Peel Street circa 1900

Transport

Inside the canal tunnel
Photograph courtesy of Phill Davison

The canal

Huddersfield Narrow Canal | Standedge tunnel | The Standedge Admiral

Huddersfield Narrow Canal

The Huddersfield Narrow Canal was built to join Huddersfield to Ashton-under-Lyne and the network in the west of the country. It rose through 42 locks and ended at what is now Tunnel End at Marsden. Goods were then unloaded, and taken by horse across the moors to Uppermill.

On October 2nd 1793 a crowded meeting in Huddersfield listened to Benjamin Outram, a civil engineer, who presented his report for a proposed navigable canal to link the Calder and Hebble Canal with the Ashton Canal. The Huddersfield Canal Company was formally established shortly after the Act of 1794 received the Royal Assent. The canal to Marsden was opened in 1796.

Work began but was always under-funded and, as a consequence poorly supervised by inexperienced incompetent people. The Huddersfield Canal Company built March Haigh, Diggle and Slaithwaite reservoirs. The 3 Wessenden reservoirs were completed in 1800 by a consortium of mill owners. Water powered mills were located along the banks of the River Colne and mill owners were concerned that the canal shouldn't draw water from the river and thus reduce the water available to run the water wheels.

On the 29th November 1810 disaster struck when the earthwork of the Swellands dam wall collapsed. "Work seemed to be drawing to a conclusion when a very serious accident occurred with the failure of Swellands dam. Water rushed eastwards into the Colne valley at one o" clock in the morning inundating the valley at Marsden and as far as Paddock. Factories and homes were destroyed in what became known as the night of the Black Flood"

The canal was completed in April 1811 having taken 17 years to build.
"Throughout those troubled years it was the workforce of miners, tradesmen and labourers who suffered most from the frequent stoppages and shortness of funds." They were not paid anything whilst being laid off. Welfare of workers was of small account; only once was 1 pound 1 pences granted - "towards the expense of burying a workman who died today on the canal and, although a sick fund was set up, the company subscribed only 5 shillings each week."

Standege Canal Tunnel 2008In 1974 the Huddersfield Canal Society was formed to try reopen the canal. Funding from English Partnerships, the Millennium Commission and other sources enabled the re-opening of the blocked sections of canal and tunnel.

The canal tunnel was restored at a cost of 5 million and re-opened in May 2001.

Standedge Tunnel

In 1894, an Act of Parliament was passed to allow the building of the Standedge Tunnel. It took 17 years to build. The engineer was Benjamin Outram, who died before it was completed. The new engineer was John Booth, who reported in 1806 that the average rate of tunnelling was 11 yards per week. The first boat went through in December 1810, and the last one in 1948. The tunnel is not wide enough for a towpath, so boats were "legged" through the 3 miles. Expert leggers could do the trip with an empty boat in 1 hour 20 minutes, and 3 hours with a full load. They were paid 1s 6d, and the horses were led over the hills to join the boat at the other end.

Visit Subterranean Standedge - a trip back in time, courtesy of Phill Davison

The Standedge Admiral

Thomas Bourne born 24/4/1799 in Cross Keys, Godley, at the age of 12, was appointed the tunnel's first traffic regulator when it opened in 1811. His father, John born in 1774 in Worcestershire was a miner. By 1807 he was living at Redbrook. He was appointed the tunnel's first superintendant and remained so until his death in 21/1/1818 when his address was given as Tunnel Mouth.

Thomas Bourne worked as traffic regulator for 37 years. The work included travelling over Standedge 4 times a day, seven days a week. Whilst the bargees legged through the tunnel the horses had to be led over the moor. A letter written by Thomas which still survives said "The first Boat Came through the Canell Came on Tuesday Morning March 25, 1811, And I travled 37 yrs. Withen 8 dayes, Backwards and Forwards 4 Times a Day Sundays an All unless the Canall Was Stopt and Carid Many Thousands of Money over and Never Was a Penny Short Nor Longer in my hands than is help"

Under changes made to the tunnel rules in March 1848, agents at each end of the tunnel gave a certificate to the "last boat at each boat entering the tunnel, also a red lamp, and the practice of sending a man through with the boats to be discontinued." It has been calculated that he covered 215,812 miles during his working life. He died in Marsden on 22/8/1851 aged 52.