The Church of King Charles the Martyr, Royal Tunbridge Wells

Church of King Charles the Martyr, Royal Tunbridge Wells

The site of Tunbridge Wells was empty fields until Dudley, Lord North (1581-1666) came upon a chalybeate (iron-bearing) spring in 1609 while staying at a lodge in nearby Eridge for his health.  He publicised the therapeutic powers of the waters –

These waters youth in age renew,

Strength to the weak and sickly add,

Give the pale cheek a rosy hue

And cheerful spirits to the sad.

– and attracted royal approval when Queen Henrietta Maria, consort of King Charles I visited in 1630.

The Lord of the Manor, Donagh MacCarthy, 1st Earl of Clancarty (1594–1665), enclosed the spring and built a meeting hall “to shelter the dippers in wet weather”.  Nevertheless, when Queen Catherine of Braganza took the waters in 1664, her court was accommodated in tents.

The spa’s first assembly room was in fact the Church of King Charles the Martyr, built as a brick chapel of ease in 1684.  Its unusual dedication memorialised the executed monarch, whose death was until 1859 remembered as an Anglican feast-day on the anniversary of his execution, January 30th.

The land for the church was given by Viscountess Purbeck and the fundraising and subsequent building programme was supervised by the MP and entrepreneur Thomas Neale (1641–1699) as part of his nearby development of shops and inns.

The fine plaster ceiling of five domes was installed in 1678 by John Wetherell, who had worked for Sir Christopher Wren at Greenwich.  Five years later a further dome was installed to the north, opposite the original doorway.

This building quickly became too small for either an assembly or its congregation.

In 1688-1690 Henry Doogood, Sir Christopher Wren’s chief plasterer, took down the west wall, replacing it with the tall columns that still stand in the middle of the nave, and doubled the size of the interior, duplicating the plaster ceiling with, as Pevsner remarks, “more bravura” than the original.

Strict social separation was maintained between the high-status worshippers in the body of the church and the tradespeople and servants above:  the oak-panelled seventeenth-century galleries were originally accessible only from outside.

Ironically, when the then Princess Victoria, aged sixteen, with her mother, the Duchess of Kent, visited in 1835 she sat in the north balcony which was at the time close to the pulpit and the altar.

St Charles the Martyr became a parish church – with an unusually small area, 65 acres, much of it common land,– only in 1889, when for the first time the interior was oriented to the east by the architect Ewan Christian.

The three-decker pulpit was removed and the seating reversed to face the present-day chancel, removing the anomaly that the communion table stood at the side of the church, out of sight of most worshippers.

In this refurbishment the Credo and Paternoster boards by William Cheere were brought from the church of All Hallows, Bread Street, in the City of London (built 1681-84;  demolished 1878).

The Church of King Charles the Martyr is a highly unusual building and well worth a visit.  The greeters are particularly welcoming:  http://kcmtw.or

A Bus Ride Round Attercliffe

Sheffield Corporation Leyland Titan 687 (RWB 67)

I’m looking forward to running the first Bus Ride Round Attercliffe on Sunday April 7th 2019, starting at the former Penny Black pub, Pond Hill, across the road from the Sheffield Interchange.

The idea came from the popular Walks Round Attercliffe that I’ve conducted as part of Heritage Open Days, which continue to be oversubscribed.

The Lower Don Valley – that is, the villages of Attercliffe, Carbrook and Darnall – was the powerhouse of Sheffield’s heavy steel industry and was where many of its workers lived.  

Even though some of the remaining historic buildings are inaccessible to visitors, and much has gone altogether, there’s still much to see.

Indeed, because the Heritage Open Day walk takes two hours to cover less than a mile of the Attercliffe Road, I looked for an appealing way of driving around to show people more of the valley’s rich heritage.

The star of the event will be a 1954 Sheffield Corporation Leyland Titan double-deck bus – no 687 (RWB 87) – immaculately restored and part of the South Yorkshire Transport Museum fleet.

From a top-deck seat there’s a grandstand view, on and off the main roads – industrial sites, schools, pubs, places of worship and sites associated with crimes, riots and the Blitz.

