Report - - Standedge Tunnels, Marsden - May 2015 | Underground Sites | 28DaysLater.co.uk

Report - Standedge Tunnels, Marsden - May 2015


Is this the future?
Regular User
The Standedge Tunnels, which consist of four parallel passageways, are located beneath the Pennines in England. Two of the tunnels are former railway lines which now function as service ways, one is still part of the live main rail line, and the final one is a canal tunnel. The canal tunnel, the longest and the oldest of the four passages, was officially opened in 1811. The first single-track railway line wasn’t completed until 1848; it was constructed by the London and North Western Railway (LNWR). A second parallel tunnel was opened until 1871. The third and final railway tunnel which features double tracks; the one that is still operational today, was ready for use in 1894. All four tunnels are linked by adits (from Latin, meaning entrance) at strategic intervals, and these played an important role in the construction of the railway tunnels because waste could easily be removed from them and transported out via boat.

Although the canal tunnel closed in 1943, during the Second World War, it was reopened in May 2001 and now features a visitor centre. To this day it remains the deepest, longest and highest canal tunnel in Britain, measured as being 16,499ft long (5,029 metres), 636ft (191 metres) underground and 643ft (196 metres) above sea level. Work initially began on the first tunnel in July 1795, and by mid-1796 727 metres had successfully been cut. In some sections track had been laid so that steam engines could be used to keep the works drained. Towards the end of 1797, excessive water began to impede on the progress being made, but the consulting engineer, Benjamin Outram, was awarded more funding, time and an increased rate per yard for completion, and by the middle of 1799, 910 metres of the tunnel had been finished, and a further 910 had been excavated. In the early 1800’s, however, progress slowed and eventually ceased because suitable contractors capable of carrying out the work were hard to find. Outram eventually left the project in 1801 after flooding damaged parts of the finished sections of the tunnel. Despite the misfortune, the Canal Company raised additional funding through a parliamentary act, and they were able to restart work. On 9th June 1809 the two ends of the tunnel finally met, but it wasn’t until two years after when it was declared fully operational. A grand opening ceremony took place on 4th April 1811 and a party of boats successfully completed the entire journey in one hour and forty minutes. Although the estimated costs for the canal tunnel had been £178,478, it cost only £160,000; this, however, still made it the most expensive canal tunnel ever built in England. Some money was saved where bare rock has been left exposed inside the passageway, meaning that it was only brick-lined in certain places.

The working canal tunnel is only wide enough for one narrowboat and, unlike other canal tunnels in England, Standedge was built without a tow-path. Traditionally, all canal boats were towed by horse, but, instead, boats had to be ‘legged’ through Standedge by professional leggers who were paid six pence for working a boat through the tunnel; it would take one hour and twenty minutes to get an empty boat through and over three hours to get a fully loaded one to the other side. Inside, there are several ‘passing places’ because the tunnel was designed for two way traffic. This idea was, however, abandoned when boat crews were found to be too competitive. In spite of its popularity, by the 1940’s the tunnel had fallen into a state of disrepair, and with several blockages, it was deemed too unsafe for boats to navigate. The last boat passed through in 1948, despite the fact that the tunnel had officially closed in 1943. It was permanently sealed with iron gates to avoid any potential disasters.

In the late 1990’s Standedge tunnel received £5 million as part of a restoration project, in efforts to reopen the entire canal. The instability that had been noted back in the 1940’s was found to be in the rock-lined areas which had not been brick-lined. These areas were stabilised using rock bolts and, in some places, concrete. While diesel engines were not permitted in the first few years of its reopening, due to fears surrounding the lack of ventilation, in September 2007 the trip boat Pennine Moonraker was taken through the tunnel under its own power; without the use of an electric tug boat. Since then, boats have been allowed to travel the length of the tunnel under their own power; although they must be accompanied by a chaperone on the boat, and are followed by a service vehicle in the parallel disused railway tunnel.

The railway tunnels which run parallel to the canal are level throughout, and each was designed so that people could access the canal tunnel easily; so traditional steam engines could be supplied with fresh water without being forced to stop. Originally, only a single tunnel was constructed, but it proved to be a bottleneck for traffic moving in both directions. Subsequently, a second tunnel was constructed to alleviate this problem. Each of the tunnels are over 3 miles long (4803 metres). The 1894 double-bore tunnel opened to cater for newer high speed trains which were being developed and this is three metres longer than the single passageways. Overall, it is the fifth longest rail tunnel in England. The older tunnels offer an emergency escape route and provide emergency vehicles with road access into the hillside.

