A walk over the works

Early in 1878, as construction of the tunnel was coming to an end, a reporter from the Halifax Guardian decided to visit the works with a friend. Their adventure resulted in two articles, one taking a walk through the tunnel from one end to the other, and the other - reproduced below - describes the scene of industry on the hill above it. Together, they offer a unique insight into how Victorian engineers and navvies went about driving railway tunnels.

Previously we gave a sketch of a walk through the long tunnel between Netherton and Hole Bottom. This time we intend to describe a walk over another portion of the works in connection with this line, avoiding the underground operations.

Leaving the main road at Holdsworth, we enter the footpath leading to Holdsworth House, passing along the avenue of trees, majestic and beautiful in decay, though they have not yet lost the power to bloom. By following this road we are soon brought to the foot of the hill near the entrance to the tunnel, where there is a footpath winding up the hill, known by the name of the Strians. What is the origin or meaning of that word we cannot say.

After struggling for some distance up the hill, which seems as steep as the face of Beacon Hill, we come to the shaft known by the name of “No.1”. All the shafts are known by their numbers, and this reminds one of the American uninteresting style of naming streets, not at all in accordance with English ideas. A locality is called “Fifth Avenue” instead of by some distinguishing characteristic word. The masonry on the top of this shaft has been completed and all the tackling removed. By noticing the character of the heap of debris, brought up from the different shafts, the observer will form some idea of the strata through which the miners have had to bore. At the first shaft chiefly sandstone was obtained, whilst at the second shaft different material was met with, for there the workmen had to mine through the coal measures which lie on the top of the millstone grit. This grit rock is the same bed as is worked at the Stannary quarries and at Woodhouse Scar behind the Orphanage. The length of No.1 shaft from the surface to the arch of the tunnel is 36 yards.

Continuing our course up the hill side, we arrive at No.2 shaft, which is 107 yards deep. These shafts are 850 feet apart; but the distance on the surface must be much greater, as we have gained 213 feet in altitude in walking from one to the other, the rising gradient being about one in four.

Being desirous of a slight rest we walk to the extreme point of the heap of shale brought out of the shaft, in order to enjoy a view of the country. It is a sharp frosty morning, and the atmosphere being tolerably clear an extended view of the varied scenery presented itself. On the left, on the hill top, the pinnacle of Catherine Slack board school is noticed peeping out above the buildings of meaner pretensions by which it is surrounded. Higher up is Ambler Thorn, which seems to have become a part of the village of Queensbury. Ringby, a lofty point on the shoulder of the hill, is distinguished. On our right is Bradshaw, with its newly-erected board schools, quite a feature in the landscape; and near thereto is St John’s Church, with its ivy-mantled walls, giving the fabric a sombre and venerable appearance; and then may be noticed the Vicarage, a gothic edifice nestling among the trees. Further away, on our right, is the new Wesleyan chapel at Illingworth Moor, behind which the square tower of Illingworth Church seems to rest on the extreme point of the rising ground. The steep slopes of the hill on our left form a contrast to the miles and miles of undulating country stretching out to the south and south-west. The winding valley is immediately below; whilst a large plateau of the arable and pasture land of Ovenden, dotted here and there with comfortable looking homesteads, lies like a map before us. Further away again are a number of long chimneys and the roofs and gables of high buildings, reminding us of the town we left that morning, whilst the dark outline of the hills beyond formed a boundary to the scene.

After hearing the shrill whistle of the stationary engine fixed at one end of that enormous heap of rubbish of which mention was made previously, and after seeing a train of empty waggons sent down the incline to the cutting below, and another train of waggons laden with earth etc dragged with a wire rope up the incline, and then run to a projection of the heap and tipped, all done in a short space of time, we resume our journey upwards. The clayey nature of the ground made the steep ascent one of anything but pleasure, the endeavour being to avoid two steps down and one up.

The masonry at the top of No.2 shaft is completed. The engine-house and other offices, having served their purpose, were deserted. The tip at this shaft is of a completely different character to that at No.1, being chiefly composed of friable black shale, such as may be noticed on the pit-hills in Southowram.

The distance from No.2 shaft to No.3 shaft is 1,030 feet, taking the level of the tunnel, and this shaft is 123 yards in depth. Being now on the top of the hill, we have extended views in all directions, and progress is more easy and comfortable. We soon arrive at “the stores”, a brick building, in which the contractors keep candles, tallow, india rubber, waggon grease, waste and numerous other articles necessary in constructing works of this description. These are in the charge of a young man.

Directly after leaving the stores the rails on the hill top cross Roper Lane. This lane stretches from Ambler Thorn to the Raggald’s Inn, where is enters the Denholme Gate road. We are now at the point where Mr Uttley Hartley has had sidings for his coal waggons which were drawn up the contractor’s tramway from Holmfield up the face of the hill, and thus to Queensbury. But now the contractors have completed that portion of their work, and the tramway up the hill side has been taken up, Mr Hartley has therefore been compelled to convey coal by road from Holmfield to Queensbury.

Passing the look-out station, from which a view can be had of the line for a considerable distance, in both directions, we come to the engine shed, where we found some repairs being done to the locomotive, found so useful on top of the hill.

