Help is needed to unearth tunnel

Schools are being called upon to help map one of the world’s oldest railway tunnels as part of a two year project to uncover its secrets.

Since January a team from the Derbyshuire Archeological Society backed by National Lottery Heritage Funding, have been digging up parts and running tests along now buried length of track known as the Butterley Gangroad.

The one-and-a-half-mile route was built by Ripley engineer Benjamin Outram in 1793 and was used to carry limestone from quarries in Crich to the Cromford Canal at Bullbridge on horsedrawn trailers.

So far the £18,000 project has seen the line ‘laser scanned’ and results have confirmed it was the first ever railway to have used stone sleepers, as opposed to wooden ones - a method which was adopted on countless railways for the next 20 years .

Now project leader Trevor Griffin is hoping schools from across the area will take part in an inch-by-inch mapping of the tunnel to record the structure for historical purposes.

He said: “This is important missing heritage right under our feet.

“It’s something as bit different - something that children can be really proud of in the area.

“The children would essentially be doing the job of an explorer - instead of the usual reading of history - youngsters have the chance here to actually record it.”

Trevor said classes could be taken along the length of the route making sketches of elevations, interesting architectural features and more. The mapping of the site will help to preserve it from future development.

Derbyshire Archeological Society also intends to go into the classrooms and hold workshops with in schools - showing the youngsters how the line would have worked and why it was built.

Wessex Archeology, the firm hired to carry out the laser scanning of the inside of the tunnel are set to reveal their findings so far at an open event at the Glebe Field Centre in Crich, on Friday, April 19, from 7.30pm.

The evening will also feature a talk from former curator of York Railway Museum Dieter Hopkin - to mark the 200th anniversary of the year one of the world’s first ever steam engines was tested in the line.

William Brunton’s ‘Mechanical Horse’, was trialled in 1813 - and intended to replace the horses used to drag empty trailers back up a one in 50 incline from Bullbridge to Crich. Mr Brunton was a Butterley Engineering employee and his invention pre-dated George Stevenson’s Rocket by 26 years.

Trevor said: “The significance of Brunton’s experiment has never been really appreciated locally but now, after two hundred years, the Butterley Gangroad project intends to put that right. We are delighted that Dieter Hopkin, who is a celebrated national expert, has been kind enough to help in this way.

“Together with the support that we are receiving from the Heritage Lottery Fund it will allow many people to discover this little known heritage and hopefully inspire many more people, including young people, to take an interest.”