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Former GCR Catesby Tunnel, Northamptonshire, May 2010

Posted by on May 24, 2010


The notion of a high speed rail-link between Manchester and Paris; through a tunnel under the English Channel may seem like the dream of modern civil engineers, and something we will have to wait years for. However it was a dream shared by Sir Edward Watkins in 1897 when he started work on the Great Central Railway (GCR) between Sheffield and London Marylebone.

The line was built to a higher loading gauge, 1 in 180 ruling gradients and wide radius curves in order to allow larger trains and faster trains. Sadly Watkins dream has still not been realised, the GCR never went further than London and never really made a decent profit. It was finally closed in 1966 having only been open to passenger traffic for 67 years.

Catesby Tunnel

The tunnel was the longest on the GCR, and at 2997 yards is nearly 2.7km long! The tunnel was constructed because the wealthy landowner at Catesby Manor didn’t want his view obscured; a cutting could have just as easily been constructed. The tunnel was excavated at great expense to the company, which speaks volumes of Watkin’s determination and the depths of his pockets!

Below are some images of the construction of the tunnel, from The Transport Archive


construction of the south portal


contractors hard at work


the completed south portal


The Explore was great fun, I particularly enjoyed the ‘echoy’ silence broken only by the driping of water, in places the water was flowing quite strongly despite having not rained in days.

Catesby tunnel, south portal

inside the belly of the 3000yrd monster

a broken iron drainage pipe, seeping water into the tunnel at the rate of a bathroom tap


the second air shaft

long exposure of the water running down the air shaft


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Comments (1)

  • Wow, i did not even know this tunnel or the railway ever existed! Not far from where i lived! Blisworth tunnel yes, but this is entirely different!! Keep up the amazing photography! I was especially pleased to see pianoforte, where both my grandparents worked their entire lives!

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