Hidden history of Leeds rail tunnel

Filmmaker Mark Currie at the memorial to the railway navvies killed during the construction of the Bramhope tunnel, one of the longest in the UK iin the grounds of Otley Parish Church.
Filmmaker Mark Currie at the memorial to the railway navvies killed during the construction of the Bramhope tunnel, one of the longest in the UK iin the grounds of Otley Parish Church.

A hidden history behind the building of a north Leeds railway tunnel is to be opened up to the public in a special event.

The Bramhope Tunnel, opened 171 years ago, was constructed over the course of four years by more than 2,000 navigators or ‘navvies’ in what was said to be “dreadful” conditions.

Once built, it allowed for trade to grow between the burgeoning economies of Leeds and North Yorkshire, but its creation is shrouded in the chilling tales of the men who built it using only hand picks and crude explosives.

Living in shanty accommodation on Otley Chevin and the village of Bramhope, the men would be lowered into the tunnel on a daily basis by bucket and worked long hours to shift their daily target of 20 tons of ‘muck’ from the construction site.

The only monument to those workers, and around 50 of them who died, is to be found beside the parish church in Otley, which was rededicated last summer.

A special event was held at Otley Courthouse to commemorate this 170th anniversary of its opening, which proved to be a sell out success.

Now a repeat event is to be hosted by Bramhope Council on January 31.

Local historian Angela Leathley will give a talk based on her book What Lies Beneath, which tells the story of the construction of the tunnel and the lives and experiences of the men who built it.

Serious Sam Barrett will play music inspired by the story and film maker Mark Currie will introduce his film, The Navvies Who Built The Bramhope Tunnel.

An exhibition of photographs and research materials is also to be on display, with copies of the book and the film on sale.

The event is on Friday January 31 at 7.30 pm at Bramhope Methodist Church Hall.