Campaigners plan memorial to the 10 navvies who died building the Queensbury Tunnel

IT is a remarkable feat of engineering - but it cost 10 men their lives.

And now campaigners, who want to reopen part of the disused West Yorkshire railway tunnel, have unveiled plans for a memorial - so, they say, at the very least, passers-by will pause to reflect on the enormous sacrifice they made.

Work on Queensbury Tunnel, between Bradford and Halifax, began in May 1874 when navvies started to sink a shaft close to its north end.

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Around 600 men got to work on the huge project which involved digging out 180,000 cubic yards of rock as well as making and laying 7m bricks to form the arch.

The Society plan to erect a memorial to the navvies who lose their lives during the building of the tunnel Credit: Four by three

Progress was significantly delayed by the volume of groundwater entering the workings. Pumps at five of the seven construction shafts removed 63,000 gallons of water every hour. The 1.4-mile long engineering feat was eventually completed in July 1878.

The greatest cost was borne by the workforce; dozens of appalling injuries were overshadowed by ten deaths.

The youngest casualty, 25-year-old Frederick Goulding, was crushed between a wagon and a large timber; the oldest was John Swire, 44, who was run over by wagons in the tunnel’s southern approach cutting.

Newlywed Captain Pickles was the last to lose his life in June 1877 when he was struck on the head by a half-ton roof support.

The sleepers would stand as a memorial to the ten men known to have died during the tunnel's construction Picture: Queensbury Tunnel Society

Others succumbed to explosions, drownings and falls at the shafts.

To commemorate the navvies, the Queensbury Tunnel Society plans to erect a memorial comprising two rows of railway sleepers - one for each of the ten men - which will stand either side of the path connecting the Great Northern Railway Trail to the tunnel entrance.

The Society has received an offer of help from the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway and is also exploring the practicality of salvaging sleepers from a tunnel on the former Bradford to Thornton line.

Dr Norah McWilliam, leader of the society, said: “Although they were paid comparatively well, the risks they faced were overwhelming. Every shift could realistically be their last.

Number eight shaft in the tunnel

“Of the navvies involved in construction, one in every 60 lost their lives; even more would have suffered life-changing injuries.And every accident brought with it the threat of destitution for the family as there was no financial support from the companies involved.

“Although there were basic safeguards, health and safety simply didn’t exist as we now know it.”

The Victorian tunnel has been at the centre of a lengthy battle to prevent its custodian, Highways England Historical Railways Estate, abandoning it due to perceived safety concerns.

Campaigners, supported by Bradford and Calderdale councils, want to see it brought back into use as part of a greenway connecting the two districts.

Plans to infill seven shafts and 328 yards of the tunnel have attracted 7,250 objections.

Highways England said work was currently taking place to fill a short section of the tunnel under Shaft 3 to prevent further collapse and protect residents living close to the top of the shaft, as well as the workforce.

A spokesperson said: "Preventing an uncontrolled collapse is the best option for keeping the tunnel viable for future use.”

In July the Department for Transport announced £1m funding to develop a business case for a Queensbury Tunnel "greenway" scheme.

West Yorkshire Combined Authority will use £500,000 to develop options for how the tunnel could be part of a new green transport link between Bradford and Halifax.