There will be stops at the secluded Zion Graveyard (opened 1805), Attercliffe Library (1894) – now a splendid restaurant – and the very modern English Institute of Sport (designed by FaulknerBrowns Architects and opened in 2003).

Riding in the sort of vehicle that replaced the trams in the 1950s is itself an experience, because buses have changed so much in half a century.

Colin Morton, who will be the driver, says that driving 687 is much more physically demanding than its 21st-century successors.  There’s no power steering and the crash gearbox requires double-declutching, which was once normal procedure and is becoming a lost art.

Colin is a fully qualified PSV driver with decades of experience, and he tells me that the Museum is short of younger volunteers prepared to learn how to manage the heritage fleet for wedding hires and other events.

So if you have time to spare and the patience to learn the skills, driving a 1950s or 1960s bus will keep you fit as well as bring pleasure to passengers of all ages: https://sytm.co.uk/join/volunteer.html.

And if you’d like to explore Sheffield’s industrial and working-class heritage while travelling in style on April 7th, please book here.

Places are limited so that everyone can have a top-deck seat, yet people with mobility and other impairments are very welcome to use the lower deck.

For information about some of the historic buildings that survive in Attercliffe – and some that don’t – please click here.

Venus’ previous home

Rokeby Park, Co Durham

Rokeby Park, Co Durham

Rokeby Park, just outside Barnard Castle in what was once the North Riding of Yorkshire, is a delightful place to visit, though you have to pick the right afternoon to find it open.

It’s the home of Sir Andrew Morritt, whose family have owned the estate since 1769.

To describe it as a home is no cliché.

There’s a table with guide-books and postcards, and visitors are offered a commodious ground-floor convenience, but there’s no tea-shop, nor gift shop, no potpourri or potted plants.

You’re welcome to go through any door that is open, and to sit on any chair that isn’t taped.

The house-tour is free-flow, as are the guides, an affable and knowledgeable team who make guests feel at home.

The house was built by Sir Thomas Robinson (1703-1777), the amateur architect who was fond of telling his friends how to design their houses, and who is best known for adding the west wing to Sir John Vanburgh’s incomplete Castle Howard.

Rokeby Park is an almost perfect Palladian villa, never completed because Sir Thomas ran out of money.  Rather than leave it unfinished, Sir Thomas rounded it off and successive owners have tactfully extended it.

Sir Thomas sold the estate to John Sawrey Morritt, who commissioned John Carr of York to adapt the original stable wing to provide a spacious, elegant dining room with plasterwork by Joseph Rose the Elder (c1723-1780).

J S Morritt’s son, John Bacon Sawrey Morritt (1772?-1843) was a connoisseur and collector, whose Grand Tour extended into Asia Minor.  He was one of the founders of the Travellers’ Club (1819) and he was a close friend of Sir Walter Scott, whose poem ‘Rokeby’ is dedicated to him.

He bought the painting by Diego Velázquez of Venus and Cupid, now known as the ‘Rokeby Venus’, which he described as “my fine picture of Venus’s backside”.  He went to some trouble over its hanging:  “…by raising the said backside to a considerable height the ladies may avert their downcast eyes without difficulty, and connoisseurs steal a glance without drawing in the said posterior as part of the company”.

The Velázquez was sold by a cash-strapped descendant – it’s now in the National Gallery – and a 1906 copy by W A Menzies hangs in its place.

The park stands at the confluence of the River Greta and the River Wear, and the lawn ends at a spectacular drop into the Greta gorge – the sort of ha-ha no-one could emulate.

The walks through the gorge are comparable with the more contrived landscape at Hackfall, and more formal Yorkshire gardens at Studley Royal, Rievaulx and Duncombe Park.

Rokeby was at one time written as ‘Rookby’, which seems to be the preferred pronunciation.

It’s easy to miss.  Don’t miss it:  http://www.rokebypark.com.

Brief encounter

Carnforth Station, Lancashire

Carnforth station is most celebrated as “Milford Junction”, the location for the film Brief Encounter, that memorable celebration of British emotional reticence, the best record of Celia Johnson’s exceptional talent, captured by David Lean’s unique visual control.  It’s no accident that the film came to the public in 1945, at the end of a frightening war and the start of a scary peace.

