HUDDERSFIELD NARROW CANAL
Before the canal tunnel was completed all navigation ceased
here and boats transferred their cargo to packhorses who continued
the journey over Standedge to Diggle, using the Boat Lane.
After the tunnel was opened, tunnel keepers were installed
at the cottages; they were in responsible for timetabling
the passage of boats through and also for maintenance of the
tunnel itself. Some of the devices used for this purpose are
apparent at this site and will be described in more detail
later. Finally, what used to be one of the major feeders for
the canal, Tunnel End, is close by and can be viewed from
By the time the canal enters the Standedge Tunnel it is 645
ft (196m) above sea level making it the highest stretch of
canal in Great Britain. The tunnel itself bores through 3
miles 135 yds (4950m) of millstone grit and shale and is the
longest canal tunnel ever built in this country.
In Outram's report of 1793 it was estimated that the tunnel
would take only 5 years to construct but in fact it actually
took over 16 years to complete. Work began on the Marsden
end of the tunnel in July 1794, and on the Diggle end several
months later. Fourteen shafts were dropped from the summit
of Standedge to help excavate and ventilate the central workings.
All excavation was done by pickaxe, shovel and gunpowder making
progress slow and laborious. In 1806 the average rate of excavation
was 10 yds 28 ins (10.6m) a week.
The cost proved far greater than expected, and nearly forced
the Canal Company into bankruptcy. It took two further Acts
of Parliament to raise enough money to complete the tunnel.
Once finished it was acknowledged as an amazing feat of civil
engineering and. hailed as one of the seven wonders of the
The tunnel ends have a width of 8 ft (2.4m), a height of 17
ft (5.2m) and a water depth of 8 ft (2.4m), but inside, the
tunnel is often much wider and higher than this. At four points
it broadens out to form form passing places, known as 'wides'.
The tunnel is arched with brick or stone in places where the
rock strata is weaker, or where the original tunnel was disturbed
as a result of the railway tunnels' construction, but left
in a natural state where the rock is solid. Numbered markers
were fitted to the roof every 50 yds (45m) to mark the distance
travelled (there were 109 altogether).
There is no towpath through the tunnel so boat horses had
to be unhitched from the boat and taken over Standedge via
the 'Boat Lane'. Empty boats could be punted through using
poles, but loaded boats could only be moved by an arduous
process known as 'legging'. For this two men would lie on
their backs on the bow of the boat and push with their feet
against the walls of the tunnel to propel the boat along.
At the tunnel ends and in the lined sections, the tunnel width
was narrow enough for both men to leg together, but in unlined
sections the men legged alternately, thus steering the boat
through in a zig‑zag fashion. From 1833 onwards the
Company employed teams of professional leggers who would leg
the boat through for Is. 6d. The average length of time it
took to leg from one end to the other was about 4 hours, although
a record time of 1 hour 25 minutes was set in 1914 (presumably
with an unloaded boat). The tunnel entrance was originally
of a symmetrical design until the widening of the double‑track
railway truncated the left hand side. On the right are the
remains of a winch which was used to raise a chain across
the tunnel to control traffic flow. Just in front of the entrance
are two grooves cut into opposite sides of the stonework.
These held planks of wood called stop planks which would cut
off the water supply when a particular section of the canal
needed to be drained. Another set of stop plank grooves is
to be found near the footbridge.
Apart from the canal tunnel there are three other tunnel entrances
to be seen at this site. These were excavated during the railway
era. The first was begun in 1846 by the Huddersfield and Manchester
Railway and The first was begun in 1846 by the Huddersfield
and Manchester Railway and Canal Company, and is the middle
one of the three. The excavation of the tunnel was made easier
by the fact that 13 cross passages connected it to the canal
tunnel so that much of the spoil could be removed by boat.
This system was estimated to have saved the rail company some
£ 100, 000. When finished (1848) it became the longest rail
tunnel in the world at that time.
