Harecastle Tunnel

Harecastle Tunnel is actually two tunnels - though only one is navigable today. They sit, side-by-side, on the Trent & Mersey Canal just north of Stoke-on-Trent. Both are nearly 3000 yards in length. The first Harecastle tunnel was engineered by James Brindley, took eleven years to construct, was completed in 1777, and was more than twice the length of Britain's longest tunnel at that time. The second was required to relieve congestion in the first, and was built by Thomas Telford. It took just three years to complete, and opened in 1827.

With the benefit of 50 years' engineering advances, Telford could excavate a wider tunnel, and provided a towpath for the boatmen: those using the Brindley tunnel had to 'leg' their boats through. After completion of the Telford tunnel, both bores were used, running one-way traffic in opposite directions. Today, Brindley's tunnel is long-closed - a result of subsidence from local mining operations. Though the Telford tunnel remains open, it too suffers from subsidence: the towpath has been removed, and headroom is in places considerably reduced. Since the tunnel was not designed for use by engine-powered boats, there are no ventilation shafts. However, between 1914 and 1954 an electric tug powered from an overhead wire inside the tunnel pulled boats through.

Today, diesel-powered boats use the tunnel: to solve the ventilation problem at the southern end an air extraction fan-house has been built around the portal. Unless a boat is actually passing the portal, airtight gates are closed, allowing the fan system to extract more efficiently. The tunnel apparently suffers from a 'haunting manifestation', the ghost of one murdered Kit Crewbucket, whose headless corpse was dumped in the canal. During the 19th century, boatmen were so convinced of her existence that some would choose a long detour to avoid a trip through the tunnel.

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Harecastle Tunnel
Stoke on Trent
Staffordshire