My Personal Experience
In the quiet Leicestershire suburban town of Glenfield, many residents are unaware of what actually lies beneath them; many who were local children (myself included) know what’s there, but you can be sure that new residents to the town would not be so well informed. I am only thirty-five, but I managed to miss the mass appeal of mobile phones or games consoles before my teens; my games console was good old-fashioned mischief, and my games room was Glenfield. As a young boy, my friends and I would often find ourselves looking for places to explore, especially during the summer months, with lighter evenings to fill with fun.
Glenfield Tunnel was one such place that was forbidden by pretty much all parents at the time. Of course, when a place is off limits and you are eleven years old, it’s the first place you want to go! Glenfield Tunnel very quickly became the place where local kids chose to hang out. Children have creative imaginations and stories about the tunnel were plentiful, with tales of children being dragged along by trains and people falling from the tunnel entrance, but to name a few.
I am happy to say that, on one occasion, the tunnel entrance had been broken into. A group of us decided that we would have ourselves a Goonies-style adventure and walk through to the other end of the tunnel. Armed with a torch, that my friend had pinched from his dad’s garage, we walked the length of the tunnel. I can still remember how the cool breeze from the numerous vents blowing against my face felt as we trampled over old railway sleepers and navigated puddles, up to our knees in black water.
We made a number of short stops and thought about whether we should turn back, but we decided to keep going until we reached a small bend in the tunnel that meant we could no longer see the entrance, which was now some distance away. At this point, we were cold and wet, and all secretly hoping that the batteries in our one torch would be enough to get to us back to daylight, but nevertheless we decided to continue to the far end of the tunnel and write our names on the wall, which marked the blocked-up exit. The journey back to the entrance left me wondering about what may have occurred within the tunnel, looking around at the thousands upon thousands of bricks and the small survival holes sunken into the tunnel walls; I realised even then that there must have been accidents in there for sure.
My train of thought was interrupted by what we could all see in the distance; the light of the doorway was no longer there and all that could be seen were the small viewing holes in the door, beaming light into the darkness. We had been locked inside. Panic set in as we began to run the final few hundred metres to the entrance, screaming, shouting and falling over in the darkness. As we reached the sealed doors, I was happy and yet scared to see that the gentleman who had fitted the new padlock was still on the other side of the door, talking to my older brother John, who was pleading with him to open the lock. After seeing how young we were, and giving us a jolly good ticking off for a few minutes, we were finally set free into the daylight, thanking our lucky stars that my brother had managed to keep the gentleman there until we returned. Don’t get me wrong – I like exploring tunnels, but I wouldn’t want to be eleven years old and spending the night in this one.
History of the Tunnel
The Glenfield Tunnel is one of the world’s first steam railway tunnels and is just over one mile long. It was designed by the famous railway engineer, George Stephenson, and was built between 1829–32, under the supervision of his son, Robert. The building of this tunnel really tested its engineers, involving techniques that were then virtually untried. Initial trial drillings suggested the bore would be through stone and clay, when, in fact, much of the bore would turn out to be through running sand. This required a great deal more work and funding. The tunnel had to be lined throughout with brickwork, which was between 14” and 18” thick, backed by a “wooden shell”, which would hold back the running sand. Bricks for the lining, after dissatisfaction with the original supplier, were made in an on-site kiln.
Owing to the problems encountered during construction, the costs ran well over the proposed budget of £10,000, finally amounting to £17,326 12s 2½d. which would be well over a million pounds in today’s money. However, the finished job was straight and level and was in use for over 130 years. The first section of the tunnel was officially opened on 17th July 1832 and was marked by a special train for the Leicester and Swannington directors and 300 guests. Hauling it was “Comet”, a locomotive provided by Robert Stephenson.
A building contractor, named Daniel Jowett, fell down one of the ventilation shafts to his death on April 5th 1832.