IT is without doubt a stunning feat of engineering.
And the bravery and expertise of the men who took on the challenge of the Pennines above Huddersfield is about to be recognised.
The 200th anniversary of the opening of Standedge Tunnel is to be celebrated from next weekend.
One of Yorkshire’s finest examples of industrial archaeology and one of the ‘Seven Wonders’ of Britain’s Waterways will be celebrating its 200th birthday next Monday.
The tunnel, of course, carries the Huddersfield Narrow Canal through the Pennines from Marsden to Diggle.
Now, 200 years after opening on April 4, 1811, Standedge Tunnel and the Huddersfield Narrow Canal will be marking the occasion with a special Bicentenary event over three days.
Planned activities for the celebrations include a series of events by the Horseboating Society who will be ‘legging’ boats through the tunnel from both sides over the weekend of April 2-4.
Legging was the traditional way of getting the horse-drawn boats through the tunnel.
The horse would be walked over the top of the moors while the boat ‘leggers’ would lay on their backs on the top of the boats and walk their way through along the roof of the tunnel.
It was a slow and laborious process but one which continued for many decades.
Now the narrowboats which use the tunnel are guided through by electrically-powered tug boats from each end.
Other celebratory events include guided walks on the three days over the tunnel top following the route of the canal boat horses.
A wildlife and sensory garden made from recycled lock gates is being officially opened along with an all new children’s playground area.
A bicentenary mosaic art project continues throughout the weekend following on from project work in local schools in conjunction with Artswork Creative Communities.
And an arts and craft fair from local artists will be held in the visitor centre at Tunnel End.
Construction of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal was sanctioned by an Act of Parliament in 1794 and was finally finished after 17 years of hard labour.
It was completed under the supervision of some of the finest engineers of the Industrial Revolution including Benjamin Outram, John Rooth and latterly, Thomas Telford who was the consultant overseeing the final section.
The first boat went through the tunnel on December 10, 1810, before the tunnel was officially opened on April 4th 1811. When it finally opened to navigation, it became the third transPennine waterway after the Leeds & Liverpool and Rochdale canals.
James Dean, visitor services manager for Standedge Tunnel and Visitor Centre, said: “It’s amazing to think that the tunnel and canal are today celebrating their 200th anniversary.
“Standedge is a unique place and this is a very proud moment for everyone who’s played a part in the tunnel’s life, because after 200 years it’s still one of the major landmarks of the waterways.
“This event is a good opportunity for people to come and relive some of our industrial past and have some fun at the same time.
“The waterways mean lots of things to many people so it’s great that visitors will gain a better understanding of the tunnel and canal’s importance.
“Our specialist guides will be on hand to thrill visitors with tales of the people who built the tunnel, how they built it and how they lived.
“Standedge is a massive part of our national heritage so it’s vital we continue to protect it for future generations to enjoy.”
Sue Day, chairperson for the Horseboating Society, said: “We are excited by the prospect of legging the Standedge Tunnel on its 200th anniversary and we hope that members of the public will join the guided walks along the boat horse route over the tunnel top to follow the progress of the boats being legged through the tunnel below.”
Neville Kenyon, chairman of the Huddersfield Canal Society said: “This promises to be a great celebratory year. It is perhaps interesting to reflect that the canal will have a far longer existence as a leisure facility than it ever did for commercial purposes. The advent of the railways saw its demise, the millennium its re-opening and, thanks to restoration, many future generations will be able to enjoy its very special attractions.”
THE statistics are staggering.
Work on the construction of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal began in 1794 and the plan involved a tunnel more than three miles long under the Pennines at Standedge.
That was the longest canal tunnel ever considered in Britain.
The canal was expected to open within five years but there was a problem.
Engineers started work on the tunnel from both the Marsden and Diggle sides – and found that as they neared each other, they were several feet apart in height!
It meant more excavations to line up the two sections.
There were a number of dangerous rockfalls during the building work, which caused many injuries.
In one year only 150 yards of tunnel was excavated.
The canal's engineer, Benjamin Outram, had many other commitments so it was left to the supervision of an inexperienced surveyor, Nicholas Brown.
Eventually the well known engineer Thomas Telford was called in to help complete the project.
His help meant the tunnel was eventually opened in 1811 and the canal became a through route 17 years after work began.
The first boat through Standedge Tunnel, Lively Lady emerged to the sound of church bells and a band playing "Rule Britannia".
Much of the tunnel is brick lined, but other parts were left with bare rock.
The tunnel was only wide enough for one boat but passing places were built.
The leggers who worked on the boats were accommodated in Tunnel End Cottages and were paid a shilling a trip.
The railway – which used an adjacent tunnel at Standedge – gradually took away most of the canal trade and the last commercial boat passed through the tunnel in 1921. The canal was officially closed in 1944 although a boat, Ailsa Craig, did sneak through in 1948, being the last boat to make a complete passage before the lock gates were removed in the 1950s.
In 1961 and 1962 a small boat took groups of canal enthusiasts through the tunnel. In time, however, parts of the roof became unstable and some sections collapsed, making navigation impossible.
Huddersfield Canal Society came up with a campaign to restore the waterway.
Massive engineering work was needed on the tunnel.
However, the project was a success and on May 1, 2001 the tunnel was open to boats once more
The restoration cost more than £5m – considerably more than the original tunnel construction costs of £123,804.