In this cinematic adaptation of Noël Coward’s half-hour one-act stage play Still Life (1936), trains serve as a symbol of distance, change and urgency.

Lean needed a railway junction, so that trains could pass in the night and the characters could depart in different directions.  It had to be sufficiently far from south-east England for wartime blackout restrictions to be lifted for night-filming.

Only the shots of moving trains were actually filmed at Carnforth (where it seems that all the trains are hauled by the same locomotive – LMS no 2429).  The interior of the refreshment room and some of the platform scenes were shot at Denham Studios.

Of course, there was a refreshment room at Carnforth in the days of steam:  it was particularly heavily used by troops in the Second World War.  It’s now been lovingly recreated as a tribute to the film and as a memorable tourist experience by the Carnforth Station & Railway Trust Co Ltd.

If you visit the station nowadays it’s instantly recognisable, though the main line platforms have been cut back.  The original clock, by Joyce of Whitchurch, has been reinstated, having been rescued from an antique dealer who, so I’m told, put the price up when an ingenuous friend of Carnforth station revealed its provenance.

Film lovers can have tea and buns – or a lunch worth waiting for – at the Brief Encounter Refreshment Room, linger at the award-winning Visitor Centre exhibition and, if they’re so minded, feel wistful in the subway.

Only the trains are unromantic:  http://www.refreshmentroom.com.

“Perfectly plain” Pugin

St Barnabas Cathedral, Nottingham

After he had begun work on St Mary’s Church, Derby, Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin was invited to design a parish church for Nottingham, a bigger building with a limited budget, and therefore plainer than he liked.

Pugin himself had envisaged St Mary’s as the future cathedral for the North Midlands, but when the Catholic hierarchy was re-established, the East Midlands diocese was based at St Barnabas’ Cathedral, Nottingham.

By the time he designed St Barnabas’, Pugin had already completed the drawings for the much more elaborate St Giles’ Church, Cheadle, yet at Nottingham he contrived dramatic effects in what he claimed was the most economical manner, though he exceeded the initial budget by half.

Always melodramatic, and sometimes hysterical, this talented, obsessive, frantic, fascinating man remonstrated with the Earl of Shrewsbury, who had subscribed £7,000 of the original £10,500 estimate, about whether, and where, to have the tower:

I have no reason for placing the tower of Nottingham at the West end.  It would be a loss, a clear loss of funds.  I have not one tracery window, no pinnacles or any ornament externally.  It will be the greatest triumph of external simplicity and internal effect yet achieved.  Yet I must have outline and breaks or the building will go for nothing.

Looking at the completed church, it’s easy to see what he meant about the position of the tower;  it is equally easy to see that the finished design is not short of external ornament.

Pugin’s stated aim was to build a church “which would give general satisfaction, have a grand appearance, although perfectly plain and admit of a most solemn and rich interior.”  The plain ashlar walls, pierced by narrow lancets and a rose window of plate tracery, give an impression of solidity.  The whole church is 190 feet from end to end, and the spire rises to 150 feet but looks higher as the street slopes downhill towards the east.

But Pugin himself was dissatisfied.  He felt, quite literally, that his style was cramped:

Nottingham was spoilt by the style restricted to lancet – a period well suited to a cistercian abbey in a secluded vale, but very unsuitable for the centre of a crowded town… there was nothing left but to make the best under the circumstances, and the result has been what might be expected;  the church is too dark, and I am blamed for it…

Indeed, Pugin was easily disgruntled.  Having converted to Catholicism only in 1832, he was “a Catholic first and whatever else he was second”.

Monsignor Martin Cummins, in Nottingham Cathedral:  a history of Catholic Nottingham (1985), relates how –

When showing an Anglican friend the Rood-screen, Pugin said:  “Within is the holy of holies.  The people remain outside.  Never is the sanctuary entered save by those in sacred orders.”  Then, to his horror, a priest appeared in the sanctuary showing the screen to two ladies.  Pugin turned to the sacristan, “Turn these people out at once!  How dare they enter!”  But the sacristan replied, “Sir, it is Bishop Wiseman.”  Pugin, powerless, retired to the nearest bench and burst into tears.

