The Fritchley Tunnel is the world’s oldest surviving railway tunnel.
When the Butterley Gangroad was built in 1793 the line started the downhill descent from the mine (later opened up into a quarry) at Crich and ended at the Amber Wharf on the Cromford canal at Bullbridge after passing through Fritchley village. Here it passed under a road junction by means of a short tunnel about 90 feet long. The tunnel was constructed using the “cut and cover” method. A deep trench was dug, walls were built directly on the earth on either side, a former was put in place and an arch created over it. The ground was then restored above the arch. When the re-alignment of the line was undertaken in the 1850s the southern end of the tunnel was rebuilt using larger stones and a wider cross-section. the joint between the two areas of stomework was roughly made and had to be strengthened later by means of a blue brick buttress, partly due to the weight of the building above.
The wall behind the Bobbinmill Hill road sign (plaque also on the garden fence above the road sign) is the north portal and the tunnel runs in a straight line across to the right of the metal field gate and emerged in the field a short distance beyond the road. The tunnel is no longer accessible as both ends of the tunnel were sealed in the second half of the 20th century. However the tunnel was temporarily opened up in 2013 as part of the Butterley Gangroad project so that it could be recorded using laser scanning technology. Following this work, the project team prepared a submission to Guinness World Records and formal recognition as the world’s oldest surviving railway tunnel was given in 2015.
A fly thru video of the tunnel was produced by Wessex Archaeology as part of the project and this is available to view on the Butterley Gangroad project website.
The Butterley Gangroad project was led by the Derbyshire Archaeological Society and was funded by a Heritage Lottery grant and all the above information and photographs have been provided with the permission of the Society and the RCHS.
Further information can be found at www.butterleygangroadproject.co.uk.