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Report - Drewton Railway Tunnel

Discussion in 'Underground Sites' started by Devster, May 30, 2009.

  1. Devster

    Devster 28DL Full Member
    28DL Full Member

    May 22, 2009
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    The Hull and Barnsley Railway (H&BR) was passed in Parliament on the 26th of August 1880 and opened on 20th of July 1885. On incorporation and until 1905 it was the Hull, Barnsley and West Riding Junction Railway and Dock Company. The projected total length was 66 miles, but as built it did not reach Barnsley. Its Alexandra Dock in Hull opened 16 July 1885. Various joint lines were operated in conjunction with the HBR. With the two most sensible routes already occupied by the NER (North Eastern Railway), it chose to cut its new line through the heart of the Wolds, linking the Yorkshire coalfields with its own deepwater dock. With one of the incredible features being the Drewton Tunnel spanning 1mile 354yards in length.
    The City fathers particularly wished to challenge the NER by exercising greater control over Hull's access to both the lucrative Baltic states timber trade and the Yorkshire coalfields export markets. The need for a new railway line with larger more modern dock facilities capable of handling increased timber and coal traffic was therefore established, being envisaged as the means to increase the prosperity of Hull.

    The Hull, Barnsley and West Riding Junction Railway and Dock Company as it was originally known, was the last large independent Victorian railway construction scheme in the UK apart from that of the Barry Railway. William Shelford, the line’s engineer, mustered all the technology that the late nineteenth century had to offer. Construction work on Alexander Dock was a round-the-clock operation thanks to electric lighting - the first engineering project in Britain to benefit from it. Pneumatic drills made tunneling easier. Steam navvies were deployed. But finance proved as taxing as the terrain and the company was struggling to make ends meet even before the line was completed. Cuttings and tunnels had to be excavated, but the area’s loose chalk proved difficult and frequent landslips occurred. More than 8,000 men helped build the line, living in camps and rioting regularly. The largest of these temporary communities - boasting shops and a mission chapel - was at Riplingham on top of Drewton Tunnel. Five-and-a-half million pounds later, the 53 mile route was ready for business. The first goods traffic pressed the sleepers on 20th July 1885 with the passenger service welcoming customers a week later. One of the last substantial pieces of Britain’s railway jigsaw was in place.

    Passengers aboard Hull-bound trains emerged from 2,114 yards of the Drewton Tunnels gloom at the line’s summit, whilst an 83 feet deep cutting - known by the navvies as ‘Big Hill’ - concealed their passage down the other side. Little Weighton sat proudly between these two immense achievements.

    However Hull’s coal commitments were waning and, during the 1950s, British Rail hatched a plan to divert all remaining traffic over the easier NER route. The Hull & Barnsley’s decline was swift. Little Weighton’s passenger service bit the dust on 1st August 1955. Through freight traffic ended in December 1958, marking the tunnel’s retirement. A shuttle service from Hull fed the coal yard until 1964 but, that summer, Little Weighton’s rail connection was finally severed, having survived less than 80 years.
    Despite forty years of neglect, Drewton still exudes magnificence and is now the protected home to a colony of bats. Chalk-falls have almost engulfed one entrance but the eastern portal sits proudly at the head of its cutting, resisting encroachment by landfill. It’s a different story east of the village. Half-a-million cubic metres of household and industrial waste are slowly consuming Little Weighton Cutting. Within a decade, all traces of it will be gone.
    The Hull & Barnsley only enjoyed a short life and the harsh truth is that it failed to meet its promoters’ considerable expectations. But it was a triumph in so many ways and no amount of landfill can obscure the role it once played at the heart of a small Wolds community.

    Drewton Tunnel's five brick air-vents can be seen in the fields today as a memory of this once historical feat.


    Planning carefully makes any difficult explore a lot less grueling. Boots, lots of flash lights, hard hats and so on are definitely worth taking.

    After a scary treck through the farm fields, avoiding the dancing scare crows, repeatedly ducking every time the sound of a shot gun echoed the area and with a little help from a good old GPS device we managed to navigate ourselves perfectly toward the Eastern entrance of the Drewton Railway Tunnel.
    Emerging from amongst the hedge row appeared an opening and on looking down the gradual rubble slope there sat in all its 100 year old glory the magnificent portal, a very pleasing sight.

