Phil Spencer

The Standedge Moor tunnels between Marsden and Diggle are made up of three railway tunnels and one canal tunnel used by the Huddersfield Narrow Canal. The canal tunnel is the oldest of the tunnels (built 1811) and holds the record as the longest (3 miles 133 yards) and the highest (645ft) canal tunnel in Britain. The first single-bore 'Nicholson' railway tunnel was built in 1849, followed by the single-bore 'Nelson' tunnel in 1871. Twenty three years later, the LNWR built a new double-bore tunnel in 1894 to facilitate the increase in rail traffic, and this is still in use today. An oddity of the Standedge railway tunnels is that they provided the only level section of track where water troughs could be installed over the steeply-graded Trans-Pennine route. All four tunnels are linked by cross-tunnels at strategic locations underground. This enabled the speedy construction of the railway tunnels as 'waste spoil' could be removed by canal boat. Today, the canal tunnel and the 1894 double-bore rail tunnel are the only ones still in use, but the abandoned single-bore rail tunnels continue to be maintained and provide a road access to fire and ambulance services in case of emergencies.

(Above-Below) The Pennine region is renowned for the severity of its winter months when snow and ice can disrupt the M62 motorway for days on end, but despite the wintry conditions our railways seem to keep on rolling along. The 1962-63 winter was more than just a cold snap, temperatures plummeted to an average of 0.2 Celsius from Boxing Day until April, with blizzards and white-out conditions sweeping the country for months on end. It was dubbed the 'Big freeze' by the media, and only the hardiest steam railway photographer ventured out. Railwayman Jim Carter was rewarded with these evocative shots of snow clearing at Diggle.

(Above-Below) 'Rebuilt Patriot' No 45545 Planet heads a Liverpool-Newcastle train across Dobcross Viaduct spanning the small River Tame and doubtless frozen Huddersfield & Ashton Canal in January 1963. (Below) The Huddersfield Narrow Canal is a waterway of startling contrasts, from tranquil countryside to dramatic moorland scenery and dark satonic mills. Here we have contrasting views of the viaduct from the canal tow path running alongside the Brownhills Visitors Centre at Dobcross
The canal tunnel is the oldest of the tunnels (built

(Above-Below) The Huddersfield Narrow Canal runs for 20 miles between Huddersfield in West Yorkshire and Ashton under Lyne in Greater Manchester, and has a total of 74 locks. This is a view of Diggle Lock Flight looking towards Manchester. (Below) During the transition from steam to diesel traction on BR, the Swindon-built Trans-Pennine (TOPS Class 124) InterCity units were a stylish addition to the BR fleet. The service began on January 2nd 1961 between Hull and Liverpool, with 6 trains each way daily via the Standedge route. Their power/weight ratio made possible substantial acceleration of the Trans-Pennine service, though this Hull-bound set will struggle to keep to time having been held at signals due to snow clearing operations during the artic winter in January 1963. Photos © Phil Spencer and JR Carter.

(Above) First TransPennine Express (FTPE) is responsible for operating inter-city train services on three main routes across the North of England. The Standedge route between Manchester and Leeds accommodates four express trains per hour between the two cities. This is made up of an hourly Liverpool Lime Street-Scarborough service, an hourly Manchester Airport-Newcastle service, an hourly Manchester Airport-Middlesbrough service and an hourly Manchester Piccadilly-Hull service. The TransPennine franchise is operated with Class 185 and Class 170 diesel multiple units. The Class 185 units, constructed in Germany by Siemens, entered service in March 2006 and are based at Ardwick Depot in Manchester. Smaller depots at York and Cleethorpes provide facilities for the stabling and light maintenance of the fleet east of the Pennines.

(Above-Below) The extent of rationalization of track at Diggle can be clearly seen in these striking 'Before-After' shots taken from above the single-bore portals of Standedge Tunnel looking towards Manchester. Today the site of Diggle station (closed on 5th October 1968) is a rather remote spot with little sign of the extensive trackwork that once served this important Trans-Pennine rail route. In its heyday, the station had platforms serving all four lines but with the reduction of freight traffic and the elimination of many local train services in the 1960s, the 4-track section between Huddersfield and Stalybridge was reduced to two and this permitted the closure of the two single-bore railway tunnels at Standedge.  Now that nature has taken its course little trace remains of any railway infrastructure, though Diggle Junction box - just visible in the background - remains as a block post and controls the goods loop on the down (Leeds) side.

