The construction challenges of... Lydgate Tunnel

The construction challenges of… Lydgate Tunnel

Lydgate Tunnel was constructed under the superintendence of Mr J G Fraser, acting for Messrs Locke & Errington, the engineers to the railway. It was driven through the coal measures. Faults are common in this formation, and several were met with in the course of the work. One of these presented itself in a singular manner, one-half of the tunnel being in strong shale and rock in veins, whilst the other half was in a mass of wet and loose shale.

The tunnel is 25 feet wide, with parallel sides, up to 3 feet above the level of the rails; the height to the soffit is 20 feet, and the castings average 3 feet 6 inches below the rails. The total length of the tunnel is 1,332 yards, or three-quarters of a mile, of which about 1,000 yards is on a straight line, and the remainder on a curve of 74 chains radius. The following are the lengths of the different strata cut through:

MaterialLineal yards
Clay and loose shale210
Strong shale335
Strong shale, interspersed with bands of rock474
Rock, with veins of shale135
Total length1,332

The work was commenced in August 1854, and completed in March 1856, over a period of seventeen months.

Five shafts, 9 feet diameter in the clear, were sunk in the usual manner, excavating through soft material, and drilling and blasting through rock. After attaining the average depth of 60 feet, the material was raised by steam power. Four shafts, about 230 yards apart, were permanent for ventilation.

Lydgate Tunnel’s stone-built east portal.
Photo: Forgotten Relics collection

No.1A had formerly been a colliery shaft, and had not been used for many years. It was reopened by the contractor, and a cross heading was driven from it into the tunnel, the centre of which was 40 feet distant. The permanent shafts were lined with 9-inch brickwork, or 12 inches of masonry, except where in rock; they were finished at the soffit of the tunnel with ashlar curbs 2 feet 3 inches deep. Where water penetrated, iron shields, with a gutter round the edge, were suspended, and the water conveyed by a pipe down the side of the tunnel, into the regular channels. The shafts were carried 12 feet above the surface of the ground, and were completed with an ashlar coping. A 9-horse power steam engine was fixed at shaft No.1a, a locomotive engine between shafts Nos. 1 and 2, to work them both, and another locomotive between shafts Nos. 3 and 4.

The shafts were all commenced in August 1854, and completed to the respective depths measured to the formation-level hereunder stated:

No. 1A completed October 185427⅓ yards
No. 1 completed November 185453⅓ yards13 yards
No. 2 completed February 185580 yards13 yards
No. 3 completed February 185575⅔ yards18½ yards
No. 4 completed January 185553 yards5 yards
Total depth289⅓ yards43⅓ yards
Average depth of each58 yards

Much inconvenience arising from foul air was checked by the proximity of the shafts. Foul air was driven away by means of fans fixed on the surface, which forced down a volume of air through pipes, which were fastened along the tunnel. In the neighbourhood of the old coal-workings, which ran across the tunnel, much choke-damp was met with, which was counteracted by a current of fresh air forced down through a bore-hole from the surface, lined with an iron pipe.

Great care had to be exercised in fixing the centres througl the portion of the tunnel lined from the heading of No.1A shaft, 245 lineal yards in extent, as part was on a curve and part on a straight line.

A general view through the now-disused tunnel.
Photo: Bungle

The faces walled from the cuttings at the ends, for 141 yards in length, were mined with a bottom heading, and at a distance of 30 or 40 yards from each end a break-up was made, from which lengths were driven both ways, towards the open cutting, and towards the next shaft. The remainder of the tunnel, worked from the shafts, was mined by a top heading 6½ feet high by 4½ feet wide. The shafts furnished ten faces; and 1,191 lineal yards out of the total length were worked from them, each face averaging 17·26 lineal yards per month. The open ends gave four faces in the break-ups, each making 9 lineal yards per month. The lengths mined from the different shafts are given in the following table:

Shaft No.Length driven east (lineal yards)Length driven west (lineal yards)TotalTime occupiedRate/month
1A138107245Oct 1854-
March 1856
1157126283Dec 1854-
March 1856
210096196March 1855-
March 1856
395108203March 1855-
March 1856
4119145264Feb 1855-
March 1856
Ends9546141Oct 1855-
March 1856

The excavation was conducted in the usual manner – the rock and strong shale being blasted out, and the clay and loose shale axed out. As each length was headed it was widened out, and the roof and sides supported by larch bars and poling boards, from 9 to 10 feet above the formation level. The material was removed in iron skips, capable of holding half a cubic yard each, which were placed on light trolleys, and these pushed along tramways laid between the work and the shafts, raised to the surface by engine power, and tipped on the spoil bank. The lengths mined averaged: in loose shale, 12 feet; strong shale, 15 feet; rock, 24 feet, in some instances 30 feet.

The centres consisted of skeleton ribs placed about 4 feet apart; at the leading end, two centres were placed close together, for greater security.

A cross section showing the thickness of the lining through shale (left) and rock (right).

The sidewalls were built of coursed rubble, the beds of the stones being punched with a hammer. The footings were not less than 18 inches below the formation level, and the walls were carried 7 feet 3 inches above the level of the rails. The arch, for 632 lineal yards, was turned with fitted rubble; and from the scarcity of good bedded stone, 700 yards were of brickwork. The mortar was composed of barrow-stone lime mixed with coal ashes, in the proportion of 2 to 1, ground by heavy iron rollers, and used fresh. Its setting power was most satisfactory.

Where the crown bars sagged much, they were built in, the intermediate spaces being filled with brickwork. Where water was met with over the crown of the arch, the tunnel was covered with zinc, terminating in a gutter to convey the water where a pipe was built through the masonry, to be discharged into the drains.

There was considerable variation in the thickness of the masonry. It was:

In shale2 feet 6 inches thick2 feet thick
In rock1 foot 9 inches thick1 foot 6 inches thick

The following table gives the lengths of each thickness built:

LengthThickness (sides)Thickness (arch)Earthwork/lineal yardMasonry/lineal yardTotal masonry
Lineal yardsFt/InchFt/InchCubic yardsCubic yardsCubic yards
Average per lineal yard12⅓

The contract price for excavation, without distinction, was 4s 6d per cubic yard, including all the timbering. The prices paid to the miners varied from 8l to 18l per lineal yard, according to the material; nearly half the total length of the tunnel amounting to 12l per lineal yard, or less.

The view towards the tunnel’s east portal from the platform of Grasscroft Station.
Photo: Saddleworth Museum Archives – A Community Resource

The price for setting the centres was 8s per rib.

The time the masons and labourers were allowed for building, with the cost, was as follows:

Sidewalls, 2 feet 6 inches thick and 12 feet in length£ s d
4 masons, 1¾ shifts of 8 hours7 @ 5s 6d1 18 6
9 labourers15¾ @ 3s 6d2 15 1½
Arch, 2 feet thick and 12 feet in length
4 masons, 3 shifts12
2 extra for key, 1 shift2
Sub Total14 @ 5s 6d3 17 0
11 labourers, 3 shifts
3 extra for key, 1 shift
Sub Total36 @ 3s 6d6 6 0
Total (about 4s 9d per cubic yard)14 16 17½

The contract price for the tunnel through rock was 26l per lineal yard and through shale 35l 16s per lineal yard; the average price was 30l per lineal yard.

The construction challenges of... Lydgate Tunnel

Wellington A Purdon recounts the construction of… Woodhead’s first tunnel

Situation and character of the work/geology of the ridge/general design and structure/plan of construction/preliminary operations

The range and levels

Ventilation of works/drainage

Sinking of the shafts

Driving the headings/excavation & lining

About the author

The situation and character of the work

The tract of country lying between Manchester and Sheffield is traversed by a well-known ridge of mountains called the Pennine chain, and sometimes the backbone of England, in which the rivers Don and Mersey take their source, and flow in opposite directions to the eastern and western shores.

When the plan of a railway for connecting the towns in question was required, it was early seen that a tunnel through this ridge was unavoidable; and it was also perceived that the best place for getting it through was near the head waters of the rivers that have been named, as their gorges penetrated further up, presented the narrowest limit of the ridge, and their courses downwards through the flanks of the mountain afforded the most desirable route for the railway. This position was found to be nearly midway and not much out of the nearest direction between the two towns. The railway between Manchester and Sheffield merits some notice, not only on account of the work I am describing but for its general design and bold works. The tunnel is situated at the summit level of the railway which falls both to Manchester and Sheffield, with inclinations equal to about forty feet per mile on either side for 18 miles. Such gradients had, at the time, a degree of novel severity; but they afforded the best way by which the great elevation could be reached at which it was practicable to commence the tunnel.

It has been stated that the route of the railway followed the courses of the rivers Don and Mersey. This description is entirely true with regard to the river Don. Its approach to Sheffield enabled the railway on its banks to abut upon the town. It was not so upon the Manchester side. The river Mersey passes wide of that town which involved another tunnel of difficult construction through the ridge at Hattersley, which separates the waters falling into the Mersey from those into the valley of the Tame, as the line approached Manchester. There were also the Dinting and Etherow viaducts, two structures of unusual dimensions, designed by Alfred S Jee Esq, and considerable viaducts over the lateral brooks of the valleys traversed, together with heavy embankments and culverts on sidelong ground, and deep excavations; so that the line may be said to have been one of heavy and difficult works which have been happily overcome.

Geology of the ridge

Having described the situation of the tunnel, it is desirable to explain the character of the formations through which it had to be carried, as this is often of more consequence in regard to the construction of such a work than its physical magnitude. The measures passed through were beds of grit, various sandstones and different qualities of shale. The order in which these strata occur is well known – resting upon the limestone, the coal series, passing up through its various beds of grit and sandstone, alternated with argillaceous shales, reaches the lowest seam of workable coal known in Yorkshire, immediately below which lay the whole of the measures that had to be operated upon in driving the tunnel. The disposition of the strata showed a moderate dip to the eastward; but it is not to be inferred that the sheets of rock around and overlying the tunnel were in one continuous plane. They lay in the usual masses of irregular form and area, with various inclinations and insulated by faults (see diagram below). There were no organic remains or mineral ingredients discovered, but those well known in the coal measures; and the only observation worthy of remark with regard to this lower portion of the series (which is not so familiar) is that there was no absence of the usual developments which occur in the upper measures of this class of rocks.

Click here for a detailed PDF diagram showing the section of the summit rock at Woodhead.

General design and structure

It has been stated that the tunnel is situated at the summit of the line. The height of the rails at this point is 966 feet above the sea and marks the eastern entrance. At the western end, the rails are but 887 feet above the same datum, which shows a difference of level, between one end and the other, of 79 feet. The distance between these limits is 3 miles and 22 yards, the total length of the tunnel.

The stratification has been described as dipping eastward. The gradient of the tunnel rises in the same direction, with a uniform inclination from end to end of 1 in 200.

