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British Industrial History

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Woodhead Tunnels: First

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Note: This is a sub-section of Woodhead Tunnels

Tunnel of 3 miles 13 yards on the Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne and Manchester Railway, engineered by Charles Vignoles and who was then replaced by Joseph Locke. It runs from Woodford in Cheshire to Dunford Bridge in Yorkshire and passes through the Pennines at around 1,000 feet ASL with the deepest vertical shaft at 579 feet. All but 1,000 feet of it was lined with masonry.

1836 First report of the proposed route of a Sheffield and Manchester Railway and the Woodhead tunnel.[1]

1837 Vignoles began work as soon as the line obtained its Act of Incorporation in Parliament. First the line was marked over the ridge and a series of vertical shafts were bored. From the bases of these, a horizontal driftway was driven along the line of the first bore. Although sufficient land had been purchased for two tunnels, only one would be built initially.

The tunnel was driven through mostly Millstone Grit, interspersed in places by patches of argillaceous shale and softer sandstone on gradient of 1 in 201, rising toward the east. Wires were suspended down each shaft from which the centre line was determined by means of a theodolite. The accuracy was such that the driftways met with less than three inches of error.

When Vignoles resigned because of differences with the directors, Locke took over as a consultant and reported that the amount of water being encountered required the purchase of more powerful pumps.

1843 September. Report on the tunnels progress.[2]

1843 November. Mentions Jones and Fawcett as contractors for the tunnel.[3]

1844 March. Advertisement. Wanted - Miners for the Woodhead Tunnel. Apply Richard Hattersley, Contractor.[4]. Hattersley was the contractor for the western part and Thomas Nicholson for the eastern.

1844 August 8th. The railway opens from Glossop to the tunnel entrance including the Dinting Viaduct. Alfred Stanistreet Jee is engineer with Wellington Purdon (engineer for the tunnel), Napier (engineer for the Londendale contract between the viaduct and tunnel) and Simpson as assistant. Nicholson and Hattersley are contractors. Also Miller and Blackie who had been contractors from the commencement. Also Shortridge as contractor.[5]

1845 December 22nd. The first tunnel was completed.[6] At the time of its completion, Woodhead 1 was one of the world's longest railway tunnels at a length of 3 miles 13 yards. It was the first of several trans-Pennine tunnels including the Standedge Tunnels and the Totley Tunnel, which are only slightly longer.

Although the number of people employed reached 1,500 at one time, generally there were around 400 since there was limited space to work. Some 157 tons of gunpowder were used and over 8 million tons of water were pumped out. Once completed it had cost £200,000 and at least 26 lives had been lost.

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. Bradford Observer - Thursday 14 January 1836
  2. Liverpool Mail - Saturday 16 September 1843
  3. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Saturday 18 November 1843
  4. Leeds Times - Saturday 16 March 1844
  5. Manchester Times - Saturday 10 August 1844
  6. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Saturday 27 December 1845