(Below) The 1960s saw something of a revolution on the Standedge route with the introduction of diesel-hauled services at hourly intervals between Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool. This included four through workings from Newcastle, hauled by EE Co Class 40 locomotives or one of Gateshead's Class 46 'Peaks'. At the same time, a new fleet of purpose-built 6-car express diesel multiple units began service on the route starting from Hull, while Metro-Cam dmus operated local services at 2-hourly intervals between Huddersfield and Manchester. During the 'Big Freeze' of 1963, fellow rail cameraman, Jim Carter, took this evocative shot of a Liverpool-Newcastle express headed by 'Peak' class No D157 (later Class 46 No 46038) eclipsing a Hull-Liverpool Trans-Pennine set at Diggle Junction. In the left background is Butterhouse Tunnel on the Micklehurst loop.

(Above) Fast-forward forty-odd years and the railway has changed considerably with closure of the Micklehurst loop and reduction of trackwork from four to two. When the First TransPennine Express franchise began operating a fleet of new Class 185 and Class 170 diesel multiple units on the route, I asked Phil if he could possibly get an up-to-date photo of the same spot, particularly as I was curious about the 'oversized' chimney pot (right background) in Jim's photo. In April 2009 Phil duly obliged with this shot of a 2-car Class 170 heading towards Manchester. At the same time, he put me right about the so-called chimney pot. It's an optical illusion, created by a factory chimney standing behind a water tower inside the Shaw Company's premises - see inset. 

(Above-Below) Westbound Trans-Pennine units at Diggle. On the right is the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, which runs for 20 miles between Huddersfield and Ashton-under-Lyne. Work began in 1794, though long delays were encountered in the construction of a tunnel through Standedge Moor between Diggle and Marsden. Upon completion in 1811, it became the longest canal tunnel in Britain (3 miles 133 yards) and the highest above sea level at 645 feet, but due to its narrow 9ft bore (devoid of a tow path) horses were prevented from entering, therefore the animals were detached and taken across Standedge Moor to Marsden on the Yorkshire side while the boats were propelled through the tunnel by 'leggers'. This was the nickname given to the men (lying on the deck) who manhandled the boats by means of walking on the roof and tunnel sides. Over the years the canal fell into gradual decline and closed in 1944, however in 1974 the enterprising Huddersfield Canal Society was formed with the praiseworthy aim of re-opening of the tunnel. It was an enormous undertaking, but the Society's grand scheme for the canal's restoration was supported by Kirklees, Oldham and Tameside Councils and by British Waterways. The Standedge Tunnel was reopened in May 2001. For the record, the narrowboats using the canal today are towed through the tunnel in convoy by British Waterways' electric-powered tugs.


(Above-Below) Prior to the opening of the Standedge canal tunnel in 1811, the cargo from the canal boats was loaded onto packhorses and wagon horses for transfer across the hills between Lancashire and Yorkshire. Today the tunnel is one of Yorkshire's finest examples of industrial archaeology thatcelebrated its 200th anniversary on April 4th 2011. The opening of the Standedge Canal Tunnel was a remarkable achievement and a special Bicentenary event was organised in tribute to this extraordinary feat of engineering. Construction of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal was sanctioned by an Act of Parliament in 1794 and opened after 16 years of hard labour; the work was completed under the supervision of some of the finest engineers of the Industrial Revolution including Benjamin Outram, John Rooth and Thomas Telford. When the tunnel was officially opened to navigation on April 4th 1811, it became the third Trans-Pennine waterway after the Leeds-Liverpool and Rochdale canals, and is considered one of the 'Seven Wonders of the Waterways'. To keep the costs down, the tunnel beneath Standedge Moor was built without a towpath, therefore the horses crossed over the hill, while the boat crew had to 'leg' the boat through the tunnel. This was done either by lying on boards across the boat and walking along the walls or by lying on the cabin to walk against the roof of the tunnel; the journey took up to four hours from one end to the other. To mark the 200th anniversary on April 4th 2011, an expectant crowd gathered at Diggle to see a 'legged' boat entering at the Diggle portal to voyage through the tunnel to Marsden.