Pugin’s architectural career only began in the late 1830s.  By the end of the 1840s the energy he poured into his creativity had wrecked his health, and he died, a broken man, in 1851 at the age of forty.

Pioneer of the Gothic Revival

St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, Derby

St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Derby, built 1838-39, was the first complete design of the foremost designer of the English Gothic Revival, Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-1852).

Its foundation stone was laid on June 28th 1837, the day of Queen Victoria’s coronation.

Previously the few Catholics in Derby had worshipped in a small building in Chapel Street.

Built to the north of Derby town centre, at precisely the time when the approaching railways were about to cause rapid growth in population, St Mary’s was an acknowledgement that many of the workers who would migrate to the new railway works would be Irish in origin.

The site was constricted and funds limited.  Pugin set out the building with the sanctuary to the north and a tall tower, 100 feet high, placed centrally at the south (liturgical west) front.

The church would have been even more prominent if Pugin’s slender spire, supported by flying buttresses, had been built:  its tip would have reached two hundred feet above street level.

In the absence of a spire, a white Portland stone statue of St Mary was mounted on top of the tower and unveiled on Trinity Sunday 1928.

Now that many of the surrounding buildings have been cleared the plainness of the side walls is noticeable.

Though the exterior of St Mary’s is elegant and understated, the interior was richly decorated.

Pugin designed a whole range of fittings and metal furniture in collaboration with the Birmingham manufacturer, John Hardman.  The panoply of lamps, crosses, candlesticks, vessels and altar furniture first seen at the consecration ceremony were the earliest products of a partnership which lasted to the end of the architect’s life.

The Derby Mercury reported that “the appearance of the clergy, upwards of fifty in number, surrounding the Altar, was extremely gorgeous”.

The Catholic newcomers were not welcomed to Derby by the established Anglicans.

In 1846 the great bulk of the Anglican parish church of St Alkmund, designed by the local architect Henry Isaac Stevens (1806-1873), was built, blocking the view of St Mary’s from the town centre.  It was traditionally said to have been the “Anglicans’ revenge” for the construction of Pugin’s church.

Ironically, when St Alkmund’s was demolished in 1967 to make way for the Inner Ring Road, some of its stone was offered for the construction of a new East Porch for St Mary’s.

The footbridge across the underpass leads directly to St Mary’s main entrance, and there is now an unimpeded view between Pugin’s elegant Gothic Revival church and the superb medieval Perpendicular tower of the Anglican cathedral of All Saints’.

St Mary’s Church is listed Grade II*.

A guided tour of St Mary’s Parish Church is included in the Pugin and the Gothic Revival (September 18th-22nd 2019) tour.  For details please click here.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Survivals & Revivals:  past views of English architecture, please click here.

New Filey

Filey, North Yorkshire: The Crescent

Filey, North Yorkshire: The Crescent

Of all the holiday resorts on the Yorkshire coast, Filey has always had a very special appeal.

Visitors began to arrive in Filey from the beginning of the nineteenth century.  A writer in the Gentleman’s Magazine in 1806 described it as “well-adapted as a summer retreat for soothing the mind, and invigorating the body”, though there was hardly any overnight accommodation.

The Filey Enclosure Award of 1791 allocated most of the land to a few prominent landowners, which enabled Charles Edge, a Birmingham architect and surveyor, and John Wilkes Unett (1770-1856), a Birmingham solicitor, to buy thirty-five acres of land to the south of the existing village.

Edge and Unnett drew up plans for the layout of the Crescent, with the ornamental gardens that separate them from the cliff-edge, in 1838, and encouraged the building of elegant classical terraces.

Initially, visitors came to Filey by road:  in the 1820s two stage-coaches operated, each on alternate days, six days a week.

Local sailors and their wives recognised that catering for tourists was at least a supplement to the unpredictable fortunes of the fishing trade.

Yet the long-standing inhabitants continued to live in Old Filey, around the church, while the affluent newcomers congregated exclusively in New Filey, where they were offered a degree of informality in civilised surroundings.

