Stoke-on-Trent - photo of the week

contents: 2008 photos

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narrow boat entering the Telford tunnel portal at Harecastle on the Trent and Mersey Canal

narrow boat entering the Telford tunnel portal at Harecastle
on the Trent and Mersey Canal

There are two Harecastle Tunnels, one of which is still in use today. The earlier of the tunnels, built by Brindley, is now closed and disused. Yet the Telford tunnel is used daily by canal boats coming to and from the Potteries.

Brindley's Harecastle Tunnel took from 1766 to 1777 to complete - eleven years in all - it took 600 miners and masons and was built using a line of shafts that were dug across the length of the tunnel, then these were joined together to form the tunnel. The shafts dug ranged from 210 to 240 feet deep. Miners were lowered down on ropes to dig, and the builders were fraught with many a hazard, from bad air in the shafts, water ingress into the tunnel, to quicksands, the build up of gasses from coal seams, to the encounter of rock harder than anything that he had ever come across before, such as granite and millstone grit. Many of the miners lost their lives in the building process.

The tunnel was described by a writer in 1767 as "the eighth wonder of the world " as nothing like it had ever been attempted before..

The tunnel itself would run for some 2,897 yards and would join the waterways between Kidsgrove and Tunstall. To give an idea of scale, the next longest tunnel at that time was Preston Brook at 1,239 yards.

Needless to say, the tunnel is not very high - and not very wide either. The Leggers would be workers who hung around the tunnel entrance and would get paid for each boat they "legged" through the tunnel. The speed they went at often depended on the "extra's" they received for the work - it was mentioned that a slice of bread and cheese could guarantee the help of a good legger who would happily send a barge through the tunnel in the best time he could.

Due to the amount of traffic and the slow process of legging, the Harecastle Tunnel was becoming a major bottleneck on the canal. It was decided to commission a second tunnel to be built by Thomas Telford. Due to advances in engineering it took just 3 years to build and was completed in 1827.

This second tunnel had a towpath so that horses could pull the boats through the tunnel. After its construction it was used in conjunction with the Brindley tunnel with each tunnel taking traffic in opposite directions.


Boathorse Road, Harecastle

Brindley and Harecastle Tunnel

disused Brindley tunnel entrance
disused Brindley tunnel entrance
Two storey faience-clad elevation to Piccadilly with
masks of comedy and tragedy and 5-light first floor window