(Above-Inset Left-Below) Boathorse Bilbo and Sharon O'Sullivan, on the trail over the moors from Diggle to Marsden. You don't have to go too far out of your way to discover why Britain's inland waterways have become popular places for leisure activities; an unhurried stroll along a canal tow path not only provides a welcome respite from  our hectic lifestyles it gives us a glimpse of our long forgotten  industrial heritage; many tow paths now have narrow gaps created by safety railings, barriers and gates to allow for public access, all of which makes good sense, particularly where children are concerned, but narrowing the width of a tow path does not take horse passage into consideration. This problem is exacerbated by the resurfacing of tow paths beneath the arches of bridges to allow for safer access to walkers, joggers, cyclists and families with prams, but lowering the height of some bridges forces a horse to walk very close to the water's edge, hence the handler's carry axes (seen here attached to Sharon's belt) which can be used to sever the tow rope in the event of a horse falling into the on photo once, then a second time to enlarge the photo. As part of the 200th anniversary celebrations in April 2011, the Horseboating Society took part in the landmark opening day. The Horseboating Society exists to promote horseboating and to preserve the heritage and skills of this once common form of transport. Journeys are carried out over the national network but especially in the north-west. Click here to visit the Horseboating Society's excellent web site

Above-Below) Wearing traditional period costume a triumphant Sue Day, who founded the Horseboating Society (HBS) in 2001, raises her arms wide in a celebratory fashion at Tunnel End Marsden. Sue Day became aware of the Huddersfield Canal Society's campaign for the restoration of the canal in 1979. Sue already had experience of working with harness horses and decided to develop her horseboating skills in readiness for the day when the Huddersfield Narrow Canal could take horse-drawn boats. The fascinating story of the Horseboating Society can be found on the HBS's excellent here. The campaign to restore the Huddersfield Narrow Canal began in 1974 with the formation of the Huddersfield Canal Society which set about the task of reopening the abandoned tunnel. It was an extraordinary undertaking since whole sections of the canal had been filled in and  several places actually concreted over; indeed the Society's praiseworthy scheme was dubbed the 'impossible restoration'. But the Society members never gave up and by the late 1990s they had successfully restored almost two thirds of the canal. The remaining works were major civil engineering projects and thanks to a partnership between British Waterways and the Huddersfield Canal Society, together with Kirklees, Oldham and Tameside Councils and grants of £15million from the Millennium Commission and £12million from English Partnerships, the dreams were turned into reality and the navigation was fully reopened in 2001. A crowd has gathered at Tunnel End Marsden to watch the 'legging' boat emerging triumphantly from the 3¼ mile-long tunnel during the 200th Anniversary celebrations. Having achieved its aim of the restoration of the canal, the Huddersfield Canal Society intends to take an active role in the canal's future, assisting British Waterways with operational and development initiatives. Click here to visit the Society's excellent website.

(Above-Below) The advent of the railways saw the demise of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, which fell into slow decline and was eventually closed in 1944. Here Class 45 'Peak' No 45111 Grenadier Guardsman emerges from Standedge Tunnel with the 12.05 Liverpool-Scarborough in May 1983. (Below) On the same day an unidentified Class 47 heads a Liverpool-Newcastle train. On the right is the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, less than 7ft wide, which enters the hillside through a 5,456 yard long bore at a lower level beneath the railway. The bridge carries overspill water from a local reservoir.

(Above-Below) An unidentified Class 56 approached Standedge Tunnel with a heavy MGR train from the Yorkshire coalfied to Fiddlers Ferry Power Station. (Below) In the opposite direction, a 'Peak' heads a Liverpool-Newcastle Trans-Pennine express downhill to Huddesfield.

(Above) On 23rd July 2010, the Railway Touring Company's 'Scarborough Flyer' began running from Crewe, Wilmslow and Stockport to York and Scarborough. The service was scheduled to run every Friday until 10th September, leaving Crewe at 07:30am, Wilmslow at 08:00am, Stockport at 08:20am, and on the return, arriving at Stockport at 20:55, Wilmslow at 21:05 and Crewe at 21:35. Here, Stanier Pacific No 6201 Princess Elizabeth gets to grips with wet rails on the climb to Standedge Tunnel on 20th August 2010. Today the importance of Diggle as a railway centre is scarcely apparent. After the station closed in October 1968, much of the track layout passed into history and the abandoned trackbed is gradually vanishing in the undergrowth, however one item of past-present identification is common in both photos - the old-red telephone box which seems to have stood the test of time very well!

(Below) Phil captures the scene at Marsden looking down from above the tunnel, as 6201 Princess Elizabeth heads the return leg of the Railway Touring Co's 'Scarborough Flyer' on 20th August 2010. Phil adds: What a wet, miserable night! Several photographers called it a day. The light faded so fast that I ended up taking this shot in virtual darkness at 8.35pm on a Nikon D3 using a 70-200mm Nikkor lens at 3200 iso - the exposure was 1/125 sec at f5. The train had been put into the Marsden Loop for some 25 minutes before getting up steam for the climb through Standedge Tunnel  to Diggle


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