East Norton Tunnel sits approximately a mile south of East Norton village, between the A47 and Hallaton village. The tunnel, originally built in 1879 is 444 yards (406 metres) long.
The history of East Norton Tunnel.
East Norton tunnel was one of three tunnels built on the new Great Northern and London North Western Joint Railway (GN&LNW) line in east Leicestershire. The other two being Hose tunnel and Ingarsby tunnel (or Thurnby tunnel). More information about Ingarsby tunnel can be found here.
About a mile north of the tunnel would have been East Norton Station. The station was next to what is now the A47. Further north would have been an impressive thirteen arch viaduct that has now been sadly demolished.
Southbound trains leaving the tunnel began the long descent into the Welland valley. This descent was once, around 1960, the scene of a runaway freight train which could have caused a serious accident had it not been for an alert signalman at the Welham Junction box who managed to stop a Northampton to Peterborough express on a collision course.
Regular passenger services along the route were never well patronised and ceased on 7th December 1953. Goods traffic was more successful, continuing to encounter East Norton Tunnel until the section through it was closed on 4th November 1963. Since then, its northern approach cutting has been backfilled.
Building the tunnel.
All the bricks would have been made on-site during the construction of East Norton Tunnel (and the 13 arch viaduct 1 mile north). Small wooden towns around the site would have been formed to accommodate the workers.
The above image shows a lot about the construction of all three Leicestershire tunnels on the line.
A team of tunnelers would dig out the clay soil. These men would be followed by a team of bricklayers who would build each side of the tunnel, up to where the arch of the roof starts. After each side was built a scaffold would be erected with a wood centre (the semi-circle frame seen at the left side of the image) placed on top. The second team of bricklayers would build the arch. This would carry on until they reached the other side of the tunnel. The team progressed around a yard a day.
If hard rock or clay was found then the team would use explosives. This was very dangerous work. An accident with explosives in Hose tunnel killed a team of men, which we will cover in the next article.
As with most Victorian buildings, The work was of a very high standard and even decorative. The Engineers and their workers often showing off their skills. The tunnels portals are impressive, exhibiting an arch face of six brick rings. Stubby brick wing walls curve through 90 degrees to stand parallel to the track
Unlike Ingarsby tunnel, the copings and tunnel have not been vandalised. This is due to East Norton tunnel being set in the middle of the countryside and not near the city.
The tunnel today.
The tunnel is in very good condition. All the copings outside have survived and there is not any graffiti on the inside.
Old relics tell the story of the tunnel. Track fasteners litter the tunnel. Rusted reflective signs still mark the workmen refuges and brackets that would of hold telegraph cables can still be seen along the east wall. The floor of the tunnel still has its original ballast and the roof is black from the soot of steam engines, last seen over 50 years ago. Old wooden sleepers have been used as fence posts to mark the boundary on top of the tunnel.
Although there is still a little damage. A lot of the bricks inside the tunnel have spalled. Some damage can be seen in places where bricks have fallen out. This can be seen in the image below.
The tunnel is on private land and is currently being used to store redundant farm equipment, including a tractor and plough.
Entrance to the tunnel.
The tunnel was very easy to access. Although if you wanted to visit I would recommend waiting for the weather to get a little colder as I have not seen so many stingers in my life.
The tunnel is on private land, but easy to access from the road. The old railway sleepers in the image above were my first clue to finding the tunnel. These looked to be the original sleepers along with the holes the track was attached too.
A few metres south of the sleepers you come across the coping stones that mark the top of East Norton tunnel. I had to be very careful as the stones were slippy and it was a large drop.
After reaching the bottom, I was greeted with the magnificent view of the entrance to this derelict tunnel.
Inside the tunnel.
As mentioned before, the tunnel is in very good condition. It’s dry throughout and you only have mud at the north entrance.
The tunnel is being used to store old farm machinery and rotted down hay bales.
You come across 3 pairs of deep workers refuges. A pair at both entrances and one in the middle. These would have been used for workers to hide in if a train was passing through. They would have been marked with reflective plates either side that still can be seen.
Relics of the old railway can be seen in the tunnel. Including old track fasteners (used to attach the rails together). And brackets with insulators on that would of hold telegraph cables.
The north of the tunnel offered a great photo but was rather muddy and too many stingers (and I was wearing shorts).
Just like Ingarsby tunnel, East Norton tunnel is home to a colony (or cloud) of bats. Which is very interesting to see.
Full Leicestershire GN&LNW railway map.
We are currently trying to upload as much information about every part of the GN&LNW Line in Leicestershire.
We are trying to get all information on the GN&LNW such as stations, bridges, tunnels and viaducts. This is a work in progress so please subscribe to keep up to date with any new information.
I have explored all of this railway line in Leicestershire and I am trying to document all of it. I will be uploading articles on different sections of the line very soon. If you can help with any information or photographs please message me on social media.
Please click on any icon on the map to bring up a photo or any information.
Please note the tunnel is on private land. There is a footpath nearby.
If you are interested in Leicester’s history then we recommend the following book (Click on the images or links below)
From the multicultural bustle of Leicester to the smaller market towns of Market Harborough and Lutterworth and evens smaller picturesque villages, Leicestershire is a unique and varied county with a rich cultural heritage. Leicestershire Past & Present contrasts a selection of 300 old and new photographs, juxtaposed to demonstrate the changes that have occurred in the scene over the intervening years. Fascinating images of town centres, housing, shops, and people at work and play bring Leicestershire’s history to life. It is a captivating insight into the changes and developments that have taken place over the years, and an enjoyable read from cover to cover.
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