No.3 shaft is now only used for winding up and down the workmen engaged in the tunnel. We have got over that portion of the tunnel where we met with so much water, and where there were sections of tunnel not yet fully excavated.

After passing a powder magazine, No.4 shaft was reached, where a number of men were actively employed in raising large skeps of earth etc from the tunnel, and here we may state that the coal (both the hard and soft bed) that has been obtained when sinking the shafts or in boring the tunnel is turned to good account. The fire of the engine connected with the winding apparatus at this shaft is fed with this coal; the soft bed coal (and a better could not be got for the purpose) is used in the smithy in the tunnel; and workmen were also employed at Netherton and Hole Bottom, mixing the coal with the shale, in the cement making process, which was described in our last account. No.4 shaft is 117 yards deep, and distant 1,250 feet from No.3.

Walking one hundred yards further, we arrive at No.5 shaft, which is near the highest point of the hill, and is 131 yards in depth. The wooden and other erections are all deserted though the head gear of the shaft is left standing, whilst its mouth is covered over with planking. The miniature reservoir, in which water was stored for feeding the engine, is now nearly empty.

We are now at Queensbury proper, and only a short distance from the line are several blocks of cottages erected by the contractors for their workmen. No one should be favourably impressed with the character of the inmates of these houses, judging from the appearance of their abodes. Whilst one house would have a large pane of glass, a quarter of the size of this window, broken out and a piece of wood substituted, the aperture in another window was made conspicuous by the large bundle of rags stuffed through the hole. The fall-pipe, to carry away the rain water from the house top, threatened to sever its connection with the building, and had already left the wall about two or three feet at the bottom, as though ashamed of its association with the building. In fact, though the buildings were new, the appearance of the houses would remind you of the low quarter of a large town. But after all, we should not judge harshly, for the men employed on such works, though they are the means of carrying all the civilising influences of the railway in whatever part of the country they are called to work, seem to live outside the pale of civilisation. They have to work hard, to endure all kinds of weather, to incur all kinds of risk, to work side by side with strange companions, including both English, Irish, Scotch and Welsh. To them very often are the ordinary comforts of civilised life denied. Without the solace of religion, the influence of education, or books and newspapers, no wonder that many of them sometimes takes all their earnings to the shrine of Bacchus, and seek that pleasure in the ale but which is denied elsewhere. They have no particular ties of home, for no sooner is their work completed in one part of the country than they have to migrate to another. Something has been done to help them. Their employers have opened newsrooms, founded schools, and even employed town missionaries at places where men have been some distance from a town or village, yet as a class they seem neglected. Nevertheless there are some exceptions to the rule. There are some noble examples of men who have risen from their ranks, and by their habits of thrift have saved considerable sums in the Post Office Savings Bank, and they have made their first step on the road to fortune by becoming sub-contractors. With respect to the men employed on these works, it is only right to say that we never received an uncivil word, but courteous and respectful answers to every question we put to them. During meal hours it was not a strange thing to see a man in one of the sheds reading the morning paper, or with the paper in his hand, telling his mate of something that he had just read.

But to resume. We now cross the Brighouse and Denholme Gate turnpike road, which intersects the village of Queensbury, and at once commenced the descent to Hole Bottom, which is nearly as steep as the hill side near Netherton. About half way down the hill we pass No.7 shaft, 38 yards deep, all completed, as was also No.6, 107 yards deep. From the top to the bottom of this hill the contractors had a tramway and a stationary engine, as at Netherton, and two cottages had to be pulled down to make way for this temporary line.

Near the Sportsman Inn, at the top of the hill, some extensive stone quarries are in full operation, good flag-rock being quarried. This stone is sent to all parts of the country, a large quantity being conveyed to Holmfield station, and then forwarded by rail to its destination; or if it has to be sent in another direction, it is conveyed by road to Clayton station, on the new line, and from thence forwarded in railway trucks.

If Queensbury is to reap the full advantage of this line, which is so near completion, something must be done to make a connection with Hole Bottom, where there is the convenience for a station. Hole Bottom is only half-a-mile away from Queensbury, although it is in another local board district. The railway company have brought the line within half-a-mile of the village, and yet the people must travel, or goods must be sent, either to Thornton, Clayton or Holmfield, in each case three or four miles away, in order to obtain any benefit from the line. The railway company are not bound to do more than they have done, therefore all the greater necessity for the enterprising and public spirit of the inhabitants to be called forth to complete the connection. If the contractors can convey minerals up the hill; and if Mr Briggs, colliery owner, can bring coals and colliers from his pit at Hole Bottom, to his siding at Queensbury, surely the money and the necessary engineering skill will be provided for the convenience and commercial necessities of this thriving village. No doubt, if overtures are made to the railway company, they will be met in a liberal spirit.

We are now at Hole Bottom, which is a busy scene, for here are lime grinding sheds, carpenters’ shed, large blacksmiths’ shop, and various other offices. Here, on the embankment, are the offices of Messrs Benton and Woodiwiss, who are one of the most extensive firms of contractors for railways in the kingdom.

