Butternab Tunnel

Butternab Tunnel is a 256 yard tunnel on the Meltham Branch Line.


The first sod of the southern (Netherton) end of the tunnel was cut on Wednesday 13 April 1864 by John Worth, manager of the Tolson Dyeworks at Armitage Bridge. The location of the tunnel entrance had been contentious due to its proximity to an important clear water spring on land owned by the dyeworks. Following objections from owner George Senior Tolson, the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Company committed to ensuring that the spring — which emerges from the rock face to the left of the entrance — would be unpolluted by the steam engines and that it would be routed under the line via a conduit into Dean Clough stream. After the ceremony, Mr. Worth and "a large number of workmen" went to the Big Valley Hotel "where refreshments were plentifully provided, and a merry evening was afterwards enjoyed by all who partook of the same".[1]

In May 1865 an Irish labourer named "Johnny" had been working on scaffolding at the southern entrance to the tunnel when it collapsed. Part of the scaffolding fell onto him and he was taken to Huddersfield Infirmary where it was discovered that, among various injuries, both his legs were broken. Initially it was assumed he would die but the Chronicle reported that he was slowly recovering.[2]

On the afternoon of 17 July 1865 a local labourer of Armitage Fold — reportedly named James Phiney, aged around 40[3] — was caught in a small landslip above the southern entrance and fell around 60 feet down onto the track bed. He died en route to the Infirmary, leaving a wife and five young children.[4]

On the afternoon of Friday 11 August 1865, during the latter stages of the construction of the southern end of the tunnel portal, sub-contractor Joseph Marriott (a local joiner) had been working with a group of men to remove some of the wooden supporting beams which had propped up the tunnel roof. Apparently he felt his colleagues were slacking and, "in a state of excitement", grabbed an iron bar and began prizing out one of the beams which suddenly gave way, bringing down more of the beams and a section of the surrounding framework. Marriott was buried under much of it, crushing his body. He was still alive when his co-workers dug him out, but the local press reported "the principal injuries being internal there is little hope of his recovery".[5] Fortunately he recovered and eventually died in 1884.

In January 1866, an unnamed miner was injured after a small explosive charge detonated prematurely whilst excavating the tunnel. The miner's hand had been crushed between rocks and it was feared would have to be amputated.[6] On Tuesday 17 April, "a young man, named William Dyson, was working on this railway near the entrance to the above tunnel, when he accidentally fell among a heap of stones, by which his leg was fractured".[7]

In late November 1866, heavy prolonged rainfall led to floods throughout the north of England. An area around the southern end of Butternab tunnel was washed away, blocking the Dean Clough stream which exacerbated the flooding below Netherton.[8].

On 1 March 1867, navvy excavator Patrick Pendrick was injured in a landslip at Butternab cutting. Although it was reported that he had been "severely crushed about the chest" and that the "injuries are of a dangerous description", it was expected Pendrick would recovery.[9]

Arguably the most tragic death occurred as a result of an incident on Thursday 16 January 1868. Eleven-year-old James Beaver of Armitage Bridge, who had been employed to do help out with the work on the railway, tampered with one of the waggons loaded with debris at the southern end of tunnel. When the waggons began to move, James accidentally fell under them and one of the wheels rolled over his arm, crushing it. The Chronicle initially reported that although the boy's arm had been amputated at the shoulder, he was recovering well at the Infirmary.[10] Sadly he died on Sunday 26 January and was buried in an unmarked grave at St. Paul's Church on 30 January.

The branch line finally opened to goods traffic in August 1868 and to passenger services on 5 July 1869.

In 1882, as part of the laying out of Beaumont Park, Huddersfield Corporation leased the land above the northern tunnel portal for £1 per year.[11]

On Sunday 13 June 1915, a team of six railway inspectors had just finished examining Butternab Tunnel using special vans when they were accidentally shunted by an engine, derailing one of the vans and injuring all of the men. Three were taken to Huddersfield Infirmary: Edgar Wilkinson (of Mostyn near Manchester), Hubert Priestley (Brockholes) and Tom Spooner (Hall Ing Farm, Honley).[12]

Further Reading


Notes and References

  1. "Netherton: The Railway" in Huddersfield Chronicle (16/Apr/1864).
  2. "Netherton: Accident at the Railway" in Huddersfield Chronicle (03/Jun/1865).
  3. This was the name recorded in the Huddersfield Chronicle but there are no entries in the death index registers for this name.
  4. "Netherton: Fatal Accident on the Railway" in Huddersfield Chronicle (22/Jul/1865).
  5. "Netherton: Dreadful Railway Accident" in Huddersfield Chronicle (12/Aug/1865).
  6. "Netherton: Accident in the Tunnel" in Huddersfield Chronicle (20/Jan/1866).
  7. "Lockwood: Railway Accident" in Huddersfield Chronicle (21/Apr/1866).
  8. "The Floods" in Huddersfield Chronicle (24/Nov/1866).
  9. "Netherton: Accident to a Railway Navvy" in Huddersfield Chronicle (09/Mar/1867).
  10. "Netherton: Accident on the Railway" in Huddersfield Chronicle (25/Jan/1868).
  11. "Beaumont Park Committee" in Huddersfield Chronicle (20/Oct/1882).
  12. "Accident to Tunnel Inspection Party" in Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail (14/Jun/1915).