SCRCA Primary Reference: Review of F.S. Williams (1876) for Rise Hill Tunnel

Submitted by mark.harvey / Tue, 05/09/2017 - 22:19
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Source: "The Midland railway: its rise and progress. A narrative of modern enterprise" by Frederick Smeeton Williams, published by Strahan & Co London (1876). The following extract is from pages 506-508:

A short distance from the northern end of Cow Gill is Black Moss or Rise Hill Tunnel, one of the largest works on the line. Let us visit it as it appeared when in course of construction. We toil up the steep side of the Cow Gill ravine, and come to a small opening in the side of the hill which serves as the temporary heading into the tunnel. But there is not much to be seen here, so we mount to the top, go as far as the first shaft, and taking our place in the iron “skep,” at a given signal are rapidly lowered into the depths below. "To one unaccustomed to such travelling, the sudden falling through space produces a giddy sensation, and involuntarily we clutch the chain by which we are suspended. We soon arrive at the bottom, where for some minutes we can see nothing owing to the sudden change from light to almost perfect darkness. Candles, however, are given to each of us, and following our leader we carefully pick our way to that part where the men are working. When one's eyes get more accustomed to the light, what a wonderful place it seems! Solid rock above, below, and on each side; what an enormous amount of labour must have been expended in forming this subterranean passage, 26 feet wide, and 20 feet high, at such a depth below the ground!

"After a long walk, we arrive at the face, where we see some 30 or 40 miners hard at work, whose occupation consists of drilling holes in the rock, which are afterwards charged with gunpowder and exploded. These men work in couples; one holds the drill, or jumper, and slightly alters the position of its cutting edge after every stroke, and the other, by repeated blows of a hammer, forces it into the rock. Great stalwart men are these miners, who seem to wield their heavy hammers with ease, and bring them down on the drill with tremendous force, the sharp click of each blow betraying to even an inexperienced ear the hardness of the material which is being worked. Contrary to our expectation, the air seemed to be very good, but that we were told has only been the case since an opening has been made into the other shaft, through which a constant current of fresh air is passing."

To a stranger, it has been truly said by one who visited this tunnel, there is something unearthly in the sounds and sights of these mining operations. "Dimly burning candles, uncouth looking waggons standing on the rails or moving to and fro, men at the facings, some above and some below, with their numerous lights like twinkling stars in a hazy night, the noise of the twirling drills beneath the terrible force of big hammers wielded by stalwart men, and the hac, hac, or half sepulchral grunt at each stroke, the murky vapour, the chilling damp, and the thick breathing, make a novice to such scenes feel a thrill of more than ordinary pleasure when he ascends to breathe the unpolluted mountain air, and finds that all dread of being engulfed in the rocks (140 feet below the surface of the earth) has fled. As we are leaving, we are alarmed at hearing heavy explosions and feeling the ground shake beneath our feet; but it is only the miners firing the charges in the pit below. It is strange that though the tunnel is cut through the solid rock, it has had to be lined with masonry for threefourths of its length for fear of any pieces becoming detached and falling on the permanent way."

In the course of the erection of this tunnel a temporary village had to be built, with huts, sheds, and storerooms, for 350 persons on the hill-top, at an elevation of 1300 feet above the sea level. From here there was a tramway down a steep incline to the road in Garsdale, 600 yards in length, up which all the railway material for this portion of the line had to be drawn by a rope worked by steam power. In this tunnel there are two permanent shafts. Nearly all the material removed in the boring of the tunnel had to be lifted by steam power to the top of the hill; but it is curious that, owing to the scarcity of ballast, much of it had to be brought down again, and deposited in the permanent way.