From the first, it was laid out to have two parallel tunnels of smaller dimensions, instead of one larger and calculated for a double trackway. This was determined in order to save immediate outlay, with a view of constructing but one of the tunnels in the first instance and leaving the second one in abeyance until increased traffic should require its construction. This practice deserves commendation, with respect to tunnels of such magnitude as that I am describing, not only from the lesser difficulty of raising the smaller capital but in consequence of the lesser quantity of excavation requisite to be drawn from the limited number of faces of operation used; and it does not appear to me that the ultimate cost of the two tunnels should generally exceed that of the larger size, if the ground be at all of a friable nature. The thickness of the space between the two tunnels, was designed at 17 feet and that lying the more southerly was the one executed and to which the observations in this paper refer.

The clear height of the tunnel is 18 feet and its width is 15 feet. The form of the arch is a semi-ellipse sprung from the ends of its conjugate axis, resting upon vertical sidewalls. The course of the railway is straight through the summit ridge and the centre line naturally falls between the two tunnels before described. It was upon this line that the shafts were sunk, so that they were situated on a parallel line, 16 feet off the centre of the tunnel under discussion. The highest point of ground shown on the longitudinal section of the summit ridge (see diagram above) is 1,552 feet over the sea, and 620 feet above the tunnel formation. The two entrances were fixed at an extreme depth of 65 feet of open cutting, which was heavier at the eastern face owing to the ground rising less precipitately.

In consequence of the great depth from the surface to the level of the tunnel, it was calculated that but little time, in proportion to the expense, would be gained by sinking many shafts in addition to opening each entrance face. Accordingly it was determined that there should be but five shafts sunk. The position of each shaft was fixed so as to bring all the various headings of the tunnel to a termination at the same time, or as nearly so as rational pre-judgement could determine. The manner in which they were disposed is as follows (see diagram above).

Western faceNo. 1 shaft1,160 yards
No. 1 shaftNo. 2 shaft825 yards
No. 2 shaftNo. 3 shaft648 yards
No. 3 shaftNo. 4 shaft748 yards
No. 4 shaftNo. 5 shaft748 yards
No. 5 shaftEastern face1,166 yards

Total: 5295 lineal yards

The depths of the shafts are as under, expressed from the original surface to the level of the rails.

ShaftNo. 1No. 2No. 3No. 4No. 5
Depth182 yards189 yards162 yards189 yards135 yards

Total: 857 lineal yards

From which it appears that the average depth may be taken at 172 yards.

Plan of construction

It was resolved to drive two driftways, one at the top, the other at the formation level of the tunnel, through the entire length, before commencing the general excavation. The size of these headings was – for the top one, 4 feet, and the bottom one, 6 feet square (see diagram below). The object of this mode of proceeding was to meet some points of difficulty that were presented. (The mode of ventilation will be subsequently explained.) It served as a means to carry air to the workings through the long stretches that lay between the various shafts and open ends, as is usual in coal works, by horizontal and parallel galleries; so by placing one of the drifts vertically over the other, the same effect was obtained. The upper one ranged the crown of the tunnel and laid open the work for final excavation, while the bottom one served for the drainage and drawing away the material; both together lessened the quantity of excavation to be afterwards raised and took off the water from the heavier work of the enlargement.

Diagram showing the two headings, the relative position of the tunnels, together with the bottom lift of pumps and sump lodge.

Further, there was pecuniary reason. It was not thought wise to go too headlong into so great and novel a work when, by merely driving driftways, a lesser sum of money was expended in the first instance and when the headings were gotten through the problem was solved, so far as regards the amount of water and knowing the nature of the ground: confidence in the undertaking was established, which enabled the work of greater size to be pushed more vigorously afterwards; and for these reasons it was preferred to drive a double driftway throughout before carrying the full excavation forward or following close after the headings.

The number of shafts, and the manner in which they were disposed, have been already stated. They were 10 feet in diameter and a 25 horse engine was applied at the top of each to wind out the material and work the pumps. It was assumed that the sinking would occupy about 15 months and that in the mean time the headings from the entrance faces would be advanced by as much as the greater lengths of those stretches exceed the distance between any two of the shafts; so that after the horizontal work should commence from the bottom of the shafts, the entire number of faces of operation would have equal spaces to drive before meeting the headings from the opposite direction and thus leave the mountain thrilled at one period of time. It was then proposed to follow up with the widening process and general formation of the tunnel at each face. The plan of ventilation will be detailed; but it may be observed that there was no want of air felt after the communication was opened by the drifts in the way described, between the respective shafts and the open ends of the tunnel. It was only until the headings should be gotten through that any artificial means were requisite.

Preliminary operations

A company was formed in 1836 and the act for the construction of the railway, embracing this important work, was obtained in May 1837. It was 12 months afterwards before any steps were taken for proceeding, owing to the formidable nature of the undertaking. The promoters were not assured and had to contend against the opposing views of timid and dissenting shareholders.

The engineer who laid out and entered upon the construction of this work was Charles Vignoles Esq. He was superseded by Joseph Locke Esq under whose direction it was executed.

The ground was broken on the 1st October 1838 but nothing of a determined nature was done until towards the end of the following year.

The preliminary works that were necessary for commencing the tunnel were not so trifling or such as might be done at once. It was necessary to make cart roads in different directions to convey coal for the engines from the adjacent public roads and also to connect the various points of operation, the united length of which exceeded four miles. It was requisite to build cottages for the workmen, stables, a gunpowder magazine and workshops; besides erecting the engines and constructing the reservoirs, observations etc.

It may not be wrong, at this place, to state a few particulars of the notions that prevailed at the time in question, with respect to a work of this nature.

It was generally said that it would never be made or that, if it were, it must be at an absurdly extravagant cost after many years. The opinions of those most interested were very vague and but few had any idea of how long it would take to construct or how much it would cost. It was thought however by those best able to form a judgement that the strata were generally favourable from the appearance of the bassettings and dip along and in the vicinity of the line; and that passing boldly, as it did, under the centre of the ridge, there should be no ground of a highly broken and contorted character, or (as in sidelong ground) that might occasion a creeping weight and require expensive timbering and lining for its support. The circumjacent valleys lay in such a manner, both in point of position and levels, in respect to the drainage of water from the workings, and the fact of the tunnel being situated 900 feet above the sea led to the belief that the quantity of water from the natural drainage of the surrounding district would not be excessive.

It was also seen that the time of completion must be governed by the mode of construction that might be employed and that, owing to the great depth of the shafts, the number of faces of work most likely would be but few, which shadowed forth in some degree the period for its completion.

Situation and character of the work/geology of the ridge/general design and structure/plan of construction/preliminary operations

The range and levels

Ventilation of works/drainage

Sinking of the shafts

Driving the headings/excavation & lining

About the author

Wellington A Purdon recounts the construction of... Woodhead's first tunnel

Local newspaper stories recounting the construction of… Queensbury Tunnel

Diary of accidents, incidents and events

Reports on the construction work

A walk through the works

A walk over the works

Bradford, Thornton and Keighley Railway

Great activity is now being displayed in sinking the shafts of the great tunnel for this railway close to Queensbury, and half a dozen of the eight shafts have been already begun. On Wednesday an engine and boiler arrived at Beggarington to be used in connection with a tramway at Black Hill for raising and lowering trucks for conveying the earth to the new station at North Bridge. After mill-losing, large numbers of visitors proceed every evening to watch the progress of the works. At Strines’ shaft the accumulation of water has necessitated the sinking of another shaft lower down in order to carry it off.

Saturday 25th July 1874: Halifax Courier

Sharp practice on the Bradford, Thornton and Keighley Railway

The contractors for the above line, being restricted to a certain period for having it completed, the responsibility of it being ready in time has fallen chiefly on the managers of the heaviest portions at Clayton and Queensbury, where the tunnels are being pushed forward with the utmost possible despatch.

Last Thursday the manager on the Queensbury side received intimation by telegram that a semi-portable engine, to be used in sinking one of his shafts, would be sent from Leeds by traction engine on Friday night, and would arrive in Bradford early on Saturday morning. A party of men, and a supply of water, were accordingly sent to meet it at the last-mentioned place, but on their arrival no engine was to be found. Afterwards it was discovered that the manager on the Clayton side, having got wind of its approach and being unwilling to miss such a prize, had gone at a still earlier hour to intercept it, and had diverted it to his own use.

The Queensbury manager, however, who was at a stand for want of his engine, was naturally dissatisfied with the arrangement, and having viewed the ground and laid his plans overnight, went to Clayton yesterday, while the coast was clear, taking a large body of men and sixteen horses along with him, and brought away the missing engine to its proper destination at Beggarington, where it arrived at 4pm.

Monday 17th August 1874: Bradford Observer

Fatal accident at Queensbury

On Saturday evening a fatal accident occurred on the Halifax, Thornton and Keighley Railway, at No.1 Shaft near Beggarington, Queensbury. The shaft is being sunk for driving the tunnel under Queensbury in connection with the above railway, and is worked by a semi-portable engine. The iron cage had been raised to the mouth of the pit, which had also been covered up, when for some unexplained reason the engine-tenter, William Saddle, started his engine, and drew the cage up to the pulley, where the rope broke, setting free the cage, which broke through the wooden doors at the top of the shaft and fell to the bottom, striking three men who were down at work. One of them, Richard Sutcliffe, a sinker, aged thirty, of Range Bank, Halifax, was struck on the head and instantly killed. Two other men, named John Price and Thomas Dyson, masons, were also severely injured. They were taken to the Halifax Infirmary, and Dyson is reported to have died since. The inquest will be held tomorrow at the Royal Oak Inn, Ambler Thorn.

Monday 12th October 1874: Bradford Observer

Accident on the new line

On Wednesday morning, as a heavy railway truck, loaded with iron rails, was being drawn up the incline, on the works of the Great Northern Railway at Royd Hill, the last link of the chain broke at the end of the strong wire rope to which it was attached. The truck was near the brow of the hill, and on being released soon acquired such velocity that it flew into the air, where it discharged its cargo, and alighting on the wheels, the rebound of the springs caused it to turn a somersault into a small reservoir. The man in charge, who was seated on the chain when it broke, dropped down to the ground and escaped unhurt.

Saturday 16th January 1875: Halifax Courier

Extraordinary robbery near Queensbury

On Saturday afternoon a well-dressed man, named Barney Kelly, arrived at the Malt Shovel Inn, Ambler Thorn, Queensbury, and inquired for lodgings, stating that be had lately come from America and was going to work at No.2 shaft on the new tunnel of the Great Northern Railway. Two labourers accompanied him from Halifax in order to carry his trunk, which was brass bound and very heavy, and was left in an adjoining room while the party spent about an hour drinking in the tap room of the inn. They left together, and the two labourers immediately returned for the trunk, which they were seen carrying through Shibden Head about five o’clock.

