As finally built there were three tunnels on the sixteen mile line between Whitby and Loftus. These were the Sandsend (or Deepgrove), the Kettleness, and the Grinkle (originally Easington) tunnels. The longest was Sandsend tunnel (1,652 yards [1511 m]). The tunnel is, for the most part, straight; however, there is a curve to the north for the last 350 yards -
Kettleness tunnel was 308 yards [282 m] long -
Grinkle (originally called Easington) tunnel was 993 yards long [908 m] -
Photos: Neil Cholmondeley Collection
However, the only tunnel authorised in the original 1866 Act was the Easington, which was then to be 1,324 yards long, where work on the line began with the cutting of the first sod on 25th May 1871. Progress was satisfactory along some sections of the line, but the Engineer’s Report presented to the Directors of the company at their meeting of 9th May 1872 stated baldly that on the Easington tunnel to Loftus section, “Nothing has been done. Machinery there, then found the tunnel could be halved by a slight deviation. Careful examination of the ground satisfies us that we shall not meet with any extraordinary difficulty in the execution of the tunnel.” The Engineer, Mr J H Tolmé, was often given to exaggeration and prone to telling the directors what he thought they wanted to hear. His forecast concerning the future construction of the Grinkle (Easington) tunnel will, as will be shown, incorrect. The tunnel was shortened, though, for Tolmé’s report of 9th September 1872 mentions that, after arrangements with the landowners, the tunnel has been shortened from nearly a mile in length to considerable under half a mile (792 yards). This deviation, along with other changes to the 1866 plans led the directors, at a meeting on 12th October 1872 to note that “it is desirable that parliamentary sanction should be obtained to the deviations which have been necessary in carrying out the works upon the railway”. At the directors’ meeting of 11th February 1873 they “resolved that the Bill now submitted for authorising the diversion and alteration of the line and levels of the WR&MUR and for other purposes be and the same is hereby approved”. It is interesting to note that work had already been undertaken on these alterations, the main ones being bringing the line closer to the sea between Whitby (West Cliff) and Sandsend and the tunnelling changes at Grinkle and along the cliff face between Sandsend and Kettleness. Thus the 1873 Deviation Act was passed. The plans issued with the 1873 Act clearly show the new length of tunnel at Grinkle and six new ones proposed between Sandsend and Kettleness. However, there is no mention of any moneys spent on tunnelling until the twenty-first Engineer’s certificate presented to the 4th April 1873 meeting of the directors where it was noted that £1,000 had been spent on tunneling. This must have been on the Sandsend-Kettleness section where, Tolmé reported to the directors on 1st September 1873 “the headings for the short tunnels through the jutting points of the cliff are nearly all driven”. Unfortunately, in the same report, Tolmé had some bad news concerning the Grinkle tunnel: “A slip which took place in the embankment at the southern end of the Easington tunnel has caused a great deal of trouble and delay… A bed of quicksand was also met with in the tunnel heading, which considerably retarded the work…”
Without any doubt at all, the decision to initially construct the line around the cliffs between Sandsend and Kettleness was not only a major mistake, but the cause of the line’s failure. Nevertheless a considerable amount of work was done on the various tunnels as is indicated by Mr Tolmé’s last engineer’s certificate. In that certificate of 20th October 1873 he reports that, so far, £4,681 had been spent on the various tunnels. The problems caused by the cliff edge works as well as those at Grinkle tunnel brought the company to the edge of bankruptcy, and resulted in the sacking of the contractor, John Dickson at the end of 1873 and of the Engineer a few months later. It is impossible now to know how much work was actually done (no earthworks of any kind remain on the cliff edge section). However, a more recent historical Ordnance Survey map (before 1923) shows a tunnel at Keldhowe Point on the abandoned section of the line. There is no evidence for the existence of this tunnel other than the map. However, even the major tunnelling works which eventually took place further inland did not lessen the cost.
By the summer of 1874 the company was in considerable financial difficulty. Creditors were threatening to take legal proceedings against the company; horses and locomotives belonging to the company were sold at auction; complaints from members of the public regarding damage caused by the company and letters from disgruntled shareholders were arriving regularly; attempts to attract further investment failed dismally and, by 12th November 1874, the company’s bank account stood at £963.15.6 [£44,054] (and this only after the better of the two locomotives had sold for £750). The contractor had been sacked, and work on the line had ground to a complete halt. There was only one option open to the directors if the line was to be completed: an agreement with the North Eastern Railway company. On the 12th November 1874 the directors met to a consider a letter they had received from Mr C N Wilkinson, the Secretary of the NER, dated 23rd October 1874 in reply to the WR&MUR’s directors’ wish to open negotiations with the NER for taking over the construction of the line. At this moment the NER’s reply was cautious: