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Clay Cross Tunnel South Portal (Spc8 68p1), North East Derbyshire

Description: Clay Cross Tunnel South Portal (Spc8 68p1)

Grade: II
Date Listed: 11 February 2014
Building ID: 1417699

OS Grid Reference: SK3889962819
OS Grid Coordinates: 438899, 362820
Latitude/Longitude: 53.1611, -1.4197

Locality: North East Derbyshire
Local Authority: North East Derbyshire District Council
County: Derbyshire
Postcode: S45 9AN

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Listing Text


A railway tunnel portal and associated retaining walling forming part of the Clay Cross Tunnel, excavated 1836-40 for the North Midland Railway.

Reason for Listing

The South Portal to the Clay Cross Tunnel, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Historic interest: the tunnel portal forms part of a series of railway structures built for the North Midland Railway between 1836 and 1840. The line was designed by George and Robert Stephenson, two of the most important and influential engineers of the railway era, aided by Frederick Swanwick;
* Architectural interest: the portal is an example of the consistently high quality design and careful detailing of railway structures completed for the North Midland Railway between 1836 and 1840. The North Portal to the tunnel is already listed at Grade II;
* Engineering interest: the Clay Cross Tunnel was the longest and most challenging tunnel excavation on the North Midland line. The tunnel portals and the contemporary retaining walling are integral components of the tunnel design;
* Group value: the tunnel portals share a common architectural vocabulary, and are notable elements of an early railway transport landscape of great interest. Portals at the Toadmore Tunnel, and the North Portal of the Clay Cross and Milford Tunnels are listed at Grade II


The Midland Main Line is the outcome of a number of historic construction phases undertaken by different railway companies. The first two phases were carried out simultaneously between 1836 and 1840 by the North Midland Railway and the Midland Counties Railway. The North Midland Railway, which operated between Derby and Chesterfield and onwards to Rotherham and Leeds, was pre-eminently the work of George (1781-1848) and Robert Stephenson (1803-1859) who, along with Isambard Kingdom Brunel, are the most renowned engineers of this pioneering phase of railway development. They worked closely with the Assistant Engineer, Frederick Swanwick (1810-1885). The railway’s architect Francis Thompson (1808-1895) designed stations and other railway buildings along the line. The less demanding route for the Midland Counties Railway, which ran between Derby and Nottingham to Leicester and on to Rugby, was surveyed by Charles Blacker Vignoles (1793-1875) who was engineer to a large number of railway projects. These two companies (along with the Birmingham & Derby Junction Railway) did not yield the expected profits, partly because of the fierce competition between them. This led to the three companies merging into the Midland Railway in 1844 which constituted the first large scale railway amalgamation. The next part of the line from Leicester to Bedford and on to Hitchin was constructed between 1853 and 1857 by the engineer Charles Liddell (c.1813-1894) and specialist railway architect Charles Henry Driver (1832-1900). In 1862 the decision was made to extend the line from Bedford to London which was again the responsibility of Liddell, except for the final fourteen miles into London and the design of the terminus at St Pancras (listed at Grade I) which was undertaken by William Barlow (1812-1902). Additional routes were then added from Chesterfield to Sheffield in 1870, and from Kettering to Corby in 1879. The most important changes to the infrastructure of the Midland Railway were the rebuilding of its principal stations and the increasing of the line’s capacity, involving the quadrupling of some stretches of the route south of the Trent from the early 1870s to the 1890s.

The South Portal of the Clay Cross Tunnel was built between 1836 and 1840 as part of the North Midland Railway. The route from Derby to Chesterfield and onwards to Rotherham and Leeds was surveyed by George Stephenson in 1835, and the Act of Parliament for the construction of the 72 mile line was obtained in 1836. Linked at Derby to the Birmingham & Derby Junction Railway and the Midland Counties Railway, it was to form part of a route from London to Yorkshire and the North East. George Stephenson was joined by his son Robert as joint Chief Engineer on the project in 1837. In order to concentrate on his mineral and mining interests, George relinquished his railway projects in 1839 so it was his son who saw the North Midland through to its completion in 1840. Part of Robert Stephenson’s skill in handling railway projects was his ability to select and manage an able team, and he entrusted much of the engineering design of the North Midland to Frederick Swanwick whose name appears on the surviving contract drawings. The Stephensons, supported by Swanwick, designed the line north from Derby to have gradients no greater than 1 in 250 to suit the low power of contemporary steam locomotives, which meant relegating Sheffield to a link line. To achieve such gradients the line followed the River Derwent as far as Ambergate and then ran through more difficult territory up the valley of the River Amber via Wingfield and Clay Cross to Chesterfield, then over to Rotherham and via Wakefield to Leeds. The notable sequence of picturesque stations along the line was designed by Francis Thompson who was therefore also influential in setting his stamp on the character of the line.

The Clay Cross tunnel was designed by George and Robert Stephenson, with their Assistant Engineer Frederick Swanwick. The designs were completed in November 1836; work commenced in February 1837 and was completed by August 1839. The cutting, formation and excavation of the tunnel was undertaken by contractors Messrs. Hardy, Copeland and Cropper of Watford, Hertfordshire. This tunnel was the most substantial and challenging piece of engineering on the North Midland Railway and one of the most ambitious railway tunnels of the ‘pioneering’ phase of the development of the network. The South Portal, unaltered since its construction, is of a design similar to others designed by the Stephensons for the route, including the south portal of the Milford Tunnel and both portals of the Wingfield Tunnel. The tunnel bore is 1631m in length with nine shafts and is lined in brick. A contract drawing shows the width of the tunnel bore to be 29ft at its widest point, and 25ft 11inches from the track bed to the roof of the tunnel. The total cost of construction amounted to £105,460. Rich coal seams and quantities of ironstone were encountered during construction. Although this meant that the tunnel alignment had to be changed, the discovery enabled George Stephenson to open a profitable colliery and iron works. The Clay Cross Company, founded by Stephenson in 1837, dominated the village of Clay Cross and at its peak employed c. 4,000 men.


Tunnel portal, constructed 1836-39, for the North Midland Railway to the designs of George and Robert Stephenson, with Assistant Engineer Frederick Swanwick.

MATERIALS: coursed, squared, quarry-faced Derbyshire gritstone with moulded and tooled ashlar gritstone dressings.

DESCRIPTION: the tunnel portal is a horseshoe-shaped arch set within a masonry surround. The arch is formed of two ashlar bands of roll moulding profile with an additional ashlar band above the arch extrados. The portal arch is flanked by broad, raking rusticated masonry buttresses, beyond which are extensive quarry-faced masonry retaining walling. The portal and retaining walling all sit below an ashlar band course, with a bold roll moulding above and a low ashlar parapet that acts as a cornice to the top of the portal façade.

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.