The owner on finding it gone raised an alarm, and applied to the neighbouring constable, but nothing was heard of the trunk until early on the following Monday morning, when it was found rifled of its contents in a field close at hand. Among the articles left behind in the field were part of a revolver and a number of bullets, a return “passage” to America, two pairs of Wellington boots, a green sash and harp, supposed to be the insignia of the Fenian brotherhood etc.

The owner states that the trunk originally contained greenbacks, and property to the value of £50, and threatens the landlady of the inn with an action for recovery. The robbers were traced as far as Great Horton, but have not yet been come up with.

Thursday 11th February 1875: Bradford Observer

A dangerous fellow

At the West Riding Court, Halifax, on Saturday, Robert Bell, an engine-tenter, for whom Mr Storey appeared, was charged with being drunk whilst at work on the previous day. Major Ormsby stated that the defendant was in charge of the shaft in connection with the Beggarington tunnel, near Queensbury, on the Halifax, Bradford and Thornton line, now in course of construction. This was about midnight on Friday, and he was drunk. One of the managers called for a policeman, and the defendant was taken into custody.

There were five men in the shaft at the time, and owing to the defendant being drunk they had a narrow escape of being killed whilst ascending the shaft. Mr Storey submitted that as the defendant was not drunk in a public place, he could not be convicted for that offence. The defendant was discharged; but we understand that a summons is to be taken out against him under the Master and Servants Act.

Monday 15th February 1875: Bradford Observer

Bone setting extraordinary

About ten o’clock yesterday morning, a labourer on the works of the Great Northern Railway at Queensbury, while unloading a truck on the incline at No. 4 shaft, got his foot caught by a balk, and fell backwards across the wire rope. Several of his companions, who ran to his assistance, finding him insensible, and thinking, from the position in which he was lying, that his neck was dislocated, immediately took hold of him by the head and shoulders, and by main force pulled it back again. They state that they distinctly heard the bones give a loud “crick” on being replaced. He still remained unconscious, and after being carried home, was attended by the company’s doctor, Mr John Fawthrop, but revived in the course of a few hours. One of his legs was also badly twisted and grazed by the fall.

Thursday 25th March 1875: Bradford Observer

Accident on the new line

On Tuesday, several trucks, three of which had been “spragged”, were carelessly left on the slope of the incline by the workmen at Royd Hill, on the works of the new railway, and started off downwards and were smashed to pieces at the bottom.

Saturday 12th June 1875: Halifax Courier

Very dangerous

Yesterday two gentlemen were driving through Queensbury in a two-wheeled vehicle, and at Hill Top where the tramway crosses the Denholmegate Road, a man suddenly seized the horse’s head and held it back, otherwise the gentlemen would probably have been killed, for loaded waggons came along and passed over the crossing at great speed – they would in all likelihood have crushed the occupants of the vehicle. It really is too bad that so little protection is afforded to the public at this place. What are the authorities doing?

Saturday 19th June 1875: Halifax Courier

Accident on the new line

About seven o’clock on Wednesday morning a labourer on the works of the new line of railway at Netherton, John Swires, known as “Punch”, was run over by a locomotive coming down the incline. For some unexplained reason he failed to get out of the way in time although the driver whistled. His right leg was taken off below the knee, and also the toes of his left foot. He was lifted on to the engine and carried to the Halifax Infirmary, and died there on Thursday.

Saturday 3rd August 1875: Halifax Courier

Gunpowder accident

On Wednesday evening a workman named John Fisher, a native of Wakefield, was engaged in drawing an unexploded charge of powder in No.4 shaft on the works of the Great Northern Railway, near Queensbury, when it exploded and injured his face and eyes, so that he had to be led back to his lodgings by his companions.

Saturday 10th July 1875: Halifax Courier

Fatal accident on railway

On Sunday morning another fatal accident occurred on the Bradford and Thornton Railway, near Queensbury. About half past nine a plumber, named Henry Ingham, of Denholme, aged 37, was killed whilst employed in No.4 shaft. He and a companion were repairing some piping which was out of order at an altitude of 30 yards from the bottom (the shaft being altogether 90 yards deep) when, in leaning over the tub, Ingham overbalanced himself and fell to the bottom into the water, which is five or six yards deep. His dead body was recovered soon after.

An inquest on the body was held by Mr Barstow on Monday, at the New Dolphin Inn, when the overlooker of the works stated that ropes were kept for the safety of men working in the shaft, and that if they did not use them it was their own fault. Verdict – “Accidental Death”.

Saturday 31st July 1875: Halifax Courier# Indecent assault by a navvy

James Nuttall, a navvy employed on the Halifax, Bradford and Thornton Railway, and residing at Queensbury, was charged before the borough justices, on Thursday, with committing an indecent assault upon a young woman, daughter of the woman at whose house he lodged. The assault, which took place early the same morning, was proved, and the prisoner was sent to gaol for six months, with hard labour.

Saturday 14th August 1875: Halifax Courier

Another fatal accident on the Halifax, Thornton and Keighley Railway

Shortly before nine o’clock yesterday morning, a banksman, named Sutcliffe Hodgson, aged twenty-seven, and residing at Priestley Hill, near Queensbury, was killed under shocking circumstances at No.1 shaft on the works of the tunnel near that village for the Bradford, Halifax and Thornton Railway.

The landing stage on which he was standing at the time of the accident had been drawn back from the mouth of the shaft, and the catch not having been put on, it slipped back about eighteen inches, causing him to fall headlong down the shaft, which is forty-four yards deep, into the tunnel. He was killed instantly. About seventeen feet from the bottom some scaffolding was fixed, a plank of which he broke in his fall, and those who went to his assistance had to go round by the adjoining shaft in order to get at the place.

The body was taken up in a fearfully mangled condition, the head having been knocked quite flat, and many bones broken. It was carried to his house at Priestley Hill, where its arrival caused considerable excitement in the neighbourhood, to which his family also belonged. He leaves a young wife, to whom he was married quite recently.

Thursday 2nd September 1875: Bradford Observer

Narrow escape on the new line

About eight o’clock on Monday morning two pipe fitters named John Weatherall and George Wright, had a narrow escape from drowning in No.2 shaft of the working of the new line of railway near Queensbury. They were descending the shaft to their work, and it is believed they were being lowered by the brake as the tub in which they were standing was sent down into five or six yards of water at the bottom. One of them climbed up the rope, but the other man being a heavy man went down with the tub. He managed, however, to escape with a ducking as they were immediately drawn up.

Saturday 11th September 1875: Halifax Courier

Accident on the new line

About nine o’clock on Monday morning, a labourer named Joseph Gibson, employed as a platelayer in the tunnel for the Bradford, Thornton, and Keighley Railway near Queensbury, was severely injured in the head and body by a large stone which fell from the roof or from one of the trucks near which he was working in the dark. The blow on his head was so severe as to penetrate the skull and cause the brains to protrude. He was removed to Halifax Infirmary.

Saturday 18th September 1875: Halifax Courier

Land slip – narrow escape by forty men

On Wednesday morning, an accident, fortunately unattended with any very serious results, occurred at the mouth of Queensbury tunnel, Hole Bottom. By the incessant rain of the two previous days, the ground had become so sad and heavy that the timber, which supports the roof of the entrance to the tunnel, gave way, bringing down a large quantity of earth, which completely blocked up the entrance.

About forty men were at work at the time, and Mr Albrighton, inspector of the works, accompanied by Mr Slater, tunnel steward, had barely got far enough into the tunnel to escape being crushed. Every effort was at once made by those working on the outside to rescue the men from their dangerous imprisonment, and in a short time a small opening was affected into what is called the top heading. Through this the men were drawn one after another, all luckily escaping unhurt. Already, the air had begun to feel very bad, and in a short time suffocation must have ensued.

Saturday 23rd October 1875: Halifax Courier

Dreadful accident near Queensbury – two killed and four injured

Yesterday morning, at about twenty minutes to four o‘clock, a very serious accident happened on the Bradford, Thornton and Halifax Railway, near the Ovenden end of Queensbury tunnel, under Royd Hill, by which two miners, named Henry Jones and John Gough, were killed, and four others injured.

It appears that the works in this tunnel are being pushed on with great vigour, three shifts of men being employed, each shift consisting of about twenty men. At the time named, the men had fired a number of “shots”, and were returning to their work under the impression that all the blasts had exploded, when they found that one of them had missed fire. The two men, Jones and Gough, immediately set about withdrawing the shot, when it suddenly exploded, and they were instantly killed, and four others were more or less injured. One of them, John Rowley, the most severely injured, was removed to the Halifax Infirmary, where it was found that he was suffering from a compound fracture of the arm and injuries to the head.

Mr Albrighton, the inspector of the works, was quickly on the spot, and rendered every assistance to the unfortunate men. The bodies were removed to the Olive Branch Inn, Catherine Slack, to await an inquest.

Wednesday 8th December 1875: Bradford Observer

Navvies’ supper

On Saturday evening a supper was given at the Olive Branch Inn, Ambler Thorn, to the foremen and carpenters of the Halifax, Thornton, and Keighley Railway, Ovenden end. The edibles were ample and excellent, and all did justice to the same. Mr Albrighton, the inspector to the company, was unanimously voted to the chair, and opened the proceedings after supper with a song, followed by proposing the health of Her Majesty the Queen and all the Royal family, and afterward that of Mr John Shaw, the agent of the line, coupling the same with the contractors, Messrs Benton and Woodiwiss. During the evening songs were sung, and some of the company indulged in dancing. The health of the chairman was drunk, also that of the host and hostess, and after a thorough and enjoyable evening, the company dispersed shortly after ten o’clock.

Saturday 5th February 1876: Halifax Courier

Another railway accident

Another accident of a serious nature happened last Wednesday to a young man, named Isaac Dealey, employed on the Halifax, Thornton, and Keighley Railway. It appears he was engaged near the Ovenden entrance to Queensbury tunnel, in pressing home a dynamite cartridge with a wooden rammer, when, it is supposed, on account of too violent pressure it suddenly exploded, injuring the man most severely about the head and face. He was conveyed to the Halifax Infirmary where he now lies in a dangerous condition. It is to be hoped the frequent accidents resulting from this highly explosive substance will teach the men to be more careful in dealing with it.

Saturday 12th February 1876: Halifax Courier

A strange whim gratified

When the construction of the Queensbury branch of the Halifax, Thornton, and Keighley Railway first began it was found necessary to pull down several of the houses at Hole Bottom, which obstructed the line of route to Thornton. In one of these houses an old woman, named Sarah Warburton, had lived all her life, in fact the house had been in the occupation of the family for upwards of ninety years.

In front of the house grew an old plane tree, out of which the old woman said it had always been her intention to have her coffin made; and she threatened the manager (Mr John Shaw) that unless he granted her this favour, her ghost should haunt him all his life. Accordingly, the coffin, which has for some time been made in the workshop at Holmfield, was conveyed across the hill by means of the tramroad to the house of Mr John Sharp, there to await the old woman’s decease; so that she may now enjoy in prospective the pleasure of going to sleep in the cherished old tree.