The original intention was to build a double≠track tunnel,
but it was calculated as cheaper to build two single line
tunnels. Both were started at the same time, but it was decided
that one tunnel would suffice to carry the initial service
of trains. The second single line tunnel was abandoned for
22 years before being completed in 1871 by the London and
North‑Western Railway Company who had bought up the
old company in 1847. Again the canal tunnel was used to transport
materials to the site and remove rubble.
With the upsurge in rail traffic in the late 19th century,
a third double track tunnel was deemed necessary. This was
begun in 1890 and completed in 1894. Today, this is the only
tunnel still in use and is part of the main Liverpool to Leeds
Tunnel End Cottages
The architecture of these cottages suggests that they were
built around 1840, at the time of the railway era, but it
is likely that one or more cottages existed on this site before
then in order to house the tunnel‑keepers and their
families. The cottages are now used as a Canal and Countryside
Centre and as the base for the Colne Valley Ranger Service.
By the side of one of the cottages stands a number of gauging
blocks which were hoisted by crane into unladen boats to lower
their height above water level (freeboard). This operation
enabled boats to progress through the tunnel with enough headroom.
In front of the cottages are two mooring bollards which were
used to secure boats to the landing stage. Opposite is a sluice
system for controlling the water level in the top pound; the
excess water draining into the River Colne.
By the side of the footbridge a number of wooden boards cover
an old water turbine which was used to ventilate the tunnel
when construction and maintenance work was in progress
As there is no towpath through Standedge Tunnel, horses had
to be unhitched at Tunnel End and taken over the hills to
Diggle to rejoin the boats when they emerged from the tunnel.
Ainsley Lane is known locally as 'Boat Lane' and clearly must
have formed the first part of the route which the horses took.
From Ainsley Lane it is thought that the Boat Lane followed
the track which skirts the western edge of Pule Hill and then
continued across the moors of Standedge down to Diggle.
The field on the right hand side of Ainsley Lane was one of
the sites of a navvy settlement, built to house the construction
workers on the railway and their families.
Tunnel End Reservoir
This was one of twelve reservoirs built to supply the Narrow
Canal with water. It was created in 1798 by damming the headwaters
of the River Colne. Originally the reservoir held 22, 650,
000 gallons (102, 966, 000 litres) of water, but today it
is incapable of holding anything like this amount due to siltation.
The reservoir is no longer a feeder for the canal; the outlet
being channelled via an aqueduct over the canal and railway
into the River Come. On this conduit is an overflow regulator,
now no longer in operation. Most of the reservoirs that were
built to supply the canal with water were of inadequate construction
and Tunnel End was no exception; in 1799 an overspill burst
through the earthbanks, flooding Marsden and wreaking much
havoc in the valley.
Tunnel End Warehouse
The design of this building is purely functional. The ground
floor is open‑plan with no internal divisions; the ceiling
being supported by rows of cast‑iron columns. This layout
provided the maximum amount of space for unloading cargo from
narrowboats to packhorses and carts. An arm of the canal originally
led into the warehouse so that boats could load and unload
their goods inside. This has now been filled in with concrete,
but its position is marked by the line of coping stones that
form the edge. The arm is 70 ft (21.3m) long and 7 ft (2.
lm) wide and could only accommodate one boat at a time. Trapdoors
opened above so that goods could be hoisted straight off the
boats and into the upper storeys for storage. Outside, the
remains of a bricked‑up archway can be seen, through
which boats once entered the warehouse. The large doorway
at the front of the building enabled fully laden carts to
enter. A similar doorway stands blocked up at the back of
the warehouse suggesting that carts came in at one door and
left by the other.
In front of the warehouse the canal broadens out to form a
pool for boats to turn around in, called a winding hole. Before
the tunnel was completed, this marked the head of navigation
on the Narrow Canal. All boats terminated here and their cargo
was transferred to packhorses and carts for conveyance over