At Hole Bottom, the line for Halifax forms a double junction with the Bradford, Thornton, and Keighley line. An embankment has been formed, branching to the right towards Clayton, from the cutting at the entrance to the tunnel, and another to the left, branching towards Thornton, and lofty viaducts on the Bradford and Thornton line connect the ends of the two embankments.

Our thanks are due to the contractors for their courtesy in affording us every information, and for allowing us to inspect the plans, maps, and sections, from which we gathered, that from the  bridge above Holmfield station, to the entrance to the tunnel, there is a rise of 1 in 50; from the Ovenden end of the tunnel to Hole Bottom, the rise is 1 in 100; and soon after the line leaves the tunnel it begins to fall towards Bradford 1 in 115, so that the gradients are tolerably easy.

With respect to the construction of the tunnel, it may be interesting to state that the headings between the Ovenden end and No.1 shaft were joined on the 24th of July 1875; between Hole Bottom end and No.8 shaft on the 26th of October 1875; between 1 and 2 shafts on the 23rd of March 1876; between 3 and 4 shafts on the 28th of August 1877; and between 4 and 6 shafts on the 2nd of October 1877. It will be remembered that No.5 shaft had to be abandoned after sinking 90 yards on account of the accumulation of water.

The masonry and the arching of the tunnel is now completed on the Ovenden side to No.4 shaft. About the centre there yet remains a portion of the excavation of the tunnelling to finish and a large number of men are at work upon it. The Hole Bottom end is completed for a considerable distance.

Ever since the contractors were enabled to tap the water, and let it run away, the most rapid progress has been made. About 600 men are working in connection with the tunnel, and about 100 on the line outside. These include excavators, masons, bricklayers, blacksmiths, carpenters, horsemen, and engine drivers. Two large locomotives are employed in the tunnel taking materials to the works and bringing out the rubbish. 500 cubic yards of excavation are taken out on the average daily, in addition to what is sent up the centre shaft by the aid of the stationary engine on the top. One locomotive is kept at work in conveying bricks from Clayton for the arching of the tunnel. The sides of the tunnel are massive stone masonry, while the arch is six bricks in thickness.

To complete the work as soon as possible, men are working both day and night, and about 80 yards of tunnelling, including the masonry, is done in 14 days, so that there hardly ever was such progress made with such difficult work. The extreme height of the excavation is from 25 feet 6 inches to 26 feet, and the extreme width 31 feet. In one yard forwards 80 cubic yards of excavation has to be taken away, and as the tunnel is 2,500 yards long, 200,000 cubic yards of hard material has had to be excavated, or 250,000 tons weight removed, each cubic yard being computed to weigh 25 cwts. A large portion of the material has been taken to Birkbeck, on the road to Thornton, where the valley is crossed by a lofty embankment of tipped material 104 feet high and a considerable length. Although the permanent way has been laid over this embankment, the line has had to be raised, as the material has not yet finished “settling”.

The inside measurement of the tunnel, after the masonry has been put in, is 25 feet from the “formation” or floor of the tunnel to the top of the brickwork of arch, 21 feet clear to the soffit of arch, and 26 feet clear in width.

In trying to form an idea of this work, an estimate must be made of the length of shafting that has had to be mined, and here there has been almost as much work done as in constructing a second tunnel, about ten or twelve feet square, through the hill at a higher level, where the extreme length would be about 2,000 yards. In sinking No.4 shaft, the following strata were gone through:

Ft In Ft In
30 0 quarry stone 0 9 hard bed coal
9 0 blue bind 4 0 fireclay
21 0 sparry rag 2 0 grey rag
29 0 blue bind 27 0 black shale stone etc
12 0 sparry rag 0 5 coal
30 8 blue bind 6 7 middle band stone
0 16 rag 11 0 black shale
13 8 blue bind 5 0 mussel band
21 0 black shale 7 0 rough band
5 1 fireclay, shale etc 9 6 black shale
16 0 blue bind 1 6 soft bed coal
31 6 black shale 1 0 fireclay
0 3 band coal 4 0 lower bed stone
2 8 fireclay 9 0 blue bind
5 0 quarry rag 19 0 black shale
0 17 galliard 7 0 blue bind
35 0 blue bind 3 4 grey rag
2 0 rag 2 3 blue bind
3 6 blue bind 24 0 black shale
3 0 dark quarry rag

Between No.2 and 3 shafts an extensive “fault” occurs. To a coal miner a fault often means vexation and sometimes the abandonment of the mine; but to a railway contractor, a “fault” is a good thing, for the hard beds of material have already been fractured by nature, and the work of excavation can be proceeded with more rapidly.

It now only remains to be stated that the Bradford and Thornton line will be open for mineral traffic by the end of this month, or early next, and the permanent way will connection Halifax with Thornton about August. A Great Northern third class carriage runs with men backwards and forwards from Hole Bottom to Bradford; and a week last Thursday, some of the officials of the Great Northern Railway Company started in a railway carriage at Bradford and were taken over the line to Thornton.

Saturday 2nd March 1878: Halifax Guardian

Content reproduced courtesy of Forgotten Relics website


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