In 1799 plans were put forward for a link between the River Irwell and the Rochdale Canal. 1839 the Canal opened for business but it wasn’t successful due to a serious of unfortunate events including one of the lockes collapsing and severe frosts which temporarily closed the canal. Comprising of 0.49 Miles (0.43 Nautical miles – 792 metres) and with 4 lockes to aid the rise of 40 feet from east to west along the route it was and still is an impressive engineering feat.
The canal officially closed to traffic in 1936 and remained empty and unused for nearly 3 years until 1939 with the outbreak of the second world war. The tunnel was drained in order to be used as an air raid shelter. At 1600 feet long, 20 feet wide and 17 feet high the capacity of the air raid bunker was estimated to be 5,000 people based on the home offices estimates of 6 square feet per person however this was reduced to the much more realistic number of 1,368 people. A bomb-proof dam was built accross the entrance to the tunnel and a drain down to the river was created so pumps would not have to be used.
16 blast walls were created every 100 feet in order to restrict any damage from bombings.
The conversion cost the council £18,000 and included handrails, chemical toilets, water supply, lighting from the mains, an emergency diesel generate, electric fans and a filtered air system.
At the end of the war the use of the tunnel had expired so all entrances were sealed and that’s where my story begins…