A new film and book are to be released this July to commemorate the 170th anniversary of the opening of the Bramhope Tunnel that links north Leeds to north Yorkshire. Both projects will pay tribute to the thousands of navigators (or navvies) who worked in horrendous conditions to make building the tunnel a reality.
At the time of construction in 1845-1849, the Bramhope Tunnel was one of the longest rail tunnels in the country and formed part of the ambitious Leeds and Thirsk Railway that was designed to open up trade between the burgeoning economies of West Yorkshire and the North East.
The proposed route faced several major obstacles but perhaps none was greater than the ridge that lies between Airedale and Wharfedale that required the building of the 2.138-mile (3.441 km) tunnel that passes under the village of Bramhope to link Horsforth with the Arthington Viaduct that takes the line over the River Wharfe to Harrogate and beyond.
The tunnel, engineered by Thomas Grainger and built under contract by James Bray, required the manpower of thousands of navvies who worked tirelessly in the most challenging of conditions to complete the project.
Those navvies are commemorated in a memorial standing in the northern extension of the graveyard of All Saints Parish Church in Otley. The Navvies Memorial, a replica of the crenellated north portal of the Bramhope Tunnel and a Grade II listed building, is in memory of the men who died building the tunnel – but also stands in tribute to all those who lost their lives building the vast network of railways across the country. It represents the only national memorial to the navvies – and the new book and film tell their story.
The soon-to-be-published 60-page book What Lies Beneath has been written as part of a research project by Angela Leathley of the Otley Conservation Taskforce. It covers the hard and dangerous life of navvies during the rapid expansion of the railways in the 19th century. It will be available to buy at £5 from the Otley Core with all proceeds going towards future maintenance of the memorial. An accompanying exhibition of research materials will be available to view in various locations throughout July.
Otley-based Catapult Films, meanwhile, has produced the 30-minute documentary The Navvies Who Built The Bramhope Tunnel featuring footage from inside the tunnel alongside interviews with local historians, Geoffrey Forster, Barbara Winfield and Neil Simpson, plus contributions by Otley musicians Serious Sam Barrett and Greg Mulholland from the Summercross. As well as shedding light on what the life of a typical navvy was like in the 1840s, the film also tells a few tragic tales of how some of the men died.
The film will be screened at two events to mark the 170th anniversary of the opening of the tunnel.
Otley Parish Church
6.45pm Saturday July 13, 2019
This screening will follow a re-dedication of the Navvies Memorial and will be followed by a chance to view all the printed material
7.30pm Friday July 26, 2019
Tickets for both events are available from Otley Town Council’s offices on Orchard Gate and are priced £4 for adults and £3 for concessions. All monies raised will be used for ongoing maintenance of the memorial.
See the film trailer below