Saturday 4th March 1876: Halifax Courier

Another accident on the line

Another accident happened at the Halifax, Thornton, and Bradford Railway on Sunday evening. It appears that fitters having fixed an additional pipe 9in long and 12in bore to the pump in connection with No.4 shaft of the Queensbury tunnel, had taken out the spear rods by which the pump is worked, to make the necessary addition to their length.

Two men named George Waite and George Parker were engaged in lowering them down again into the shaft by the aid of a capstan, when the weight (about four tons) overpowered them, and Waite was whirled violently round three or four times by the handle of the capstan, and then thrown off. When taken up it was found that one leg was broken below the knee, the bone protruding through his dress. In a short time a conveyance was procured, and he was removed to the Halifax Infirmary. Parker after being taken once round was cast on to the metals of the adjoining tramway fortunately not much worse.

Saturday 18th March 1876: Halifax Courier

Fatal accident in the Queensbury Tunnel

Yesterday, an inquest was held by Mr Barstow, coroner, at Armstrong’s Hotel, Bradford, respecting the death of Richard Jones, who died from injuries received while at work in the Queensbury Tunnel on the Bradford, Halifax and Thornton Railway. The deceased, who was thirty-three years of age, went under another name upon the works – a custom not uncommon upon navvies.

On Monday last he and two other men were at work at the Hole Bottom end of the tunnel, and after firing some shots the deceased returned to the place to clear away a loose piece of rock which was in the way of another drilling. For this purpose, he used a “pick”, and after working at the stone for some little time, his companions called to him to come away or the stone would be upon him. Their warning came too late, however, for as Jones was making his escape the stone, weighing about 4cwt, fell upon him, and crushed him terribly.

Assistance being readily at hand the unfortunate man was extricated, and sent to the Bradford Infirmary, but he died on arriving in the neighbourhood to Lister Hills. After being seen by Dr Lee, whose surgery was close at hand, the deceased’s remains were taken to the dead-house at the Workhouse. Several of his fellow-workmen were called, but no blame seemed to attach to anyone, except perhaps the deceased himself, and the verdict arrived at was “Accidental death”.

Saturday 3rd June 1876: Bradford Observer

Railway accident near Queensbury

A serious accident occurred on Monday, a little after noon, to a young man named Thomas Mann, employed at Hole Bottom, near Queensbury, on the Halifax, Thornton and Bradford Railway. It appears he was recklessly playing with a dynamite cartridge, when it exploded, and blew away the forefinger of his left hand, and the thumb of his right hand from the first joint, besides badly damaging two other fingers, and injuring one of his eyes. He was immediately removed to Mr Fawthrop’s surgery, where his wounds were dressed.

Wednesday 14th June 1876: Bradford Observer

Narrow escape at Queensbury

On Saturday last, sixteen men employed of the Halifax, Bradford and Thornton Railway, near Queensbury, narrowly escaped being killed. It appears that at noon sixteen of the navvies working in Hole Bottom left off for dinner, and got into an empty truck which was being drawn along the tramway towards Queensbury. This tramway is laid over the hill on which Queensbury stands, in a line with the shafts which had been sunk for the excavation of the tunnel, and at most of these shafts a stationary engine is fixed to pull the trucks up the inclines.

In this case a locomotive engine was “spragged” about 500 yards up the incline – which is very steep on the Queensbury side – and was winding onto a drum the wire rope to which the truck was attached. The waggon was drawn up in safety, but the rope being wound up a little too far, the buffers of the waggon bumped the engine, and the rope hook was jerked out. The waggon at once set off down the incline, increasing its speed every moment. The men jumped out, and fortunately escaped with a few bruises. The waggon continued its course, ran off the rails, and turned over and over until within a very short distance of the cutting at the mouth of the tunnel, where several men were working. A dog which the men had with them remained in the waggon when the men jumped out, and was killed. The waggon was much damaged.

Several accidents have happened at or near this place. On Wednesday last the engine was coming from Queensbury to one of the shafts. The brake was put on to bring it to a stand, but, the rails being slippery, it continued its course down the incline, and ran off the rails. The engine-driver jumped off and escaped uninjured.

Monday 10th July 1876: Bradford Observer

Accident in the tunnel

On Tuesday morning, one of the men employed in the tunnel at Hole Bottom met with an accident while at work. It appears in traversing the scaffold on which the masons work, he unwittingly stepped on the loose end of a plank, which tilted and caused him to fall into the bottom of the tunnel. He sustained severe injuries about the head and back, and one arm was badly crushed. He was conveyed to his home in Wheatley, where he is progressing favourably.

Saturday 5th August 1876: Halifax Courier

Fatal result of an accident

On Thursday morning, a young man, named Llewellyn Jones, died at Queensbury from injuries received on the Halifax, Thornton, and Bradford Railway. Deceased was employed as a miner in the tunnel at No.2 shaft. On the morning of the 17th inst, he commenced drilling a hole which had been left by the men on the night shift in ignorance of its being charged, when it exploded and severely injured him about the right arm and face. He was assisted home and medical aid obtained, and up to Tuesday last appeared to be progressing favourably, when lock-jaw set in, and all the efforts of the medical men proved futile, the deceased expiring on Thursday morning in great agony.

Saturday 26th August 1876: Halifax Courier

Another accident

On Monday, a serious accident happened to a mason named James Hollins, employed on the Halifax, Thornton, and Bradford Railway. It appears he was engaged in picking up some wedges from between the locomotive and some empty waggons, which were standing just inside Queensbury tunnel at the Netherton end, when the engine driver, having previously whistled, started the engine, and Hollins was caught between the buffers and severely crushed. He was taken up helpless, and conveyed across the hill by means of the tramway to his residence at Slave Row, Queensbury. Mr Fawthrop, surgeon, was immediately summoned. Very slight hopes are entertained of the man’s recovery.

Saturday 23rd September 1876: Halifax Courier

Another man killed on the railway

An inquest was held at the Granby Inn, Queensbury, on Tuesday, before Mr Barstow, coroner, on the body of a miner named Frederick Goulding. Deceased was employed in the railway tunnel at Hole Bottom, and on the 31st ult. was standing near an empty truck whilst a large piece of rock was being rolled down from the top heading, when the stone unexpectedly struck the waggon, and crushed Goulding between it and a piece of timber supporting the roof. Assistance was immediately rendered, and deceased was conveyed to his lodgings at Granby Feld. He succumbed to his injuries early on Friday morning. The jury returned a verdict of “Accidental death”.

Saturday 10th February 1877: Halifax Courier

Sudden death

A man named Pengrove, a navvy on the new railway at Queensbury, but who resides at Sowerby Bridge, died suddenly on Wednesday. He went into a beerhouse and complained of being unwell; he stayed some time, and then a friend offered to go home with him, but they had not gone many yards before Pengrove exclaimed, “Oh, I’m dying”. He was taken back to the house, and died at once. He was a weak and ailing man.

Saturday 14th April 1877: Halifax Courier

Serious accident on the line

Another accident happened on Tuesday evening to one of the navvies employed on the Halifax, Thornton, and Keighley Railway. He was working on a scaffold in the tunnel at Hole Bottom, when he slipped and fell to the bottom, a distance of about seven yards. He received very severe injuries about the head, arms and ribs, and was taken to the Infirmary at Bradford.

Saturday 19th May 1877: Halifax Courier

More victims

A very serious accident happened on the Halifax and Thornton Railway on Tuesday afternoon. It appears that a young man named John Cunningham was employed in the Netherton cutting as brakesman, and was attempting to “sprag” a number of waggons, when he missed his footing and fell across the rails. Several persons working at a short distance observed the accident and hastened to the spot, when it was found that the waggons had passed over both the man’s legs, completing severing them from the body a little above the ankle. The injured man was immediately placed in an empty waggon and conveyed down the Ovenden line to the Halifax Infirmary, where he lies in a precarious condition.

The same day a man named Captain Pickles, of Shelf, platelayer, was killed on the same line. He was assisting three other men to take a bogie loaded with sleepers through the tunnel at Hole Bottom, Queensbury, when several of the sleepers which projected over the bogie struck an upright pillar which supported the roof of the tunnel. The roof fell in and the deceased was struck on the back of the head by a plank weighing about half-a-ton. His right leg was also broken in two places, and he was otherwise so severely bruised that death was instantaneous. The other three men on seeing the danger at once ran away, and, with the exception of one of their number, who was knocked down and slightly injured, they escaped unhurt.

Saturday 23rd June 1877: Halifax Courier


William Murray, a labourer, fell while at work in the new tunnel at Queensbury, the consequence being that some of his ribs were badly crushed. He was taken to Halifax Infirmary.

Saturday 18th August 1877: Halifax Courier

Railway accident

Last Saturday morning another accident happened in Queensbury tunnel, by which two men named Herbert Evans and John Newstead received severe injuries. It appears Evans, who is a bricklayer, was preparing to come down from the top scaffold on which he was working, when he missed his footing and fell to the bottom, a distance of nine yards, sustaining serious injury about the spine. A labourer going up the ladder at the time, with a piece of timber on his shoulder, was so startled by the occurrence that he let the timber fall and hit Newstead, cutting him badly about the head and face. Both men were brought out at No.3 shaft, and conveyed to their lodgings. Medical assistance was immediately sent for and they are both reported to be progressing favourably.

Saturday 3rd November 1877: Halifax Courier

Sudden death

On Wednesday morning a young man named William Mitchell, whilst engaged in tipping trucks near the Netherton cutting of the Halifax, Thornton, and Keighley Railway, was seized with a sudden giddiness and fell down insensible. Medical assistance was immediately sent for, but without avail, as life was extinct in a few minutes. The body was removed to the Malt Shovel Inn, Ambler Thorn, and after medical examination a certificate was given stating that death had resulted from an apoplectic fit. About a month since, deceased, who is an unmarried man, was subject to a similar attack, from which he rallied.

Saturday 1st December 1877: Halifax Courier

Accident in the Queensbury Tunnel

On Tuesday afternoon, a mason named John Dyson, employed in the tunnel, met with a serious accident. He was engaged walling the side of the tunnel, near the bottom of No.3 shaft, when a quantity of earth and stone fell from the roof, alighting upon his head and shoulder, which were seriously bruised. His left arm, which was extended over the wall, was severely broken and cut. He was conveyed to the Halifax Infirmary.

Saturday 8th December 1877: Halifax Guardian

Railway accident

During the night of yesterday week another accident happened in Queensbury tunnel, by which two men were injured. Happily the injuries are not of a dangerous character. It appears that a number of men were working in the tunnel on the night shift, when the supports of the roof above them gave way, and let down a quantity of earth. One of the lumps struck a man named Ellis, and hurt him severely in the ribs. He was conveyed to his lodgings, and medical assistance obtained, and he is reported to be progressing favourably. Another man living in Great Horton had one foot badly injured.

