Posts Tagged ‘history’

The Clifton Hall Tunnel Collapse 1953


Clifton Hall tunnel lay on the on the Patricroft-Molyneux Junction line, adjacent to Clifton station on the L&Y route to Bolton. It opened in 1850, promoted by the Liverpool & Manchester Railway mainly as an attempt to stymie a rival proposal. By the time of opening, control had passed to the LNWR and it was principally used to serve nearby collieries.

The tunnel – known locally as Black Harry – was 1298 yards long and was troublesome throughout its life. Eight shafts were sunk during construction, none of which were retained for ventilation and none of which were marked in the tunnel. It was bored through unstable ground, mostly clay and wet sand, which made it very wet in places and it was patched many times. After a small amount of mining subsidence, it was twice reinforced with steel ribs made from old rails, and these covered all but 282 yards of the tunnel’s length by 1926. It was in this section that the collapse occurred.

On 15th April 1953, a ganger noticed some bricks had fallen onto the tracks and that more were peeling from the roof. All traffic was stopped to allow repairs, and it was decided to use steel ribs to reinforce the damaged area. Over the next two weeks, further land movements were detected and cracks started to develop. On the 28th April at about 5.35 a.m., the tunnel roof failed directly beneath an old construction shaft. Witnesses in the street above (Temple Drive in Swinton) described a loud cracking noise underground, after which two houses (no’s 22 & 24) collapsed into the ground, killing all five people inside. The side wall of number 26 was also sheared off, but thankfully its occupants were rescued. This house, as well as number 20, was later demolished.

It was soon decided not to reopen the line as it had little traffic. Work to stabilise the tunnel began the day after, and was completed nine days after the collapse. Both sides of the roof fall were firmly packed with ashes, and the tunnel was then filled with colliery waste by the NCB. It was subsequently sealed and both entrances buried and landscaped. The line south of the tunnel was closed immediately and that to the north retained for colliery traffic until 1961.

The official enquiry found that the collapse was caused by “an inherent weakness in the construction of the tunnel”. When the old shaft was examined, rotting timbers were found amongst the wreckage. It was determined that these had been used to brace the shaft when it was filled in after the tunnel was built, and that over time they had corroded, increasing the stress on the walls of the shaft. When they gave way, the full load of the shaft was transferred to the tunnel roof. The enquiry also found that engineers had been hampered by the wartime loss of records relating to the tunnel, including the location of some old shafts.

This was not the last time the tunnel caused problems. In 2007, cracks appeared in a building used by Age Concern. Because of its condition, it was demolished. A few weeks later, a crater appeared next to Swinton Register Office, and the road was closed for several weeks while repairs were carried out. It was subsequently discovered that drilling had disturbed the fabric of the tunnel.

As for the rest of the line, it is traceable on Google Earth for about half a mile south of Clifton, close to the north portal of the tunnel. It becomes visible again south of the A580 and some of it has been turned into a footpath until it reaches Monton Road, not far north of the M602. Beyond there, the alignment has disappeared. On Temple Drive, there is still a gap in the houses, with only a couple of sheds now occupying the site.


Wikipedia (for the accident report), for a fuller explanation and photographs.
Lost Railways of Merseyside and Greater Manchester, Gordon Suggitt, Countryside Books


The Hand of History? Not Quite.


Fotheringhay, as anyone who has studied Tudor history knows, is where Mary Queen of Scots was executed. The foolish Catholic pretender to the English throne, caught in a treason plot by spymaster Francis Walsingham, met her end in the great hall of the castle there, a few miles west of Peterborough. On one of my all to frequent trips to Peterborough this year, I was diverted by bad weather and had seen signs to the place. I resolved to come back, and did so several weeks later.

It was a warm day and I had all the windows open as I roared down the bypass at 70mph and onto the A605 towards Oundle. I followed the brown signs for Fotheringhay, pleased by the change in landscape: after the bleak flatness of the Fens, it was back to more “English” scenery of rolling farmland and woods.

Fotheringhay is a quaint old village with many thatched buildings built of a yellow-cream stone with an unusually wide main street. I parked near the church and walked back. Along a pitted track for a short distance, then over a stile by a farm where there was an information board. There was little to see, with only the small mound giving any impression that there had been anything here, this small field pressed against the limpid waters of the river Nene. Closer to the river were some railings with plaques fixed to them, commemorating the birth of Richard III in 1452 and Mary’s execution 135 years later. Adjacent to the latter, a faded tartan scarf was tied to the rust speckled metal.


Even with the artist’s impression on the info board, it was hard to get a sense of the place: the word “castle” conjures up images of a large building with immense stone walls, towers, keep, battlements and moat. Unless it had the properties of a Tardis, to describe this place as a castle seems grandiloquent, as does “great hall”. The area seemed simply too small, too insignificant for such titles. Too insignificant for what turned out to be an significant historical event.


With some head shaking, I climbed the small mound. The flanks were thick with large pink thistles, with large leaves of a strange dirty green-white. There was no one else around and it was peaceful, with just the gentle rustle of the river for company. I couldn’t reconcile this beautiful, quiet spot with such a violent deed as beheading. Try as I did, I got no feel for the place. It wasn’t the distance of time, as I’ve got strong senses from Medieval churches and neolithic sites (such as the stone circle at Stanton Drew in Somerset). It was as if a conscious attempt had been made to erase the place from history. If that is true, it’s almost succeeded. My last image of the place was of two red kites languidly circling the village, and who obligingly flew off as soon as I got my camera out. The hand of history? No. At best, the lightest of breaths shaking a few hairs.


In Praise of Michael Wood


I’ve just finished watching Michael Wood’s latest series King Alfred and the Anglo-Saxons. As usual, his almost boyish enthusiasm and deep knowledge of his subject was infectious. Though I learned a little about Alfred at school, my knowledge of the so-called “dark ages” is limited. Under Wood’s enthusiastic guidance, they seemed anything but dark.

I first came across him in my first year at high school (1980), in a programme that was also about the Dark Ages. His exuberant style impressed me then and ever since, I’ve always tried to watch his programmes, regardless of subject. And he’s covered many and diverse topics: India, the Conquistadors, The Third Reich, Beowulf, Alexander the Great, Shakespeare. Most I knew little of or had little interest in, but Wood has that rare knack of livening up any subject and quietly drawing the viewer in and enthusing them. Even though he is now in his sixties, he has lost none of his enthusiasm and it remains as infectious as ever. Long may he continue.


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