(Photos 13-14 © Ken Till, photo 15 © Barney Smith,
photo 16 © Bacup Natural History Society)
Four years after the East Lancashire Railway had first pulled into Waterfoot, an extension was opened eastwards through the Thrutch Gorge, hauling Bacup into the railway age. It was the autumn of 1852. The single line crossed the River Irwell before entering Newchurch No.1 Tunnel, the shorter of two at 162 yards. After emerging onto a ledge cut beneath into a cliff-face, trains buried their way underground again for 290 yards, through No.2.
As traffic pressures increased, another line was added in 1880. This necessitated the boring of a third tunnel to accommodate the westbound Up line. Work on it began early in 1878. Unlike its straight neighbours, this one headed deeper into the rock, curving south and then north. Thrutch Tunnel runs for 592 yards with its portals sitting alongside the outermost entrances of the Newchurch pair. As part of this exercise, an adit was cut at right angles into Thrutch’s middle, providing access from the ledge between the two older tunnels.
The service from Bacup to Bury was frequent. From 1956, DMUs shuttled back and forth every half hour. Despite this, Dr Beeching deemed the line surplus to requirements and the trains ground to a halt on 5th December 1966.
Today, Newchurch No.1 and Thrutch are bricked up, so is the latter’s adit. Newchurch No.2 remains open as a footpath although the western portal has begun to subside and its lining leaks like a baby.