Saturday 2nd February 1878: Halifax Courier

Another accident on the railway

On Wednesday, Thomas Mark, an excavator, employed at the Queensbury Tunnel, had his thigh accidently broken through some earth falling upon him. He was conveyed to the Halifax Infirmary.

Saturday 9th February 1878: Halifax Guardian

Serious accident, yesterday

Another accident of a very serious nature occurred yesterday at the tunnel under Queensbury, to an excavator named Thomas Williams. He is a Welshman, and whilst working in the tunnel a piece of rock fell upon him, and severely injured him. He was conveyed to the Halifax Infirmary, and it is feared his back is broken.

Saturday 23rd March 1878: Halifax Guardian

An interesting gathering

On Wednesday last the traveller who might have ascended the hill from any part to the summit at Queensbury would have reason to suppose that something out of the usual way was taking place there, the fact being that the contractors and sub-contractors of the new line of railway, now nearly completed, had resolved to celebrate the completion of the Queensbury tunnel by treating the whole of the men employed on the works to dinner, which was provided in a large tent erected on the ground adjoining No.5 shaft. It was certainly such a sight as is not often seen, to behold upwards of 300 men of this class dining together.

The dinner was served in an excellent style by Mr George Wood, of the Great Northern Hotel, Thornton, and the amount of consumption may be imagined when it is known that he provided 400lb of beef, 65lb mutton, with tongues, veal, hams etc, in proportion, together with 27 stones of vegetables.

On the cross table were Mr Isaac Woodiwiss, contractor; Mr Jas Albrighton, the inspector, who had the honour of laying the first stone and last brick in the tunnel; also the following sub-contractors – Messrs Wm Williams, James Barton, Josh. T Garner, Normanton Greenwood etc, Messrs J Hatton, Dennis Yates, H Green, of Queensbury, and Mr Bennett, the engineer, and Mr Walker, cashier for the works.

During dinner the Thornton Brass Band performed selections of music, and dancing, cricket, and other games were freely indulged in by the men until dusk. In the evening the grounds presented quite an animated appearance, the company being largely augmented by the villagers, the number of persons on the ground being estimated at 2,000.

Saturday 3rd August 1878: Halifax Courier

The Bradford and Halifax and Thornton Railway

The new line of railway between Bradford and Halifax will, it is expected, be opened for traffic (goods and passengers) during October. A passenger train, containing officials, has left Laisterdyke, passing over the line through Horton, Clayton, Queensbury Tunnel, Ovenden etc to North Bridge, Halifax, and then returned. This was for an inspection preliminary to the visit of the Government inspector.

The stations on the railway are fitted up in a very superior style, and the Greet Northern Company, to whom the line to Halifax and Thornton belongs, have provided for any amount of traffic that may fall to their share. The full scheme will not be completely developed until the branch from Thornton to Keighley is made, and then passengers from Huddersfield, Halifax etc can proceed to Keighley and the north without going through either Leeds or Bradford.

Saturday 5th October 1878: Leeds Times

The railway

On Tuesday and Wednesday the Government Inspector of railways, Major General Hutchinson, made the final examination of the new line between Bradford and Thornton, previous to the same being opened for passenger traffic, which the company announce for Monday next.

The inspector, who was accompanied by Messrs Fraser, engineers to the Great Northern Company, Mr Isaac Woodiwiss (Benton and Woodiwiss), the contractors, Mr Wm Bennett, the contractors’ engineer etc, proceeded off Tuesday morning from Bradford station slowly along the line by Great Horton, Clayton, Hole Bottom, and forward to Thornton; the ponderous embankment crossing High Birks, and the large string of viaducts crossing the Thornton Valley, taking the particular attention of the surveying party.

On Wednesday the party commenced their survey at North Bridge, Halifax, proceeding along the line to Holmfield, making a minute inspection of the Queensbury tunnel. At the close they were conveyed to the commodious hotel adjoining the Thornton station, where a sumptuous repast was provided by the host, Mr Geo. Wood, for about 30 of the inspecting party, and the company and contractors’ officials.

General Hutchinson handed to the engineer his certificate of the satisfactory completion of the line from Bradford to Thornton. We are informed that some alterations are necessary at the Halifax end ere that part of the line can be opened for passengers.

Saturday 12th October 1878: Halifax Courier

The railway

The new line between Bradford and Thornton was opened on Monday for passenger traffic, and the event appeared to excite considerable interest amongst those resident in the immediate route of the line. The trains were well filled.

The first train left the Great Northern Station at 7.45 on Monday morning, amidst the reports of fog signals. A large crowd of people had assembled at the stations between Bradford and Thornton. General admiration was expressed as to the manner in which the line had been constructed, and the ride was greatly enjoyed.

Amongst the officials and others who accompanied the train were Mr W West, passenger superintendent; Mr D West, locomotive superintendent; Mr Piggott, signal inspector; and Mr Woodiwiss, the contractor of the line.

The Halifax section was also opened for goods traffic the same day, a train being despatched there from Bradford at seven o’clock, the new line thus affording the Great Northern an independent access to Halifax.

Saturday 19th October 1878: Halifax Courier

Diary of accidents, incidents and events

Reports on the construction work

A walk through the works

A walk over the works

Local newspaper stories recounting the construction of... Queensbury Tunnel

A walk over Queensbury Tunnel

A video charting the challenges faced by the engineers and navvies in driving Queensbury Tunnel on the former line from Halifax to Bradford/Keighley, following in the footsteps of a newspaper reporter who visited the site in February 1878 as work reached its conclusion.

Built by the Great Northern Railway, the expected two-year construction period more than doubled due, in part, to water incessantly entering the workings. The fact that the tunnel was eventually completed is testament to the bravery and tenacity of all those involved.

Today this engineering miracle faces an uncertain future, with the threat of being infilled, buried and forgotten about. The video paints a picture of why it shouldn’t be.

A walk over Queensbury Tunnel

Stephen Prior takes a look at the Victorian art of… Tunnel construction

The famous wash drawing by John Cooke Bourne, capturing the working shaft in Kilsby Tunnel on 8th July 1837.
©National Railway Museum/Science & Society Picture Library

There are still over 600 operational tunnels in Britain and more than 500 disused ones. Most were built in the mid-to-late 1800s. Even today visible clues are there to be found showing how they were constructed and what problems, if any, were encountered. Although not officially condoned, next time you explore a disused tunnel remember to take the one item usually never thought of – the humble tape measure. You may discover more than you might think. To understand why, some knowledge of construction methods is required.

The earliest way to build a tunnel was to start digging from each end and meet somewhere in the middle. Although fine for short tunnels, this method was far too slow for any decent length so another technique involved the use of construction shafts and headings.

This method worked thus: shafts were sunk reasonable distances apart along the alignment of the tunnel. These were usually lined as far as the tunnel’s roof level, then continued downwards to below floor level, supported in timber. By digging down deeper than the floor, it meant that a sump could be formed to collect groundwater.

Once all the required shafts had been constructed, a small tunnel or ‘heading’ – usually in the region of 1.5m high by 1m wide – was driven between the shafts. These were created with timber supports and used to ensure that alignment and levels were correct through the tunnel. In straight bores, candle-pots were often lit at the base of each shaft as a quick way of revealing any discrepancies.

Navvies work to construct a heading at Saunderton in 1902, on the Great Western/Great Central Joint Line.
© Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland/’The Last Main Line’

When this stage was completed, excavation of the full bore could be started. So a tunnel with four construction shafts could have a maximum of ten gangs of navvies working simultaneously at ten faces – two gangs per shaft working both ways, and another at each end of the tunnel.

From the base of each shaft, the tunnel was excavated and supported until a ‘side length’ of around 4.5m was formed in each direction. This was built with a lining much thicker than the rest of the tunnel as it had to support the weight of the shaft as well as itself.

Watford Tunnel is one example which highlights the problem with this method. The side lengths were being built when a collapse occurred. This did not only result in the section of tunnel being lost – the shaft was also brought down as it would only have been supported by timbers until this important part of the lining had been completed. Several men lost their lives. What’s not known is whether they were killed outright. Might some have survived the collapse only to die due to asphyxiation? Of course, no-one could attempt any form of rapid rescue as there was no shaft down which they could gain access.

Although navvies were seen as expendable, collapses like this obviously caused a delay in a railway being opened which, in turn, cost the company money. A solution had to be found and a method involving ‘break-ups’ was then employed. This involved more navvies but, being better paid than other manual labourers, they were easy to recruit.

When using this technique, the shafts and headings were constructed in the normal way but work then began on constructing a section of full-sized tunnel anything up to 45m away from the shaft. This was done by the navvies crawling along the heading to a point where this section was to be mined and then opening it up – hence the name ‘break-up’. This may have only been 3m long but had to be solid and very strong as the construction of adjacent sections depended on its ability to support the roof along its entire length. It was now possible for one gang to work towards the next shaft while another worked back to the original one, in the knowledge that they had a safe section of tunnel behind them if anything went wrong.

This method soon became the norm and the introduction of several break-ups between shafts significantly increased production, thus improving the chances of the company making money at an earlier stage. The tunnel at Chipping Sodbury is known to have had 40 gangs working from only seven shafts which would have been impossible had this technique not been adopted.

Tunnelling ‘advances’ – or lengths between break-ups – were normally set at about 4.5m. This was governed by the length and thickness of the timbers put in to support the roof as well as the ability of the miners to move the enormous weight of the timbers forward as they excavated the next length. These main supports spanned from the last length of completed brickwork to supporting timbers at the excavation face. If soft ground was encountered or penetrating water caused material above to become loose, the main support timbers started to take the weight and would bow under the load.

Sometimes, despite making an allowance for this, there was too much bow in the timbers and the brickwork could not be placed to the correct thickness in the roof. This meant that the timbers had to be reset, wasting time and effort. Usually the foreman bricklayer or carpenter paid the men on piecework – so much per yard; it was therefore in no-ones interest to be delayed by having to reset timbers.

Captured about 1860, this is the timber structure used during construction of the lining in Dove Holes Tunnel.
© National Railway Museum/Science & Society Picture Library

At the slightest hint of poor conditions, the foreman bricklayer or carpenter would say how far the next advance had to be in order to be certain of getting the brickwork clearance in the crown of the tunnel. In these circumstances the advance could by reduced to 2m or less so that the timbers did not span so far and were therefore much stiffer, producing less sag under load. That said, advance rates were paramount when paid on piecework and maximum lengths would be resumed as soon as possible.

When two gangs met, a junction length of tunnel was created. It sometimes became a race between gangs to see who could claim the maximum yardage. So if, for example, 7m of tunnelling remained between two sections then one gang may opt to excavate the standard 4.5m thus leaving only 2.5m for the other gang to complete.

