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History of the tunnel

Inland waterways; Standedge Tunnel

Sixteen years to excavate, in places literally by hand; far from straight due to setting out 'problems'; 50 construction deaths mainly in its five deep access shafts - but now remembered for a more favourable statistic as one of the canal era's official 'seven wonders'.

So runs the potted history of the 5.2km Standedge Tunnel, which can still boast an impressive footnote. It remains today Britain's longest, highest, deepest - and one of the oldest surviving - canal tunnels.

But none of the above prevented its ignominious closure in 1944, severing in half the Huddersfield Narrow Canal. This immediately converted the whole 32km route - once the main transpennine link - into a 'remainder' canal on which only essential maintenance money could be spent to retain its important role as a drainage channel.

The tunnel's £124,000 construction cost - up 144% on tender estimates - no doubt justified the decision of its engineer, Benjamin Outram, to save on excavation by making it just 7 ft (2.1m) wide. This made the canal narrow guage, effectively destroying any commercial viability even before it had opened for cross Pennine trade. Teams of local men would congregate at each tunnel entrance offering their services for the four-hour journey through the tunnel by the then usual method of 'legging it'.

This high construction cost, plus its relatively late arrival on the canal scene, left the Huddersfield Narrow a commercial failure in its transpennine transport of coal, jute and cotton. But the precise underground route of the tunnel was a success and was copied three times by successive railway tunnels,all of which used Standedge for construction access via numerous side adits.

These cross passages are today reducing the cost of the canal tunnel's refurbishment though BW's bottom line is stillnot expected - in canal revenue terms - to ever show a profit.

The emphasis of BW's 'New Canal Age', where the company is reopening canals at roughly the same rate as its predecessors built them, is a 'corridor development'.

And the Huddersfield Narrow is expected to create at least 400 new jobs from associated canalside regeneration.

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