The Hull-Scarborough railway opened in 1846 with a characteristically fine station, but excursionists were not encouraged.

In the later nineteenth century and up to the First World War this relatively small resort attracted a constant stream of visitors of high social standing and net worth. Charlotte Brontë visited in 1849 and 1852;  Sir Titus Salt came in 1871, and Frederick Delius was a regular visitor from 1876, when he was fourteen, until 1901.

Members of the local nobility were attracted by the quiet, discreet atmosphere – the Earl of Feversham of Duncombe Park, Lord and Lady Middleton of Birdsall and the Howards from Castle Howard.  From further afield came the families of the Dukes of Devonshire, Newcastle, St Albans and Westminster, the Marquis of Ely, the Earl Fitzwilliam, the Earl Waldegrave, the Earls of Bessborough and Wharncliffe.  High-ranking clergy visitors included William Thomson, Archbishop of York (1878) and Dean Farrar of Canterbury (1888).

Filey was also the discreet resort of British and foreign royalty.  Leopold II, King of the Belgians and Queen Victoria’s cousin,  made the first royal visit in 1873:  he was followed by the Queen’s son, Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh (1880), her grandson Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence & Avondale (1890) and her daughter, Princess Louise, later Duchess of Argyll (1899).

German relatives of the British royal family also visited – the Prince & Princess Louis of Battenberg (1900) and Ernest Ludwig, Grand Duke of Hesse, and his family (1910).

Indeed, well into the 1930s Princess Mary, the Princess Royal, who was married to the Earl of Harewood, used to bring her young sons for holidays to Filey.

It’s still a quiet, discreet place to hide away.  Mackenzie E C Walcott, writing in 1862, commented,–

You need not dress smartly as at Scarborough, at Brighton, Hastings, or Dover;  you are not inconvenienced by incursions of noisy excursionists;  and you may saunter along the cliffs or highways without interruption by an idle crowd, gaping and staring, and quizzing.

This is still true – except possibly the requirement to dress smartly at Scarborough.

Ironically, Filey’s major claim to fame in the holiday industry was the Butlin camp, started in 1939 and completed as RAF Hunmanby Moor.  Derequisitioned promptly in 1945, it flourished to the extent that it had its own branch line and railway station.  The camp’s maximum capacity was 11,000 holidaymakers, and it ran successfully into the 1970s.  The railway branch line closed in 1977 and the camp lasted until 1983.  The site was subsequently redeveloped.

It’s a fair bet that most of the thousands of visitors to Butlins never went near Filey itself.

Climbing heaven

Former St Benedict’s Church, Ardwick, Manchester – now Manchester Climbing Centre

The parish church of St Benedict, Ardwick, Manchester, was the result of the wealth and religious inclinations of one man, John Marsland Bennett (1817-1889).  An Alderman and two-term Lord Mayor of Manchester, he prospered as a timber and stone merchant owning an extensive site at the junction of two main-line railways to Crewe and Sheffield.

When the Secretary of the Manchester Diocesan Church Building Society asked Mr Bennett for a plot of land to build a church in 1876 he offered to build the church on land he would provide. 

St Benedict’s Church was consecrated on March 20th 1880.

The architect was Joseph Stretch Crowther (1820-1893) and St Benedict’s is unlike any of his other church designs. 

It is entirely in brick, in header bond on the exterior and English bond within, with stone and terracotta dressings, rectangular without porches.  The body of the church is narrow and high, with a magnificent double hammer-beam roof. 

This magnificence came without a congregation.  Much of the surrounding land had yet to be developed and some of the speculative houses already built had yet to be occupied.  There were only 26 communicants on Easter Day 1880.

This did not seem to trouble the Bennett family, staunch Anglo-Catholics who used it to worship as they pleased in a predominantly Evangelical diocese.

They omitted to provide an endowment.  Their financial support dwindled after the death of J M Bennett’s eldest son, Armitage Bennett, aged 48, in 1897 and ended completely by the time the family business closed in the 1930s.  After the Second World War Keble College, Oxford took over patronage of the living.

