Light at the end of the abandoned tunnel

WALKING down tree-lined Langcliffe Avenue, there is nothing to suggest the history that lies beneath your feet.

Yet just inches below the surface is a little-known part of Harrogate's heritage that helped shaped the spa town as we know it today.

Armed with a powerful torch and a long-exposure camera, Phill Davison and a team of historians from the Leeds Historical Expedition Society entered the pitch black Brunswick tunnel to discover the role it played in Harrogate's past.

The railway tunnel, opened in 1848, ran 400 yards directly below what is now Langcliffe Avenue, from the A61 Leeds Road roundabout to the opposite side of Tewit Well Road, where the current line that passes through Hornbeam Park is today.

Opened by George Stephenson and the York and North Midland railway company, the tunnel stood opposite the Hattersley Hotel (renamed the Brunswick Hotel in 1833) and was a controversial part of the only train route into Harrogate.

Original Route

The track split from the Leeds-Selby line at Church Fenton and ran through to Brunswick station which was next to Trinity Methodist church on Trinity Road opposite the stray.

The line from York passed through Prospect Tunnel, over Crimple Viaduct then northwards towards the Stray but, just short of the Stray swung north-west into a tunnel for about a quarter of mile before exiting into a cutting under Leeds Road.

But the Brunswick station was short-lived and remained in operation for only 14 years until the new station in its present day town-centre location arrived in 1862.

With stone-built walls and a brick-lined roof arch, the old Brunswick tunnel is still in good shape - dry and free from vandalism with the exception of a wet entrance and a few patches of graffiti dating back to the 1970s. You can even see the indents in the tunnel floor where the sleepers used to be.

Tony Eden, who studied at Norton College which was built alongside Tewit Well Road just a few hundred yards from the Brunswick tunnel, said that while railways were spreading across the country during the first half of the 19th century, influential Harrogate residents resisted the creation of a line, citing the smoke and disturbance that railways would bring.

Controversial

Phill agreed, saying there was much early resistance to the early plans to build a train station next to the Stray.

"Initially there was much opposition to the railway from the locals and hoteliers who feared it would lower Harrogate's aristocratic tone by bringing in the proletarians from Leeds and Bradford," he said.

"The tunnel was only built to keep the railway out of sight to keep the affluent people of Harrogate happy.

"It had to be built there, because at no cost was it allowed to go across the Stray."

Reporting on last month's trip into the long-abandoned Brunswick tunnel, Phill said the fabric is remarkably dry and in good condition.

He said: "Mother nature was hard at work keeping this tunnel a hidden place. I have known about it for quite a few years, but a lot of young people in Harrogate might not even know it was there."

The abandoned tunnel was later used as an air raid shelter during World War 2, with the entrance being right below where the Leeds Road-Park Drive roundabout is today.

Phill told me that a concrete floor had been laid with a 6ft high brick wall lining the tunnel. Brick piers had been built to support a long wooden bench both sides of the tunnel and the remains of make shift toilet cubicles were present in all four corners of the shelter.

There was evidence of electric cabling, suggesting there had been a light and power supply there during the war years.

Harrogate was only bombed once, in 1941, with The Majestic hotel the unlucky target. It resulted in the air raid shelter - the only one of its kind in Harrogate - finally being abandoned by 1943.

"We just like trying to get pictures of the places that the public won't see," Phill said.

"There is a lot of people doing this sort of thing, but while they call it 'urban explanation' but we prefer 'historical photogrpahy'.

"I have always been interested in the old railways - the ones that you might be able to see from the outside, but not the inside.

"It's amazing to thing were stood looking at a railway tunnel abandoned for 146 years and at the same time an air raid shelter abandoned for 68 years."

• Tony Eden is the author of the Norwood College and Clifton House School website and he is keen to hear from anyone with information about these schools. You can email him here.