Shaft lengths were created when a construction shaft was not required for ventilation and could be bricked across and sealed. Officially it was backfilled to the surface and the ground above it restored, however abandoned construction shafts have sometimes been found to have been left unfilled, with only a cover at the surface!

Tunnel lengths were always built with ‘dog toothing’ at the ends of the brickwork to form a shear key between lengths. This meant that should a collapse occur then only the section to the next shear key would go, rather than a domino effect causing the total loss of a tunnel. This toothing was not always successful in forming a good joint, resulting in them sometimes being associated with flattened crowns and water ingress. They are very rarely tight and can almost always be seen.

This is where joint mapping can help to reveal things. If it is found that a tunnel generally has the normal 4.5m lengths but they suddenly become shorter, this points towards bad ground, a bricked-up shaft, a junction length or a break-up length. With practice, it should become fairly obvious which has been encountered. Bulging of failed brickwork in a tunnel can be joint mapped either side of the problem which may be found to have been caused by bad ground, a buried shaft or, potentially, a junction length with failed supports. But this method does not work in structures built using the ‘cut and cover’ method or ‘inverted arches’.

Stephen Prior takes a look at the Victorian art of... Tunnel construction

To accompany his construction film, Graeme Bickerdike offers more… Tunnel Vision

Something extraordinary is happening under London. Six mechanical navvies, bewildering in their efficiency, steer Crossrail’s tunnels through tangled subterranean history towards an end-point later this year. Forever hungry, Ada, Phyllis, Victoria, Elizabeth, Mary and Sophia each mine and line over 20 metres daily to tolerances measured in millimetres; verified by inertial navigation systems, scrutinised from comfy chairs. As enterprises go, this one is exceptional and yet that reality rarely impinges on our consciousness. Why don’t we awe anymore?

When something extraordinary happened two centuries ago – and it very often did – inquisitive crowds gathered, cheering and waving flags. Great engineers became celebrities of the day, without ever taking their kit off or eating worms in a jungle. Men of vision and tenacity – Locke, Vignoles, Stephenson, Brunel – forged national transformation. Our leaders today seem content to tinker, deciding what colour to make fag packets.

Directors of the Midland Railway prepare for their celebratory trip through Totley Tunnel on 10th August 1893.
Photo © National Railway Museum/SSPL

Trawl through the newspaper archives and it’s clear that tunnels were sources of intrigue and wonder to the Victorians: portals into a new age. But how were tunnels constructed in a Time Before Machinery (TBM)? Keen for answers, I spent much of last summer producing a short film about it, targeted at those amongst the public with an underlying curiosity, but perhaps also of interest to the engineering fraternity.

Written insight is not scarce on this subject, but generally accepted as the definitive work is Practical Tunnelling, a tome authored by Frederick Simms who secured the role of resident engineer on the South Eastern Railway in 1836, thereafter recording the tribulations encountered with Bletchingley and Saltwood tunnels. Contractor Charles Gripper published another book, Railway Tunnelling in Heavy Ground, in 1879, apparently unhappy that Simms had “rather hurried over his explanations of mining operations”. Noteworthy amongst the many papers is one exploring the seven-year construction of the first bore at Woodhead – extending for three miles between Sheffield and Manchester – which had been committed to the charge of Wellington Purdon, a surveyor from Killucan, County Westmeath, who was just 23 when he took on the project in 1838.

There’s little point cluttering up this space by repeating the film’s content. If you fancy investing 20 minutes of your life on the basics of Victorian tunnelling, a link to the film is provided below. Remember, the script considers a generic tunnel – it is not applicable to every one in existence. In these pages we’ll reflect in more detail on some of the challenges that had to be overcome.

Line of sight

Progress with lengthy tunnels was usually expedited by sinking construction shafts, allowing them to be driven from intermediate points as well as their ends. Sighting towers, known as observatories, were erected as fixed reference points for setting out purposes; the tunnel line, and hence the shaft centres, could then be established at any point over the hill. Although substantially built, very few still stand as their valuable fabric was mostly recycled when work had advanced sufficiently. But survivors can be found at Merstham in Surrey and Bramhope on the Leeds-Harrogate line, in brick and stone respectively.

Often 30 or 40 feet high, the towers housed a staircase spiralling around a central pier, the latter being entirely freestanding so as not to be influenced by any movement of the building. On top of it was a stone table supporting a transit instrument, typically incorporating a 30-inch focal length telescope which looked out through openings at the top of the tower. Provision of a basic telegraph system enabled the engineer to direct his assistant with the ranging pole.

The observatory at Bramhope, used to assist the construction of the 3,761-yard tunnel on the Leeds-Harrogate line.

Few disciplines have benefited more from the technological revolution than surveying. It’s a very digital business these days. Simms however helps us understand just how far it has come, describing the means by which the tunnel line was transferred down a shaft. Two fishing lines with 25lb plumb-bobs, secured to a triangular timber frame erected over the shaft, were dropped down either side of it and suspended in water vessels at the bottom to hold them steady. The lines were then ranged from the observatory, with notches cut into the timberwork for each one to rest in when the correct position had been set.

Such was the potential for disturbance by the wind that this was an activity restricted to calm weather. Imagine then the difficulties facing Wellington Purdon high on the Pennines with shafts almost 600 feet deep. He was an advocate of copper wire and oil barrels. However Heath Robinson this might all sound, the results speak for themselves. Purdon claimed a divergence of no more than three inches in line or level between Woodhead’s shafts, around 750 yards apart, whilst Simms asserted that “in not one of the junctions could any deviation from accuracy be detected.”

That sinking feeling

It’s hard to conceive what life must have been like at the bottom of a shaft, without the benefit of today’s foul weather gear. Progress downwards was made at a rate of perhaps six feet per week, with two 12-hour shifts worked daily, except Sundays. Shafts acted as sumps, collecting ground water from the locality, prompting navvies to use straw in an effort to stem the flow. This often proved futile and work had to be suspended whilst better pumps were brought. The need to power them was one factor in the early development of steam engines. To give you an idea of volumes, 2.4 million tons of water were pumped from Woodhead’s five shafts whilst they were being sunk.

Four navvies prepare to descend the shaft at Cowburn Tunnel in the early 1890s.
Photo: Picture the Past/late Alan Watson collection

Water was inconvenient; running sands killed. These loosely-packed layers within the rock can become fluidised, removing support for anything overlying them. Excavation work in such conditions was therefore attended by considerable danger. On 16th July 1835, a collapse at the base of one of Watford Tunnel’s shafts resulted in a vast crater opening at ground level, swallowing all around. Below, ten men were buried; their bodies took more than a month to extricate, after another shaft had been sunk alongside the original. This still offers momentary relief from the darkness when passing through the tunnel on the West Coast Main Line.

That so many construction shafts were sealed and backfilled – rather than being retained for ventilation – has left an unwelcome legacy, with records of their location often lost and the land above developed. Typically, the fill material is supported on a timber frame above the arch; if the fill becomes saturated, rotting and crushing of the timbers can follow, leading ultimately to their failure and the load’s transfer onto the lining. Of the five hidden shafts in a North Yorkshire tunnel, closed in 1958, three have given way since the Seventies. Investigations to locate such shafts continue today, their significance in liability terms not lost on duty holders.

Really boring

Pilot tunnels, known as headings and pushed outwards in both directions from the bottom of shafts, performed a number of roles when eventually joined together: to help drain and ventilate the workings, to provide a means of communication between the shafts and, most importantly, to confirm the correct line and level before the tunnel was excavated to full size. At Bletchingley and Saltwood, the headings were claustrophobic – less than 3 feet wide and just 4 feet 8 inches high: a real pain in the neck for the labourers pushing skip-loads of spoil to the shaft for disposal. It’s clear from Gripper’s book, supported by newspaper accounts and photographs, that more generous headings – between seven and ten feet square – had become the norm before the 19th century was out.

Using mining techniques, 6-8 feet of progress was generally made with a heading in 24 hours, depending on ground conditions. But by the 1870s, an assortment of productivity-boosting devices had emerged, driven by steam or compressed air. Noteworthy was a rock drilling machine, patented by Major Frederick Beaumont of the Royal Engineers and operated by the Diamond Rock Boring Company, of which he was chairman. The machine was set to work in Cymmer Tunnel, as well as Queensbury, Well Heads and Lees Moor on the Great Northern’s Halifax-Keighley line. Powered by an 8hp portable engine, it comprised an array of diamond-tipped steel tubes rotating at 250rpm – cooled by water and delivering a daily advance of about 20 feet.

Navvies make progress with the heading of Saunderton Tunnel, the centreline having been confirmed for them by means of a plumb line.
Photo: Record Office for Leicestershire Leicester & Rutland/S W A Newton collection

The first genuine tunnel boring machine was developed in America in 1851, working to a similar principle as modern TBMs, but it proved less productive than the established drill and blast method. Two other machines, built to Captain Thomas English’s patent, operated successfully as part of an early Channel Tunnel scheme until politics and security fears brought its abandonment in 1882. Through chalk, the 2.13m cutting head drove more than 3,500m of tunnel at a highly creditable 25m per day.

Home safe every day?

Read the Daily Mail and you’d probably conclude that health and safety is now a national scandal. For different reasons, that charge could certainly be levelled at the safety record of Victorian railway companies. The sustained loss of life prompts many to infer that companies had a disregard for the navvies’ welfare, but such an assessment would be over-simplistic.

Time after time, inquests heard evidence of habitual rule breaking, albeit – as now – theoretical compliance did not always sit comfortably alongside practical needs. On 21st April 1876, miner Richard Parsons – part of the gang driving the Cymmer Tunnel – was making up charges immediately above his explosives, “in defiance of orders and in disregard of warnings and reprimands”. Inches away, in the cabinet behind him, were 150lb of dynamite. A single candle illuminated the scene; when it fell over there was only one possible outcome. Parsons and a 13-year-old boy, John Clements, were “reduced to atoms”; 11 others were also lost.

The workforce proved managerially problematic. Recklessness was endemic, though rarely did it have such devastating consequences as at Cymmer. Long and arduous shifts brought with them a culture of playing hard afterwards. Navvies fought in lumps and drank themselves into oblivion, going missing for days afterwards. Why then, according to Gripper, was five shillings worth of beer paid as a bonus for every length of tunnel completed? Combine that with the impossibly-high risks involved in the work – excavating ground above your head with a pick, for example – and a perfect storm brews.

Against all odds

What I personally find most inspiring was the Victorians’ apparent fearlessness. No matter how daunting the difficulty, they never seemed fazed by it, even if financial ruin loomed.

