It's easy to take for granted the awesome endeavours of 19th Century railway pioneers which thread us through, around or over the nation's natural barriers. It was an age of speculative adventure, built on innovation, will power and elbow grease.
But many magnificent creations were abandoned during the industrial vandalism of the Fifties and Sixties. Forgotten Relics of an Enterprising Age celebrates some of them.
The spring edition of Forgotten Relics heads to South Wales to chart the efforts of campaigners to bring life back to the country’s second longest railway tunnel.
Between Blaencwm and Blaengwynfi in the heart of coal mining territory, the 3,443-yard Rhondda Tunnel opened in 1890, two years later than contractually specified after water and manpower difficulties beset the construction effort. Sydney William Yockney had been set the task of engineering it. However, severe distortion prompted closure on safety grounds in 1968; the tunnel was buried 12 years later.
Now though, an enthusiastic Society - supported by the Welsh government - is seriously pursuing the idea of exhuming the structure for use as a foot and cycle path. Best of luck to them.
Although less monumental, Thurgoland Old Tunnel also suffered defects resulting from the earth’s forces. Ten years after its first commercial train passed through, a collapse close to the south portal brought services to a halt for several days. Today the spot can still be identified by two sections of brick strengthening.
Tunnels are not often attractive; however the two driven for the Crystal Palace & South London Junction Railway come pretty close. Midland Explorer Boy has visited the portals of Crescent Wood and Paxton tunnels which boast fabulous architectural detailing. The latter’s south portal catches the eye in particular, looking out - as it did - on the line’s grand High Level terminus building.
First-and-foremost, the structures we celebrate on this website were built to fulfil a function. Whetstone Viaduct epitomises that sentiment, being acutely workaday. But for a century it did its job impeccably and uneventfully on the Great Central’s London Extension, until the line was torn from the map. Its condition today is testament to the durability of engineering brick.
K-Burn’s shots of Lower Largo Viaduct on the Fife coast remind us that practicality and splendour can go hand-in-hand. When bathed in sunlight, its four 60-foot spans add much character to this fishing community, particularly when viewed from the harbour. It was engineered by John Wood after the services of Thomas Bouch - of Tay Bridge notoriety - were dispensed with due to concerns over the quality of his work. And this was 24 years before the disaster that led to his fall from grace. Perhaps these were warning signs that ought to have been heeded.
You can reach pages about these relics by clicking on their name. Across the site, new content is identified by a symbol whilst updated pages have a .
Main site areas
The site has stories about some of our more notable railway relics, with a hike through their history and reminiscences from those who worked there. You'll also find galleries showing dozens of bridges, viaducts, tunnels, earthworks, stations and junctions.