolverhampton Level. He later agreed to sell the canal and tunnel to the Dudley Canal Co.

The Dudley Canal Line No. 1 and Dudley Tunnel were reported as finished on 25 June 1791.

The earliest part of tunnel system was built to help with the transport of limestone extracted from the mines inside Castle Hill through which the tunnel runs. This was Lord Ward's tunnel, which leads to Castle Mill Basin. From there the main tunnel runs, via the Cathedral Arch, to Parkhead, near Netherton. At Cathedral Arch a branch canal lead into the Little Tess Cavern mine workings. This route is now blocked, but has been by-passed by two new tunnels (see below).

The southern end, including the southern portal, of the tunnel had to be rebuilt in 1884 due to subsidence caused by adjacent coal mines. This section of the tunnel was built several feet wider than the original tunnel bore. The southern portal bears a brick date stone of 1884.

Another 1,227 yards canal tunnel at Castle Mill Basin, now blocked off by a dam, leads under Wren's Nest to two under ground basins, east basin and west basin, and was used to transport limestone from the underground mine workings. Surface quarries were also opened; they outlasted the underground workings and were last used in the early 1920s. The land above the underground workings, together with the surface quarries, became a National Nature Reserve.

In 1989 two completely new canal tunnels were made, linking Singer Cavern and the Rock Tunnel, via Little Tess Cavern, to Castle Mill Basin (the northern portal of the main tunnel).

The restrictive dimensions of the tunnel and the absence of a towpath mean that many boats are unable to pass through it. Those that can are not allowed to use diesel engines due to the lack of ventilation in the tunnel.

Visitors to the adjacent Black Country Living Museum, which opened in 1976, may take a battery-powered narrowboat trip either through the tunnel or partway through the tunnel and the adjacent mines; and, also, try legging the boat.

The rock on Castle Hill into which the tunnel is dug, Oolitic limestone, allows visitors to see Trilobite fossils preserved within it. Some fossils which were considered notable and were located close to the water line, have been removed to prevent them from being eroded and attacked by visitors. Other parts of the tunnel pass through a granite-type rock known locally as Rowley Rag; and through coal measures.

The Netherton Tunnel follows a parallel route 1.5 miles to the south east; it is much larger and has twin towpaths running through it. It was built to ease congestion in the Dudley Tunnel.

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