The construction challenges of...

Lydgate Tunnel

Lydgate Tunnel was constructed under the superintendence of Mr J G Fraser, acting for Messrs Locke & Errington, the engineers to the railway. It was driven through the coal measures. Faults are common in this formation, and several were met with in the course of the work. One of these presented itself in a singular manner, one-half of the tunnel being in strong shale and rock in veins, whilst the other half was in a mass of wet and loose shale.

The tunnel is 25 feet wide, with parallel sides, up to 3 feet above the level of the rails; the height to the soffit is 20 feet, and the castings average 3 feet 6 inches below the rails. The total length of the tunnel is 1,332 yards, or three-quarters of a mile, of which about 1,000 yards is on a straight line, and the remainder on a curve of 74 chains radius. The following are the lengths of the different strata cut through:

Material Lineal yards
Clay and loose shale 210
Strong shale 335
Strong shale, interspersed with bands of rock 474
Rock, with veins of shale 135
Rock 130
Limestone 13
Fireclay 30
Coal 5
Total length 1,332

The work was commenced in August 1854, and completed in March 1856, over a period of seventeen months.

Five shafts, 9 feet diameter in the clear, were sunk in the usual manner, excavating through soft material, and drilling and blasting through rock. After attaining the average depth of 60 feet, the material was raised by steam power. Four shafts, about 230 yards apart, were permanent for ventilation.

Lydgate Tunnel's stone-built east portal.
Photo: Forgotten Relics collection

No.1A had formerly been a colliery shaft, and had not been used for many years. It was reopened by the contractor, and a cross heading was driven from it into the tunnel, the centre of which was 40 feet distant. The permanent shafts were lined with 9-inch brickwork, or 12 inches of masonry, except where in rock; they were finished at the soffit of the tunnel with ashlar curbs 2 feet 3 inches deep. Where water penetrated, iron shields, with a gutter round the edge, were suspended, and the water conveyed by a pipe down the side of the tunnel, into the regular channels. The shafts were carried 12 feet above the surface of the ground, and were completed with an ashlar coping. A 9-horse power steam engine was fixed at shaft No.1a, a locomotive engine between shafts Nos. 1 and 2, to work them both, and another locomotive between shafts Nos. 3 and 4.

The shafts were all commenced in August 1854, and completed to the respective depths measured to the formation-level hereunder stated:

  Depth Rate/month
No. 1A completed October 1854 27⅓ yards  
No. 1 completed November 1854 53⅓ yards 13 yards
No. 2 completed February 1855 80 yards 13 yards
No. 3 completed February 1855 75⅔ yards 18½ yards
No. 4 completed January 1855 53 yards 5 yards
Total depth 289⅓ yards 43⅓ yards
Average depth of each 58 yards  

Much inconvenience arising from foul air was checked by the proximity of the shafts. Foul air was driven away by means of fans fixed on the surface, which forced down a volume of air through pipes, which were fastened along the tunnel. In the neighbourhood of the old coal-workings, which ran across the tunnel, much choke-damp was met with, which was counteracted by a current of fresh air forced down through a bore-hole from the surface, lined with an iron pipe.

Great care had to be exercised in fixing the centres througl the portion of the tunnel lined from the heading of No.1A shaft, 245 lineal yards in extent, as part was on a curve and part on a straight line.

A general view through the now-disused tunnel.
Photo: Bungle

The faces walled from the cuttings at the ends, for 141 yards in length, were mined with a bottom heading, and at a distance of 30 or 40 yards from each end a break-up was made, from which lengths were driven both ways, towards the open cutting, and towards the next shaft. The remainder of the tunnel, worked from the shafts, was mined by a top heading 6½ feet high by 4½ feet wide. The shafts furnished ten faces; and 1,191 lineal yards out of the total length were worked from them, each face averaging 17·26 lineal yards per month. The open ends gave four faces in the break-ups, each making 9 lineal yards per month. The lengths mined from the different shafts are given in the following table:

Shaft No. Lengths driven Total Time occupied Rate/month
East West
  Lineal yards      
1A 138 107 245 Oct 1854-
March 1856
1 157 126 283 Dec 1854-
March 1856
2 100 96 196 March 1855-
March 1856
3 95 108 203 March 1855-
March 1856
4 119 145 264 Feb 1855-
March 1856
Ends 95 46 141 Oct 1855-
March 1856
Total     1,332   95

The excavation was conducted in the usual manner - the rock and strong shale being blasted out, and the clay and loose shale axed out. As each length was headed it was widened out, and the roof and sides supported by larch bars and poling boards, from 9 to 10 feet above the formation level. The material was removed in iron skips, capable of holding half a cubic yard each, which were placed on light trolleys, and these pushed along tramways laid between the work and the shafts, raised to the surface by engine power, and tipped on the spoil bank. The lengths mined averaged: in loose shale, 12 feet; strong shale, 15 feet; rock, 24 feet, in some instances 30 feet.

The centres consisted of skeleton ribs placed about 4 feet apart; at the leading end, two centres were placed close together, for greater security.

A cross section showing the thickness of the lining through shale (left) and rock (right).

The sidewalls were built of coursed rubble, the beds of the stones being punched with a hammer. The footings were not less than 18 inches below the formation level, and the walls were carried 7 feet 3 inches above the level of the rails. The arch, for 632 lineal yards, was turned with fitted rubble; and from the scarcity of good bedded stone, 700 yards were of brickwork. The mortar was composed of barrow-stone lime mixed with coal ashes, in the proportion of 2 to 1, ground by heavy iron rollers, and used fresh. Its setting power was most satisfactory.

Where the crown bars sagged much, they were built in, the intermediate spaces being filled with brickwork. Where water was met with over the crown of the arch, the tunnel was covered with zinc, terminating in a gutter to convey the water where a pipe was built through the masonry, to be discharged into the drains.

There was considerable variation in the thickness of the masonry. It was:

  Sides Arch
In shale 2 feet 6 inches thick 2 feet thick
In rock 1 foot 9 inches thick 1 foot 6 inches thick

The following table gives the lengths of each thickness built:

Length Thickness Earthwork/
lineal yard
lineal yard
Total masonry
Sides Arch
Lineal yards Ft/Inch Ft/Inch Cubic yards Cubic yards Cubic yards
10 3’6” 2’6” 84 20 200
30 2’9” 2’6” 82 18¼ 547
16 2’6” 2’6” 81 17½ 280
30 2’6” 2’3” 79½ 16⅓ 490
120 2’6” 2’0” 78 15¾ 1,890
119 2’0” 2’0” 76 14½ 1,725
62 2’0” 1’9” 74 13⅓ 827
24 2’0” 1’6” 72½ 11¾ 282
500 1’9” 1’6” 71 11⅓ 5,667
421 1’6” 1’6” 70 10¾ 4,526
1,332         16,434
Average per lineal yard 12⅓

The contract price for excavation, without distinction, was 4s 6d per cubic yard, including all the timbering. The prices paid to the miners varied from 8l to 18l per lineal yard, according to the material; nearly half the total length of the tunnel amounting to 12l per lineal yard, or less.

The view towards the tunnel's east portal from the platform of Grasscroft Station.
Photo: Saddleworth Museum Archives - A Community Resource

The price for setting the centres was 8s per rib.

The time the masons and labourers were allowed for building, with the cost, was as follows:

Sidewalls, 2 feet 6 inches thick and 12 feet in length £ s d
4 masons, 1¾ shifts of 8 hours 7 @ 5s 6d 1 18 6
9 labourers 15¾ @ 3s 6d 2 15 1½
Arch, 2 feet thick and 12 feet in length
4 masons, 3 shifts 12
2 extra for key, 1 shift 2
Sub Total 14 @ 5s 6d 3 17 0
11 labourers, 3 shifts
3 extra for key, 1 shift
Sub Total 36 @ 3s 6d 6 6 0
Total (about 4s 9d per cubic yard) 14 16 17½
The contract price for the tunnel through rock was 26l per lineal yard and through shale 35l 16s per lineal yard; the average price was 30l per lineal yard.

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