Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Standedge Tunnel

This is the point where the Huddersfield Narrow Canal enters the 5.2 km long Standedge Tunnel underneath the Pennines. The boat - an electric tug-boat with an attached passenger barge - offers short tours inside the tunnel, so I took a ride. I couldn't hear the commentary (one of the trials of being deaf) but there are plenty of interesting facts about the tunnel on the internet (here). Its construction was initially so badly planned and executed that the excavations from each end were not going to meet up in the middle. In 1807, they had finally to involve the famous engineer Thomas Telford to sort it all out!

Inside the tunnel is very narrow, with only room for one boat to travel. It has a few wider passing places, but they had to have a system to control the barges travelling through. You can view the various different portions of the tunnel - rough rock, stone, original brickwork and more modern brickwork from when it was restored. You can also see shafts that connect the tunnel with the adjacent rail tunnel, built later. (The railway company bought the canal and used the canal tunnel to carry away the spoil from their excavations of the rail tunnel.) In my photo, you can see a train disappearing into the rail tunnel.

There is no towpath so boat-horses used to be walked up and over the moors, whilst the barges were 'legged through' by two men lying on their backs. With the tour boat's electric lights on, all seemed fine but when they switched them off it was pitch black and quite scary. I couldn't help but think of the weight of rock and earth above me! The 'leggers' would only have had candles for illumination. It took a good three hours to leg a loaded barge through, for which the professional 'leggers' were paid 1 shilling and 6 pence. (I photographed one of the pictures in the exhibition centre, as I thought it was so interesting. A bit naughty...I hope no-one minds!)                                                                                                                                                                                          
Inside the tunnel, photographed by me from the tour boat
'Legging' a barge through the tunnel - a photograph of a photograph in the Tunnel's exhibition centre


  1. You're a brave soul, jennyfreckles. I have a fear of enclosed spaces. The only 'legging' I would have done, would have been towards daylight and the open air!

  2. I think this was on Countryfile recently on BBC1

  3. I don't think I could handle being in that long tunnel for long.

  4. A fascinating post Jenny. You have reminded me that I once knew about 'legging' many years ago and had forgotten about it all these many years. Imagine legging it for 3 1/2 hours! Quite a feat -- no pun intended!

  5. That is an amazing tunnel and still in use. I've seen pictures of legging before, what an awful job.


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