The Guinness World Book of Records database has just given the title of the “World’s oldest railway tunnel” to one recently investigated in Fritchley near Crich in Derbyshire.
It was located on a short horse and gravity worked mineral railway dating from 1793. The line carried limestone down from quarries at Crich to the Cromford Canal at Bull Bridge until 1933.
The tunnel was blocked up in the 1980s but was reopened last year to allow an archaeological investigation to take place. This exercise was part of the Heritage Lottery funded Butterley Gangroad Project managed by the Derbyshire Archaeological Society.
The work was carried out by Wessex Archaeology who created a virtual computer model of the tunnel using laser scan technology. Their work together with research carried out by volunteers has proved that the structure was a tunnel, that it still existed and that it was on the 1793 route. The tunnel was originally about 25m long, 2.5m wide and 3.2m high. During the 1850s the southern half of the tunnel was reconstructed when the railway was re-aligned but the northern half remains as built.
Small steam locomotives replaced horses from about 1870 and it is believed that the chimney of the earliest one had to be lowered each time that the train ran through the tunnel because of the restricted height!
The Society presented the evidence to the Guinness World Book of Records who were satisfied that the claim was justified. Previously it had been thought that the oldest surviving railway tunnel was also in Derbyshire at Chapel Milton in the north of the county. This is on the route of the old Peak Forest Tramway, a similar early railway, but it is at least two years younger.
Trevor Griffin, the manager of the Butterley Gangroad Project said, “Its brilliant that we have gained a world record for this tunnel which had been lost and overlooked in the past. The success is a great credit to the many individuals, firms and organisations including the Heritage Lottery Fund, who have supported the project.”
The tunnel has been restored to its previously blocked state now that it has given up its secrets.
East Midlands today BBC Link at 13.27
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