Most of our tunnels were accomplished without any mechanical aids beyond those worked by muscle. Consider a typical two-track tunnel, advancing forward in sections – known as ‘lengths’ – of 15 feet. For each length, a gang – comprising a ganger, three miners and nine labourers – would excavate perhaps 180 cubic yards of material, supporting the ground with 20-foot long timbers propped off transverse beams. Four bricklayers and six labourers would then take over to form the lining, consuming huge quantities of mortar and possibly 30,000 bricks. Remember, these had to be manufactured and transported, not just laid. And all this took place at height, in choking bad air and constrained by darkness. Each length took two weeks. The final act involved a boy creeping into the space above the brickwork to pack the voids. Then the process would start again.

Piles of bricks – moved by horses and carts – underline the logistical challenge facing the engineers driving Saunderton Tunnel.
Photo: Record Office for Leicestershire Leicester & Rutland/S W A Newton collection

The logistics were mind-boggling, most of the strain being taken by horse power. At Saltwood on 16th September 1842, horses hauled 4,916 water barrels (each 1,310lbs) and 464 spoil skips (1,050lbs) – collectively weighing 3,092 tons – up nine working shafts, a total lift of 555,192 feet (105 miles) for a cost of about £37.

Toil and trouble

You will have gathered by now that I am a tunnel junky and have an anorak to prove it. But there can be no denying that the stories they tell are compelling, if only we could bring ourselves to listen. Yes, let’s celebrate Crossrail and the first-class cutting-edge engineering it represents. We should though not lose sight of how it all started. Without the immense sacrifices made in the pursuit of progress – burrowing through hills – and the resolve shown during construction, we would have no railway network. To see how they did it, click the image below.

Story published February 2014

(Many thanks to The Last Main Line, Picture the Past and the Science & Society Picture Library for use of their fabulous archive photos.)

To accompany his construction film, Graeme Bickerdike offers more... Tunnel Vision

Tunnel Vision

The only thought most passengers have about railway tunnels is how they spoil the view. Beyond our imagination is what it took to build them, even if we could bring ourselves to care.

This video offers some insight into the techniques employed by Victorian engineers to drive the many hundreds of tunnels which form part of our past and present railway network. It tells a tale of ingenuity, adaptability, determination and tragedy.

Click here to read more about the challenges of tunnel construction.

Tunnel Vision

Civil Engineer G F Adams examines… The construction of Cymmer Tunnel

Although the subject of this paper has been attended by much that is interesting, it would perhaps not have been considered of sufficient importance for a communication to the Institute, from a Civil Engineering point of view only, but coupled with its mining and stratigraphical features it may possess some amount of interest. The tunnel is the principal work in connection with the Llynvi and Ogmore Railway Company’s Northern Extensions, the Act for which was obtained in 1873; the writer’s firm being engineers for the Bill and for the works. It will be observed from the plan that the new lines will form an outlet for new and very important coal fields, and this outlet becomes the more valuable by the amalgamation of the Llynvi with the Great Western system, and by the conversion of the South Wales Railway into narrow gauge.

The extensions commence with Railway No.6, which forms a junction with the existing Llynvi Valley Railway near the termination of that railway at Maesteg.

Railway No. 6, immediately after passing through the tunnel, crosses the Avon river by means of a high viaduct, with masonry piers and wrought-iron superstructure. There are four spans of 82 feet 6 inches each, and the main girders are of the “double Warren” type, 10 feet deep, with 10 feet bays. There are cross girders, 10 feet apart, carrying the wooden decking. The height from the bed of the river to rails is 107 feet. The viaduct is built on a curve of 30 chains radius, the rails being level. It was originally intended to build the viaduct with nine masonry arches of 40 feet span, but it was considered that there would be a difficulty in procuring a sufficient number of masons in so isolated a locality.

Near the village of Cymmer a junction with the South Wales Mineral Railway has been effected, and sidings are being prepared for the interchange of traffic.

Railway No.7 commences by a junction with Railway No.6 near the northern end of the tunnel, and runs up the Avon Valley to Blaenavon.

The longitudinal section of the tunnel is compiled from the progress section, supplemented by some detailed sections of the seams taken and supplied by Mr Barrow, and it may throw some little light upon a district which has been the subject of several papers read before this Institute.

The seam of coal passed through at the north entrance of the tunnel would appear to be identical with the seam proved by the Glyncorrwg Company, near Cymmer village, and supposed to be the “Wernddu Seam”, and probably identical with the “Glyncorrwg” or “No. 2 Rhondda” Seam.

The black band passed through near the south end is supposed to be the “Middle Black Band.”

The several faults passed through make it difficult to connect the sections. Very much turns upon the position of the large fault proved in the Llynvi Company’s workings at Cwmdu and Tygwinbach. One would be led to identify it with the disturbance passed through about the middle of the tunnel, by the very broken nature of the ground on the mountain above it, but the rock on each side of this disturbance would appear to indicate that it is not a very large fault in this immediate locality. It may be that the large fault is the one near the south end, in which case the black band ought to have come in again. These are merely suggestions, and it is probable that the ground can only be reconciled by those members who know the district best, and have carried on operations in it, putting their working plans and sections together.

The works were let in two contracts. No.1 contract included Railway No.6 from the north end of the tunnel to the junction with the South Wales Mineral Railway, and the whole of Railway No.7. No.2 contract included the tunnel and Railway No.6 from its commencement to the south end of the tunnel.

The Diamond Rock Boring Company have been the contractors for the section which includes the tunnel.

The tunnel is 1,594 yards in length, and quite straight, with a rising gradient throughout the whole length towards Maesteg of 1 in 226. This gradient is against the load, but it is slight, and could not be obviated, having regard to the levels which had to be adopted near the southern entrance.

Shown are the contract sections of the tunnel for different kinds of ground. Section No.1 is for soft ground, section No.2 for harder ground, and section No.3 for hard rock. The contracts were for fixed sums, with the exception of the tunnel lining, but it was considered that a contractor, in tendering, would assume, in order to keep himself on the right side, that the most expensive section of lining would be required throughout.

It was therefore decided to get this portion of the work done by schedule of prices, and to change the section as the ground varied, and by so doing a considerable saving has been effected. The following are the contract prices for the different descriptions of work in the tunnel:

Excavation in tunnel in every variety of strata and material, per lin. yard18100
Dry masonry in drain throughout bottom of tunnel, per cube yard0100
Masonry set in mortar in invert, side walls, manholes, arching, or entrance of tunnel, per cube yard150
Brickwork set in mortar in invert, side walls, manholes, or arching of tunnel, per cube yard1150
NB: The net cubic contents of the masonry and brickwork set in mortar, according to drawings, or orders only, to be paid for, and the prices are to include all arches, sidings, caps, coping, imposts, and quoins, and all temporary works and materials.

Owing to the inclination and the frequent bedding of the strata, the ground has nowhere been considered quite secure enough to adopt section No.3, although a considerable amount of very hard rock has been driven through, but in order to make the underpinning at the south end easier, the contractors have been allowed to build the side walling vertical over considerable lengths, instead of curving it inwards towards formation level as shown on sections, and this gives a greater width at rail level.

The mountain rising very rapidly at each end, no assistance could be obtained from shafts, and the tunnel has been entirely driven from the two ends.

The south end has been driven entirely by hand labour, and the north end chiefly by machine drills.

The north end was commenced in April 1875, and the south end in August 1875, and a junction perfect to lines and levels was effected on 29th May 1877, 957 yards having been driven from the north end, and 637 yards from the south end.

The following is a description of the machinery which was established for driving the drills at the north end:

The motive power consisted of a pair of portable engines, one 25, and the other 20 horse power, coupled.

The air compressors were a pair of vertical single-acting cylinders, working at a reduced speed from the engine, 30 inches diameter by 2 feet stroke, and going at 35 revolutions per minute; the valves were of the butterfly pattern, self-acting, and 3 inches in diameter; the inlet valves, 19 in number, being placed in the piston, and the outlet valves, 12 in number, being placed in a disc under the top cylinder cover.

Main air-pipes 4 inches in diameter, and made of cast iron. Water pipes 2 inches diameter. Water pressure 90 lbs per square inch; the reservoir being placed sufficiently high to feed the boilers, 10 to 15lbs are sufficient for the purpose of the drills.

In the newer compressors used by the contractors, the piston is solid and the small vacant space at the end of each stroke between the piston and the top cylinder cover is taken up by a little water, which rises and falls with the piston. In this case the whole of the valves are in the top cover, the inlet valves on the outside, and the outlet valves inside the main air channel.

The comparatively slow speed of the compressors enables the heat due to compression to be partially got rid of to the atmosphere, resulting in a proportionate economy of power.

The valves are open to inspection, and, with their seats, can be easily and quickly attended to, but they rarely get out of order.

By having the cylinders single acting, their size is of course doubled, but against this is to be set the absence of slide blocks and guides together with bottom cylinder cover and stuffing box; at the same time the inside of the cylinder and piston is always kept cool by the outside air, and is open to inspection.

The compressors have water jackets, the water entering at bottom, and discharging at top.

The Beaumont percussive drill has, in common with most drills, three motions, viz – one for giving the blow; one for turning the drill; and one for feeding it forward.

The drill is worked by compressed air at a pressure of from 40 lbs to 50 lbs on the square inch. The apparatus consists of a cylinder carrying a piston and piston rod, which is supported on a frame on which it slides longitudinally, being moved by a feed screw, the feed depending on the speed at which the hole is being deepened.

The drill may look cumbersome, but it is no stronger or heavier than is necessary to do the amount of work which is involved in piercing a 2¼ inch hole in hard rock, at from 2 to 6 inches per minute; in fact, it is work which needs a small steam hammer to do it.

In designing the drill it has been arranged so that all the working parts, which are those only liable to get out of order, are on the outside of the drill.

It is true that they are exposed to the dirt of a tunnel, but that is more than counterbalanced by the great advantage of the miner being able to see, while the drill is at work, that all parts are in proper order.

Inside there are literally only two moving parts, both of which are solid, namely the piston and valve.

One of the chief specialties of the drill consists in the method of driving the valve, which is set in motion by the air in place of, as is usually the case, by some mechanical connection with the piston, or other moving part of the drill. This enables a dead blow to be given in place of a cushioned one.

Where the valve is driven by the piston, it follows that it must be reversed before the drill strikes the rock, otherwise there would be no motion left to shift the valve to the proper position for the return stroke.

By inspecting the drawings it will be seen that each side of the swell in the centre of the valve forming its piston is alternately put in connection with the pressure at either end of the main cylinder, the exhaust being effected through the open space between the two ends of the divided piston of the drill, which is permanently in connection with the outside air, by a hole drilled through the front part of the piston rod.

Suitable buffers are provided for the valve to strike against, and the same arrangement is carried out with the main piston, so that should the piston accidentally overrun its parts no harm will result.

The twist motion is given by two straight and two inclined grooves cut on the front part of the piston rod. They are made both broad and deep so as to afford a proper rubbing surface. When the drill sticks in the hole, as it often does, an excessive strain is thrown on the twist motions of the drill.