When almost all the housing in the parish was cleared in the late 1960s the parish developed as a “shrine church” for Anglican Papalism, the branch of Anglo-Catholicism that looks towards reconciliation between the Church of England and Rome, and rejects any development that might prove an obstacle to that goal.

St Benedict’s came to serve a congregation that did not live locally, and although its centenary was celebrated by the sandblasting and chemical cleaning of the entire building in 1980, it became increasingly difficult to sustain the congregation and the structure.

The final celebration of Mass at St Benedict’s took place on February 11th 2002.

Closure inevitably threatened the future of this Grade II* building until the climber John Dunne took it on as a base for the Manchester Climbing Centre, which was opened on March 15th 2005, and continues to thrive as a popular venue for indoor climbing and bouldering.

The climbing paraphernalia crowds Crowther’s spacious interior – https://manchesterclimbingcentre.com/the-centre/4 – which is a small price to pay to preserve the building for years to come. 

Without the Manchester Climbing Centre, St Benedict’s might well have been flattened before now.

The climbing equipment is demountable, so that the listed interior is preserved.  The ornate iron screens around the sanctuary remain intact, and the mutilated original reredos apparently still exists, though hidden, at the east end.  All of the stained glass remains, but the 1907 pulpit and the organ have been removed.

Around the east end of the church are brass panels commemorating deceased members of the parish. 

One of them is in memory of Professor John Mills, who died in a climbing accident in Snowdonia on December 3rd 1977, aged 63.  A lifelong climber, he would have been astonished to know that his parish church became a climbing centre.

Read about another very different historic building that has been brought back into use as a climbing centre here.

A visit to the Manchester Climbing Centre forms part of the Manchester’s Heritage (June 3rd-7th 2019) tour.  For further details, please click here.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Manchester’s Heritage, please click here.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 tour Manchester’s Heritage, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Nottingham’s missing underground railway

Mansfield Road Tunnel, south portal, former Nottingham Victoria Station (1984)

My Nottingham friend Stewart alerted me to a BBC News item about “Nottingham’s ‘secret’ railway tunnel”:  https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-england-nottinghamshire-45902996/inside-nottingham-s-secret-railway-tunnel.

The “secret” tunnel is accessible – if you have the key to the right door – from the basement of Nottingham’s Victoria Centre, which is built on the site of the old Victoria Station, opened in 1900, closed in 1967 and quickly demolished.

This was Weekday Cross Tunnel (418 yards), stretching from the south end of the former Victoria Station towards Weekday Cross Junction, where nowadays the NET tram leaves its viaduct to run along the street towards the Lace Market.  The tunnel was used to carry pipework for the Victoria Centre’s heating system, and the track-bed to the south was later blocked by the Centre for Contemporary Art Nottingham art gallery, now Nottingham Contemporary (opened 2009).

In fact, the BBC’s “secret” tunnel isn’t even half of the story.

Beyond the Victoria Station site, the railway line headed northwards into Mansfield Road Tunnel (1,189 yards) which runs almost directly beneath Mansfield Road, emerging eventually just past the road-junction with Gregory Boulevard:  https://www.28dayslater.co.uk/threads/mansfield-road-tunnel-nottingham-may13.80919.

Here in an open cutting stood Carrington Station [http://www.disused-stations.org.uk/c/carrington/index.shtml], opened in 1899 and closed as early as 1928, a commuter station that stood no chance against the competition of Nottingham’s trams.

Carrington Station cutting has been completely filled in and built over as part of an Open University campus, and the street-level building, for years occupied by Alldogs Poodle Parlour, has gone.

North of Carrington Station the railway ran into Sherwood Rise Tunnel (665 yards) [https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/2388076] which is blocked by further landfill at the north portal.

Until the mid-1960s these three tunnels, all of which remain intact, were a practical direct route under Nottingham city-centre.

When Victoria Station was demolished there was apparently talk of leaving a right of way beneath the shopping centre, but in the event the basement car-park was built the full width of the station’s footprint.  (It was not unknown for 1960s/1970s shopping centres to include provision for underground rail transport [http://www.mikehigginbottominterestingtimes.co.uk/?p=2274]).