    Finally in the tunnel and on route to the other side, there were not a great deal of features, occasional science projects and the evidence of having been recently surveyed showed that it was not all that untouched. With a brick archway every 10 meters or so on both sides there are only so many photographs you can take, but the thrill of the still atmosphere, pitch black and feeling of never quite being alone reverberated in your mind.


    The first few hundred yards where breath taking, everything was new, however then it all became rather similar. Occasional bulges in the walls prompted a photograph but urged a sense of uneasiness. Along with the not too often sound of something around you falling from either side wall or upper arch secured the decision to wear hard hats.


    After a quarter mile or so the original chalk landscape decided it was time to take rightfully back the limelight and had forced the crumbling brick to its knees, leaving random stronger brick arches looking lonely against the dirty white surroundings.

    The constant onslaught of the farmers shot gun sounded ever closer. One time from right above one of the air ventilation shafts where we were setting up a shot below.


    Some instances of erosion were unbelievable, a true test of strength in time showed some magnificent natural occurrences in the battle of man over nature. The Tunnel proved to be a dangerous playground for those willing to tempt fate, however at all times the eye candy was innumerable the memories unforgettable.


    The last agonizing 100 yards consisted of knee deep silt, the residue left from prior flooding and effects of water runoff from the quarry above. One last exertion of effort through said mud and up the embankment at the tunnels western mouth brought us elevated to the keystone of the once perfect brick/stone workmanship. The wind on our faces never quite felt so satisfying, the atmosphere again was refreshing and worth the last few hours. What more, staring at us was the crystal clear starry sky and very apt moonlit night that provided all the luminosity necessary on our walk back to the road.
    Transportation awaited us in the form of two Bmx’s previously and carefully affixed to a local tree at the exit point makes the just over 1 mile journey from the west back to east plenty fun.

    All in all an interesting Explore and well worth it too!
    #1 Devster, May 30, 2009
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 1, 2009

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  2. jonno22

    jonno22 Guest

    I agree (and forgot to mention ) that the commentary in the report was also a very good read and quite detailed

    Best Regards

    Jonathan McGurk

    Railway and Freelance Photographer

    new-age likes this.
  3. xxj

    xxj Guest

    Dont think the sections of bare chalk wall are such an issue, I believe parts of Drewton we're built this way with only the roof section lined.
  4. Bunk3r

    Bunk3r 28DL Memb3r
    Regular User

    Jun 6, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Right then, guess I should get my pics from the night up, I didnt take many so I'll just put them here.


    Its a geologists dream down there you can see all sorts within the chalk and then parts where the water ingress has left deposits like this

    Me with the Fenix lighting the vent shaft and my modified (35w halogen) Maglite lighting the rest of the tunnel:

    The ride back to the car, then a strip down and change and convincing the suspicious taxi driver that we weren't stealing the car, before heading home.
    new-age likes this.
  5. Rocket

    Rocket Guest

    Great pic's lads!

    I had a look in the western end on Tuesday. I took my 19 year old son with me, as I've banged on for years about what the vent shafts do every time we drive past them, lol. So, it was time to give my lad a view I'd not seen myself since about 1978 or so.

    The western end is dry at the moment and easy accessible providing you don't let the quarry staff see you. We did. Big mistake. We'd been spotted walking the field perimeter by a quarry worker as he was leaving for the day. As it was after closing time we decided it was easier to walk the quarry road back to our car. Just as we approached the gate a management type fella appeared. He was not a happy chappy accusing us of casing the joint. What he thought my lad and I were after nicking I don't know. After some explaining all was well in the end and this fella said he'd appreciate it if in future we'd ring and ask permission if we go again. Stoneledge operate the quarry I believe, and Mr Greenwood was this fellas name. Don't mention mine in dispatches though, lol!!
  6. cactusmelba

    cactusmelba 28DL Full Member
    28DL Full Member

    Nov 14, 2008
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    And whatEVER you do , do NOT run into the farmer who owns the land that the Eastern portal is on.. (mr oliver I think)..

    no details necessary, just the warning...

    That maglite mod REALLY is something matey!!
  7. Scottash

    Scottash 28DL Member
    28DL Member

    Sep 21, 2015
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    #7 Scottash, Sep 21, 2015
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 21, 2015
    Bunk3r likes this.
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