The feathers sliding in the latter are in connection with two ratchet wheels, one taking the straight, and the other the twist grooves.

The object of the two descriptions is to prevent the possibility of the drill ever turning back.

The feed is given by putting the brass nut on the feed screw in connection with a pawl driven by a roller which is pressed against the piston rod, prolonged through the top cylinder cover.

The rod is tapered at the end, and as long as the roller keeps clear of the inclined part no feed is given, but so soon as the deepening of the hole enables the piston to move further towards the front end of its stroke the roller descends the incline, and enables the pawl to take a fresh tooth of the ratchet wheel in connection with it.

The drill can be fed, if required, by hand by simply disconnecting the automatic feed arrangement. But hand feeding is discountenanced where speed is an object; indeed, without an automatic feed in hard and variable rocks bad progress would inevitably be made.

The bed on which the drill slides is of malleable cast iron, allowing a 3 feet length of traverse.

The carriage, or camel as it is called, consists of two arms supported midway by a vertical iron column carried by a low truck running on four flanged wheels. These arms carry two drills each, the top ones being above the arms supporting them, and the lower ones in boxes which hang from the bottom arms.

The object of this arrangement is to keep all the drills relatively in the same position, so that they can be changed one for the other, and so obtain a full command of holding power.

Holes can be put in in any direction, and, as a matter of fact, hand holes are never needed.

It will be seen that the central column is capable of turning; and the arms, again, can turn on it.

The clamps carried by the arms can slide horizontally, and turn upon them, while the drills have similar motions.

When the drilling is completed, the arms carrying the drills are turned longitudinally with the tunnel, and the camel is run back into a siding to allow of the muck wagons being readily passed by it.

For rapid and economical tunnel driving by machinery, it is absolutely essential that a powerful drill should be used, and that the liability to breakage should be reduced to a minimum.

A set of four of the Beaumont drills are capable of putting in 16 to 20 holes 3 feet 6 inches deep in hard rock in three hours, and of keeping this average up.

The advanced heading in which the drills have worked has been driven about formation level in the centre of the tunnel, and 8 feet wide by 8 feet high.

As a general rule 16 to 18 holes are bored into the face, their average length being 3½ feet to 4 feet in hard rock, and 5 feet to 5½ feet in soft ground.

These holes commence with 2⅝ inches drills, and finish at 1½ inches, four to five different drills being ordinarily used in the length in rock, and three inches softer ground. Considerable judgment is required to drill the holes at the angle most effective for the particular ground; as a general rule, the top holes rake upwards, and lower holes downwards.

The boring of all the holes takes about four hours as a general rule.

The four centre holes, converging inwards, are first blasted, then the top and side holes, and after the rubbish has been cleared away in front of them the bottom holes are blasted.

The blasting and clearing of the rubbish takes about four hours.

About 20 lbs of dynamite are used for the above number of holes in rock, and from 10 to 12 lbs in softer ground.

At the above rate a yard is advanced each eight hours, making 3 yards a day, or 18 yards a week.

The average for seven consecutive weeks was 18½ yards per week.

The full complement of men for driving the heading by machinery during one complete operation is, viz – 1 foreman, 1 timekeeper, 1 engine driver, 1 fireman, 1 fitter (outside), 1 fitter’s labourer ditto, 2 blacksmiths, 2 strikers, 2 labourers carrying tools and attending to air pipes, 5 (or sometimes 6) men working machines at face, 5 men blasting and clearing rubbish away, 1 horse driver, 1 miner road-laying after machine and doing any timbering that may be necessary, 1 man attending to explosives/candles etc, 1 boy messenger

26 total

Much of the tunnel is built with vertical brick sidewalls.
Photo: Richard Knight

The progress of the work has afforded opportunities for comparing results by machine drills with hand labour, and at one time in particular two headings were driven simultaneously in the same hard rock for some distance at the north end, the one by machinery, and the other by hand labour. Over several consecutive weeks the hand labour averaged 3⅓ yards per week, and the machine drilling 18½ yards per week, or five-and-a-half times the speed of hand labour.

Without going into the actual cost – a matter belonging exclusively to the contractors – the writer may be permitted to state, for the information of the Institute, that the actual working cost per yard in hard rock is about the same with machine drills as with hand labour, without taking into account the interest on capital and the depreciation of machinery; in addition to the increased speed, more ground is taken out by the machine drills per yard forward, as headings by hand labour are ordinarily only driven 5 feet by 6 feet; and if the hand heading in hard rock were taken out the same size as the machine headings, the progress in the latter case, instead of being 5½ times greater, would be about 8 times greater. In softer ground the advantage of machine drilling of course decreases; the speed of machine drilling as compared with hand labour would be about as 3 to 1.

The above highly favourable results were not obtained all at once, and are due to the skill and perseverance with which the patentee, Colonel Beaumont, and his agents have displayed in perfecting the mechanical details, and the practical working out of the drill machinery; and before arriving at this successful issue a large expenditure of money had necessarily to be made by the contracting company, in experiments and improvements in the drill, and the appliances attending it from time to time.

For a short time at the early stage of the contract the diamond drill was used, but the cost of the diamonds was found to be too great for this description of work, although the machine remains unequalled for the deep bore holes required in prospecting.

The plant required for driving an advance heading similar to the one at the north end of the Maesteg Tunnel may be assumed to cost about £2,000.

Where only moderate progress is required, and it is wished to incur a smaller outlay, as is frequently the case in mining, a smaller pattern of drill is sold by the Diamond Rock Boring Company with a 3¼-inch cylinder, and 2 feet length of travel; this drill has no automatic feed, and can be worked on an altogether lighter frame than the camel used for large tunnelling operations.

Where the nature of the ground admits of intermediate shafts, and the simultaneous advancement of the different faces thereby gained enables a tunnel to be driven on rapidly, the full-sized tunnel can be more economically driven by keeping the advanced heading on the top, but this system of working affords only one face for the opening out to full size; and where the ground is weak and the face has to be squared down for every length of lining that is put in, the mining during that operation has to come to a full stop. It is therefore necessary, unless time be of no importance, to keep the advanced heading at the bottom, so as to secure several different points for breaking up to full size of tunnel; and it may be stated here that the operation of breaking up was found to be easier going south with the strata rising than in the opposite direction.

At the south end the advanced heading, together with the opening out to full width at the several points, was driven for the most part only to water level. The contractors’ agent who started the work, considering that it would be more economical to go on in this way until the junction afforded free drainage to the north end, and afterwards to underpin the side walls, and bottom up, rather than take the full depth of tunnel down with the gradient, by means of pumps, but time so pressed that pumps had to be applied to assist in these operations before the junction was effected, and inclined roads were driven from the water line to formation level, and from this point the tunnel was excavated to full section forwards for some considerable distance, to the junction with the north end, and the bottoming up and underpinning of masonry, which was done in short lengths, was worked backwards on the rising gradient to the south end. The ground in some places was rather heavy, requiring 14 bars of 15 inches diameter, which is rather heavy timbering for a single tunnel, and in such cases lengths of only 12 feet lining could be put in, the general lengths being 18 feet, four or five centres or ribs being used.

Top headings had, of course, to be driven sufficiently in advance to draw the bars. In some instances where the ground was good several lengths were opened out and turned at a time.

The engineers, having regard to the difference in cost and to the greater durability of stone, elected to adopt masonry rather than brick lining, but the contractors finding the stone, although abundant, costly to dress, and that it took four to five days to turn a length in masonry, whilst it could be done in 24 hours in bricks – an important consideration when the advance heading was at the top, and the ground loose – and having a considerable amount of trouble with the Union masons, applied for permission to adopt brickwork at the same price as masonry. This was granted, and the Pencoed brick adopted.

In turning a length of 18 feet in brickwork, three bricklayers would be engaged, changing from side to side, but in masonry there would be three masons on each side. In brick lining the time in turning a length is taken up as follows – side walls, 10 hours; setting centres, 6 hours; arching, 8 hours

24 hours total.

In masonry lining, two days are taken in building the side walls and two days in setting the centres and arching.

On the 21st April 1876, a very lamentable accident occurred at the north end, in which 13 lives were lost by an explosion of dynamite, in a manhole 176 yards from the tunnel mouth, and where the charges were being prepared. Most of the men were killed in a break-up about 37 yards inside the manhole. The concussion was hardly felt at all in the face of the advanced heading, about 202 yards distant; and some men in a break-up 133 yards from the manhole were also uninjured, but the blast came out towards the entrance with terrific force. The men who were killed were not mutilated, but it is difficult to say whether death was caused by the concussion, or by the very overpowering fumes of exploded dynamite. Probably both causes operated.

The tunnel, which is nearly completed, will cost the Railway Company about £29 15s per yard forward, or about £47,422 for the whole length.

The drills have only been used in the advanced heading, but the writer ventures to think that the time is not far distant when the whole of mining work in driving tunnels through hard ground will be accomplished by machine drilling, especially in cases where the tunnel is taken out full size in one face, although improvements are probably more to be looked for at present in the appliances attending the drills, and in the detailed management of the work, rather than in the drills themselves.

The writer is informed that the same percussive drills are driving a heading in Cornwall 7 feet by 8 feet in the hardest Tin Capel at the rate of 10 yards per week; the progress with hand labour having been only 1 yard per week, the advantages here being ten times in favour of machine drilling, whilst much more ground is taken out – a very important consideration when the heading is driven in the mineral lode.

Queensbury Tunnel under construction in the 1870s. Beaumont’s machine was taken here after completing its work at Cymmer.

The Diamond Boring Company have just completed with these drills the junction lengths of bottom heading of the Queensbury Tunnel for the Great Northern Railway Company, near Bradford, and for which Mr Fraser is engineer; the ground was rocky shale and good for progress; an actual rate of 28 yards per week was reached, and during the last month, previous to the heading being holed, a total of 105⅓ yards was driven.

Speed with the advanced heading means actual economy of construction, because an increase in the cost of driving the heading must be set against the cost of the shafts, with all their pumps and gear for working them, which are unnecessary where the bottom heading can be driven sufficiently rapidly.

Take the case of a long tunnel like that at Queensbury, where seven shafts were commenced, five having been put down, and two abandoned owing to the great difficulty of dealing with the quantity of water which was met with. In such a case as this no cost which the use of machinery could put on the advanced heading would nearly come up to the saving effected by the shafts and the pumping being dispensed with. The writer is informed that this tunnel is 2,500 yards long, that the aggregate depth of shafting amounted to 546 yards, and that the quantity of water raised was about 1,000 gallons per minute.

The successful results achieved by machine drilling are likely to give a great impetus to tunnel driving in the future, affording new outlets for our coal and manufactured products; for without machine drilling, or some process of excavating by machinery, the Severn Tunnel, an undertaking of vast importance to South Wales, would probably never have been started, and the Channel Tunnel between France and England, although in softer ground, never seriously contemplated.