World's oldest railway tunnel?
Wessex Archaeology was commissioned by the Derbyshire Archaeological Society to undertake an archaeological evaluation and building survey on the former railway tunnel and line at Fritchley, Derbyshire. The fieldwork formed part of a HLF funded Your Heritage project investigating the former Butterley Gangroad – built in 1793 to transport materials between local quarries and the Cromford Canal. Desk-based research for the project is being carried out by the Derbyshire Archaeological Society. The aim of the fieldwork was to investigate the date and type of construction of the tunnel and railway. The tunnel was subject to laser scanning and building inspection as well as the excavation of a single trench to the south of the tunnel to investigate the presumed original line of the railway.
The investigations focused on the Fritchley Tunnel which allowed the Butterley Gangroad to pass below Chapel Street, Fritchley. The Gangroad was constructed by Benjamin Outram by 1793 to transport materials between quarries near to Crich and the Cromford Canal and the tunnel is therefore thought to be one of the oldest railway tunnels in the country. The Gangroad would originally have been constructed as a plateway and operated by horse drawn trains of wagons. In the 1840s the line was upgraded, and re-aligned and the old tunnel altered at Fritchley.
The excavation of the trench revealed a single in situ sleeper and adjacent path. However, in the construction of the new line in the 1840s, the majority of the stonework from the old line appears to have been removed, presumably for re-use elsewhere.
The building inspection and survey of the tunnel has confirmed it was constructed over two main phases, the latter phase corresponding with the railway’s re-alignment in the 1840s.
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