Posted 2nd Apr 2018
In the next of our History of the Waterways features, courtesy of Insure4Boats and the Canal and River Trust, we find out about Standedge Tunnel
Another one of the 'Seven Wonders of the Waterways', Standedge holds several records for a canal tunnel. Namely one of the longest, highest and deepest in Britain, the canal runs deep beneath the Pennines. It opened in 1811 and is 5,029 miles long, reaching 194 metres underground at its deepest point.
As you might expect from such eye-watering numbers, the path to its construction proved to be anything but smooth.
The period of 'Canal Mania' between the 1790s and 1810s was a time in British history where canals were being dug and built at a phenomenal rate, with work typically starting before the technical ability to finish them had even been developed.
Standedge Tunnel is the biggest example of this, and almost resulted in the end of the whole canal industry.
Poorly organised and planned, the tunnel's excavation was full of problems. Digging started at both ends to work towards the middle, but sometime later, engineers found out that the Diggle end was being dug at least three feet higher than the Marsden end.
As they tried to correct this, workers inadvertently collapsed several sections, which was also down to an enormous amount of water seepage. It proved to be no surprise that, in one year, only 150 yards of tunnel had been built. When the canal's engineer, Benjamin Outram, resigned in 1780, the canal company turned to the star canal engineer of the age, Thomas Telford, for help. Telford immediately identified the same problem remained - the two sides of the tunnel were not going to line up, so he made sure the two sides were corrected properly this time. However, as a result, there is still a noticeable bend in the tunnel.
Following 17 years, the tunnel finally opened to great fanfare. Centuries later, it still represents an impressive feat of engineering, although it underwent significant restoration in 2001 to ensure it remained operational.
Did you know...
- The tunnel's 2001 restoration cost over £5 million - when it originally opened in 1811, the total cost had only been £123,804.
- On special occasions, British Waterways will still allow people to try 'legging'. This involves the boat being literally 'walked' through the tunnel using the rock face.
- The first boat through Standedge Tunnel, Lively Lady, had a band waiting at the other end to play Rule Britannia when it emerged.
- If you visit the tunnel today, you can take an 'authentic' boat ride and learn about the history of the people who built it.