One again, it was late one evening as three of us drove off into the night. We were aiming for Marsden, a small village in West Yorkshire, in hope that we could find the Standedge Tunnels. These historic tunnels have been on the ‘to do’ list for quite some time now, and, since it was one of the lads birthdays, we decided to have a crack and see where we ended up. The night started well; eating pickled onion monster munch as the clock struck twelve, and although it was beginning to rain outside, our spirits were high. We arrived and tucked ourselves away in a nicely concealed parking spot to avoid any unwanted attention from the reception area at the tunnel entrance. Although all appeared to be quiet, a few lights were burning brightly inside the nearby building. Undeterred though, we ventured outside into the rain to check out the entrance and make a quick plan from there.

Ten minutes later, with the plan in motion, I cunningly made a phone call as the others began to inflate the raft. As it would happen, the raft was very nearly fully inflated by the time I returned, so we quickly loaded our gear inside (a couple of oars, some camera equipment and a birthday cake), and as silently as we could manage, we carried the raft to the edge of the canal and carefully lowered it into the water. One by one we climbed inside, and avoiding the motion sensing security light outside the main reception, we drifted past noiselessly. The large iron gate was in sight and, quite effortlessly, after managing to avoid getting stuck beneath it or anything like that, we soon found ourselves surrounded by late 1700’s brickwork. It was pleasant inside, and the water was calm as we began to paddle into the unknown. The old brickwork lights up especially well under a drop of torchlight, and the shadows of ripples from the water shimmer nicely on the walls and ceilings.

We paddled for a reasonable distance and hopped out here and there to check out some of the small passageways and adits branching off from the waterway. For the most part, our expedition was dry, save for a few leaking wall sections which sprayed water into the boat; at least until we reached a sort of waterfall. But, despite drifting along at quite a pace, we spied the cascading water early enough; so I was able to frantically fumble around to pack the camera away – trying to place it under something dry. We inevitably passed through the wall of water: and the end result? A large pool of water in the bottom of the dinghy and a soggy birthday cake… Nevertheless, quite undeterred we cracked on and managed to haul the raft up into one of the service tunnels. Once inside, we each enjoyed a quick slice of moist birthday cake and spent the next few hours wandering around the old diesel smelling passageways, trying to find the main line. So, overall, I’d say the night was a success and it was well worth getting a little damp to experience the full scale of the Standedge Tunnels – they certainly didn’t disappoint and lived up to our expectations.

Explored with Ford Mayhem and Meek-Kune-Do.

1: The Beginning (Monster Munch in the Car)


2: Raft Inflated and Ready to Go


3: Drifting Inside the Tunnel (First Glimpses)


4: Standedge Canal Tunnel


5: Further on in the Tunnel (Getting a Good Pace On)


6: Brick Archways


7: Inside a Service Passageway


8: Looking Down a Small Service Tunnel


9: The SeaHawk II Turned into a Canal Boat


10: Moored at the Side


11: No Exit That Way


12: The Waterfall


13: Birthday Cake


14: Getting Stuck In


15: Jam Sponge Underground


16: The Service Tunnel (One of Them)


17: One of the Connecting Adits


18: Second Service Tunnel


19: Heading Towards the Mainline


20: The Mainline (Live Railway)


21: Emergency Telephone


22: Smaller Service Tunnel


23: White Crash Barrier


24: Adit Number 28


25: Where we Left the Raft


26: Back Inside the Raft (Heading Home)


27: Changes in the Brick/Stonework


28: Side Splashes


29: The Exit


30: A Steamy Situation


The Lone Ranger

Safety is paramount!
Staff member
Nicely done, can't think of a better place for a birthday picnic :thumb


28DL Full Member
28DL Full Member
Top stuff mate & the pics :thumb
How many packets of MM did he eat that night :eek: & nice to see the Birthday Boy smile...he wasn"t earlier lol

Pissed off i didn"t come but you know why ;)


28DL Full Member
28DL Full Member
You buggers, that was on my to do list! Great report, shame about the cake...drop me a pm if you plan a revisit please mate, top job.


Is this the future?
Regular User
Top stuff mate & the pics :thumb
How many packets of MM did he eat that night :eek: & nice to see the Birthday Boy smile...he wasn"t earlier lol

Pissed off i didn"t come but you know why ;)
Haha, he managed about four packets I think. All was good when he saw the cake :)

Next time mate, we'll convince you to come ;)

Haha, great report. Looks like a good fun night. This is what exploring is all about for me. Cheers :thumb
It was an awesome night :thumb

very good stuff Mate :thumb

been through here loads at 90mph,
nice too see the tunnel in detail.
Haha, quite a bit to see in there, even if it is just brick and stone. All the different passages are cool too.

You buggers, that was on my to do list! Great report, shame about the cake...drop me a pm if you plan a revisit please mate, top job.
We had space in the car man ;) *and the raft.

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