Favorite thing: I was lucky to be able to visit an old railway tunnel built alongside the existing tunnel under the Malvern Hills. Dug by Welsh miners using picks and shovels . Three air shafts were dropped vertically through the hills, both to provide ventilation when the tunnel was complete, and to allow eight faces to be worked at the same time. The work of tunnelling through some of the hardest rock in the country, was not easy and two firms went bankrupt trying to build the tunnel.
The work was finally completed in 1861 by a local engineer Stephen Ballard, who's family still live around Colwall.
The first train to make the journey was a coal train from South Wales. The 100 householders in the village of Colwall, were given a ton a coal each to mark the opening of the tunnel.
The original tunnel is 1,323 yards long and has a gradient of 1 in 23, which is very steep for a railway line.
There was a law passed requiring trains to stop at Colwall station so that they didn't pick up too much speed in the tunnel.
Water constantly ran into the tunnel as it was being built, but when the tunnel was complete the water was collected and used to refill the steam trains that used the line, and also to pipe water to Great Malvern station.
As trains got bigger conditions in the tunnel grew worse for the drivers and firemen on the footplate. There was only a four inch clearance between the smoke stacks of the largest steam trains and the top of the tunnel.
This meant a very smokey five minutes as the trains passed through the tunnel, and there are documented cases of crews passing out on the footplate due to the fumes.
After a partial collapse of the tunnel roof around one of the ventilation shafts in 1907 it was decided to build a new tunnel.
The Victorian tunnel closed in 1926, but still served a useful purpose in the second world war as the navy took over the old tunnel and used it to store torpedoes.
It is the home to a colony of rare horseshoe bats.Related to:
- Historical Travel