Lower Peak Forest Canal

Hyde Bank Tunnel & Roof Collapse in 1895

Hyde Bank Tunnel
This tunnel is the second of the three original tunnels on the Peak Forest Canal and it is situated in Romiley. It is 308 yards long and it has no towpath but boats can pass inside it. Boats were propelled through it by 'legging'. If a boat were being operated single-handedly, then the boatman would lie on his back on top of the cabin and 'walk' along the tunnel roof. If two crew members were available, they would place a plank across the boat, lie on that, back-to-back, and then they would 'walk' along the tunnel sides. Meanwhile, the horse found its own way over the top of the tunnel, a distance of about ½ mile. Towing horses knew the way and they went over on their own. It was once said that anyone with a good memory had a 'memory like a boat horse'. Originally, the horse path over the top was known as the 'perpetual easement for horses for canal purposes'. The horse path climbs over the hill and almost immediately passes under a Gothic bridge (listed Grade II) that carries the drive to Oakwood Hall. The house to the east of this bridge was the lodge to Oakwood Hall.

Roof Collapse in 1895
This roof collapse at Hyde Bank Tunnel occurred on the 28 February 1895 and in order to have it repaired as quickly as possible the canal management recruited a number of unemployed coal miners. At this time, business was slack at neighbouring coal mines and the men, at least, would all have had considerable experience of working underground.

However, management had little experience of these matters and it was concluded that this work could be undertaken without draining the water from this section of the canal. Consequently, it was arranged that a number of maintenance boats were to be floated into the tunnel so that planks could be laid along them. The proposal was that workmen would first barrow spoil from the blockage along the planks for disposal and then effect the necessary repairs to the roof. This plan was ill fated for as the spoil was being removed the roof began to fall even more. Eventually a crater appeared in the ground immediately above the roof collapse that threatened the safety of Hyde Bank House, one corner of which was only a short distance away from the line of the tunnel.

At this juncture all work was stopped as it had become apparent to inspectors that this method of working was not going to succeed. It was suggested that a Mr Hirst, who lived at Dukinfield, should be approached as it was known that he had gained considerable experience of tunnelling while working on the construction of the long railway tunnel at Standedge Following protracted negotiations Mr Hirst finally agreed to take charge of the work on the understanding that he was to be given a free hand with the planning and implementation of the work. The energetic Mr Hirst then set about his task with a will.

His first directive, which was viewed with dismay by the management, was that this section of canal must be drained to remove all water from the tunnel. He then arranged for a special trainload of timber to be delivered to the site, as it was fortuitous that a railway line was quite close to the canal on the north side. This directive must have rankled the management as the rival Sheffield and Midland Railway Company owned the line. Despite this, the workmen under Mr Hirst's direction were successful in shoring up the tunnel lining and removing the blockage without causing additional roof falls.

Following on from this achievement, the management persuaded Mr Hirst to proceed with the work by completely relining the tunnel with bricks. Mr Hirst agreed on the same conditions as before; he was to be given a free hand. Under his directions this work commenced at the south-east portal of the tunnel (Marple end) with the intention of completing the work at the north-west portal (Romiley end). Regrettably, there was a predicament in that management insisted that this section of the canal must be re-watered to permit regular traffic to use the canal at the same time as the tunnel was being relined.

This would seem to be an almost impossible brief and by now communications between Mr Hirst and management were becoming strained to say the least. In spite of the difficulties imposed on him Mr Hirst devised a method of doing the task and work commenced. When the tunnel had almost been completely relined a disagreement arose between Mr Hirst and the management that resulted in Mr Hirst's resignation never to return. His resignation left its mark on Hyde Bank Tunnel in that a short length of the lining at the north-west end was left in the original stone. The course of events following Mr Hirst's resignation can only be speculative but there seem to be three possibilities:

  1. Management decided that they had had enough of Hyde Bank Tunnel and the job was good enough.
  2. Management were unable to replace Mr Hirst.
  3. The workmen followed Mr Hirst and could not be replaced.

The events at Hyde Bank Tunnel must be viewed with the knowledge that the Peak Forest Canal was then railway owned and that management were aware that the canal era was rapidly drawing to a close. The railway network was still being developed and uneconomical wages were being paid to boatmen and canal maintenance staff alike. These factors all took their toll and moreover there was a new threat as road transport was beginning to be developed. The immediate impact of all this was a rapid decline in canal maintenance standards.

Hyde Bank Tunnel is 308 yards long by 16 feet wide, so boats could pass, and the minimum height above water level is 6 feet 8 inches. There is no towpath and in its working days boats had to be 'legged' or 'shafted' through it.

South-east portal of Hyde Bank Tunnel, 1895.