Photos: Ian Gill
Authorised by Parliament in 1872, the Great Northern's Derbyshire & Staffordshire Extension established a connection between Grantham, Nottingham and Burton upon Trent by extending the Ambergate Nottingham Boston & Eastern Junction Railway which the GN had secured, through lease, in 1861. It was driven by the desire of local businessmen to shatter the Midland Railway's monopoly on local coal traffic.
Known locally as the Derby Friargate Line, the alignment passed to the east and north of Nottingham before cutting through Derby where an impressive warehouse and sidings where established to handle goods. In 1881, the GN extended the route through to Wales by acquiring the Stafford & Uttoxeter Railway.
The route demanded considerable engineering including a lengthy viaduct at Bennerley and four tunnels. Their portals were variable in design, given them a unusual character. Opened in 1875, Watnall - or Kimberley - tunnel (above) was the shortest at 268 yards and ran parallel with another of the same name, driven by the Midland Railway four years later. Its portals featured stonework that radiated out from the centre, with the parapet at the east end rising to a point whilst the other was curved. The tunnel itself incorporated a curve to the south.
Mickleover Tunnel (above) formed part of a later section of line, seeing its first commercial traffic in 1878. The imposing west portal created an illusion of size; the main bore - 464 yards in length - was rather smaller than the entrance suggested due to the lining beyond it being stepped inwards.
The two tunnels closed in 1968.