Thursday, 30 April 2009

Mystery Tunnel Named

In my previous post I wondered whether anyone could identify a mystery tunnel from three photographs and a number of clues. No one did! Or, at least, no one could be bothered to tell me if they had done.

In case anyone out there is actually interested, it was Aylestone Tunnel, on the Herefordshire & Gloucestershire Canal. It had a short working life. The H&G Canal opened from the River Severn at Gloucester through to Ledbury in 1798, where the money - and the enthusiasm - ran out. The final 13 miles to Hereford, including the 700 metre Aylestone Tunnel, were not opened until 1845 by which time the "railway mania" was in full swing. Such was the antipathy towards canals by this time that apparently, no one turned out to witness the flooding of the basin at Hereford. (Or perhaps that just says it all about Hereford!)

The canal beat the railways to Hereford by a mere seven years. In fact, by 1845 most English towns of any consequence were already rail connected and those that were on the canal network had been so for over 30 years. Hereford was one of the last cities to be reached by the canals and was the very last cathedral city to join the rail network, which it did only in 1852. There's a pattern here, which is still repeating; the city is nowhere near a motorway, has no by-pass despite two trunk roads passing through the centre and is 60 miles or more from a commercial airport.

In 1881 the canal was closed to allow a railway to be constructed on the bed between Ledbury and Gloucester, so Aylestone Tunnel's working life came to an end after only 36 years. For the last 127 years it had sat quietly mouldering, unseen and largely unvisited as both portals are on private land. Nevertheless the Herefordshire & Gloucestershire Canal Trust has a plan to re-open it as part of its plans to restore the H&G Canal throughout its 49 km route. Its certainly not "an impossible dream" as was said of the Huddersfield Narow Canal restoration. The route passes through a largely agricultural area with very few major roads or other obstructions and already work is underway at Over (the junction with the River Severn) and several isolated lengths along the line in both counties. It will no doubt take very many years to complete but I think they'll get there in the end and I wish them well.

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