Lydgate Tunnel

Lydgate Tunnel

The London & North Western Railway’s connection between Oldham and Greenfield breached a ridge on which the small community of Lydgate is found by means of a 1,332-yard double track tunnel. The climb to the eastern portal was up a gradient of 1:75. The first train made it on 4th July 1856, then enjoying a downhill gradient having exited at the western end.

Heading east , trains joined the LNWR’s main line at Greenfield before traversing the short branch into Delph. The route was heavily promoted by James Lees, a mill owner from the town.

The push-pull service was known locally as the ‘Delph Donkey’, with trains generally pulled to Delph and pushed to Oldham. In the latter case, the driver enjoyed the benefit of a smoke-free driving compartment in the end coach and an audible distant signal in the tunnel, 400 yards from the Oldham end. Water ingress and the challenging gradient often caused problems with adhesion.

The tunnel has a span of 25’0″ feet and a southerly curve towards its western end. It was masonry lined throughout but later repair work has been undertaken in brick. Six shafts are thought to have been driven during construction – two were filled whilst the other four, two either side of the hill, were retained for ventilation purposes. These have depths of 140, 210, 220 and 135 feet; all are now capped.

In 2008, Lydgate’s owners, British Railways Board (Residuary), carried out a five-month programme of repairs. However, contrary to local press reports, these were not prompted by the tunnel’s imminent collapse.

Closure of the line came on 13th April 1964.

(PurpleMattFish’s photo is used under this Creative Commons licence.)

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July 2010