The blocking of the railway track-bed at three locations, successively in the 1960s, late 1980s and late 2000s, means that a direct route, wide and high enough for a double-track railway and therefore feasible as a light railway if not a roadway, lies utterly unusable beneath the congested streets.

At the time of the Beeching cuts, planners and railway managers clearly believed that the Victorian infrastructure they inherited would never be needed again.

It’s a matter of opinion whether this amounted to naivety, stupidity or arrogance.

They left future generations a legacy across Britain of miles of derelict strips of land that could have been adapted to transport uses undreamed of in the 1960s, if snippets hadn’t been handed over for buildings that could easily have been located elsewhere.

The Alpine Route

Queensbury Tunnel, West Yorkshire (1979)

Anyone who’s visited the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway will be familiar with Keighley railway station, where main-line trains between Leeds, Skipton and beyond connect with the Oxenhope branch that is now the heritage railway.

Keighley branch platforms used to serve another route, spectacular to ride and difficult to operate, known formally as the Great Northern Railway’s Queensbury lines and unofficially as the “Alpine Route” for its steep gradients, sharp curves and heavy engineering works, a Y-shaped system connecting Bradford, Halifax and Keighley.

Opened in stages between 1874 and 1884, the junction between the three routes lay in the valley bottom at Queensbury, a highly unusual six-platform triangular station.  The only other true triangular station in Britain was at Ambergate, Derbyshire.

The village of Queensbury, home of the famous Black Dyke Mills, was four hundred feet higher, accessible only by a dimly-lit footpath.  By 1901 Queensbury had electric tram services to Bradford and Halifax, so most of the rail passengers used the station simply to change from one train to another.

Queensbury station has, sadly, been obliterated, but its location is the starting point for the Great Northern Railway Trail, which Sustrans and Bradford City Council have developed, firstly between Cullingworth and Wilsden in 2005, and then a separate section between Thornton and Queensbury between 2008 and 2012: https://www.sustrans.org.uk/sites/default/files/images/files/Great%20North%20Trail%202012.pdf.

The long-term aim is to provide a trail along much of the original rail routes between Bradford, Halifax and Keighley, but there is an immediate problem which needs an imminent solution.

Immediately south of Queensbury station, the line to Halifax ran through Queensbury Tunnel, 2,501 yards long, which has a constant gradient of 1 in 100, so that the north portal is seventy feet higher than the southern one.

After the track was lifted in the early 1960s, the Strines cutting to the south of the tunnel was sold as a landfill site, without adequate drainage, so that the run-off from within the notoriously wet tunnel backed up to a depth of thirty-five feet in the cutting, flooding the graded bore to almost half its length.

This accumulated water was pumped out in 2016 to enable a detailed engineering inspection, which found that though the tunnel had inevitably deteriorated and the brick lining had collapsed in two locations the tunnel itself was safe and capable of restoration.  (The lining doesn’t actually hold the rock tunnel up;  its function was to prevent loose rock falling on to the track or, worse, passing trains.)

The Queensbury Tunnel Society has mounted an energetic campaign, supported by Bradford City Council, to reopen the tunnel as a lit, paved cycle-way, using resources that the current owner, Historical Railways Estate (HRE), part of Highways England, had allocated for a short-sighted scheme to infill the bore.  Infilling for 150 metres at each end and capping the ventilation shafts was estimated to cost £5.1 million;  a cheaper scheme filling only 20 metres at each end would cost around £3 million.

The Queensbury Tunnel Society’s estimate for remediation to Network Rail standards would cost £3.3 million, and the installation of a cycle path and lighting would cost a further £1.5 million. The Society argues that taxpayers’ money would be better used for a scheme which delivers social and economic benefits, rather than one which renders the empty tunnel permanently unusable.

Detailed accounts of this controversy can be found on the Society’s website [http://www.queensburytunnel.org.uk/index.shtml] and at https://www.railengineer.uk/2018/07/12/securing-a-future-for-one-of-englands-longest-disused-railway-tunnels.

The latest development borders on farce: https://www.keighleynews.co.uk/news/17367798.flooding-adds-to-tunnel-bill.