Norwood Tunnel

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The Eastern Portal of Norwood Tunnel

The Norwood Tunnel was a 2884-yard-long, 9¼-foot-wide and 12-foot-high brick-lined canal tunnel on the line of the Chesterfield Canal with its western Portal close to Norwood, Derbyshire and its Eastern Portal in Kiveton, Yorkshire.[1] The western portal is about half a mile from the county border, so the tunnel is entirely in Yorkshire.


The Chesterfield Canal's Act of Parliament was passed in 1771. James Brindley was the chief engineer and John Varley the Clerk of the Works. John Varley was left to continue alone as acting chief engineer after the death of James Brindley in 1772. In 1774, Hugh Henshall, James Brindley's brother-in-law was made chief engineer, with John Varley keeping the position of resident engineer. The Norwood Tunnel was opened on 9 May 1775 and at the time held the record for Britain's longest canal tunnel jointly with James Brindley's Harecastle Tunnel.[2]

At the end of July 1775 an auction of equipment, which had been used to construct the tunnel, was held at the eastern portal:-
1 Horse Gin complete, Wheel 14 feet diam, pulleys 3 feet 6 inches - 1 Horse Gin complete, Wheel 11 feet diam, pulleys 3 feet 6 inches - 1 Horse Gin complete, Wheel 10 feet diam, pulleys 2 feet 8 inches - 1 Water Engine Wheel, 20 feet diameter - 1 Water Engine Wheel, 17 feet diameter - 1 Water Engine Wheel, 16 feet diameter - 9 Turn Barrels and Stand Trees - 20 Yards of Pump Trees, 8 inch bore - 4, 6 inch Cast Metal Working Pieces - 1 Wind Engine - 2 Pair of Smiths Bellows - 4 Horse Water Tubs - A number of Rollers fixed in Frames for Slide Rods, Drum Wheels and Chains, and Slide and Pump Rod Joints.[3]
The Norwood Tunnel forms a large part of the summit pound of the canal, with Norwood Locks descending from the Western Portal and Thorpe Locks descending to the East of the Eastern Portal.

The tunnel does not have a towpath, therefore the narrowboats were pushed through the tunnel by their crews. This process of pushing against the walls or roof of a canal tunnel with one's legs in order to propel the narrowboat through the tunnel is called Legging.


The Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway (MSLR) purchased the Chesterfield Canal in 1847. It has long been claimed that the tunnel was lengthened/shortened when a railway was built nearby, but a map of the "proposed" Manchester & Lincoln Union Railway, 1845 shows the portals in their current locations. [4]

A large colliery was developed above the tunnel, operated by the Kiveton Park Colliery Company. The removal of coal from seams under the tunnel caused major subsidence problems - segments began to sink. As the water level was constant the roof became nearer to the water surface. In 1871 the MSLR started what would be twenty years of roof-raising to keep Norwood Tunnel passable.[5] The total cost was £17,043, said to be £7 per linear yard. The raising of practically the whole length of the tunnel roof was done by prolonging the side walls and rebuilding the semi-circular arch.[6] It is this work that obfuscates the originality or otherwise of the construction shafts.

After days of heavy rain a 12–14 yard section of the tunnel collapsed on 18 October 1907, leaving a large hole in a field near the road to Harthill. With only minimal boat-traffic on the declining canal the cost of repairing the fall could not be justified and the tunnel has remained blocked ever since, splitting the canal into two sections.

The tunnel today

The Western Portal of Norwood Tunnel in 2006

The canal has been restored as far as the Eastern Portal of the Norwood Tunnel largely through the efforts of Chesterfield Canal Trust. Part of the canal West of the tunnel from Chesterfield to Staveley has also been restored. Further restoration is proceeding. Current plans for the tunnel include the opening up of the tunnel in the Kiveton Park area, creating a cutting followed by the restoration of the remaining tunnel to Norwood.

Portal Coordinates
Eastern 53°20’15"N, 1°15’1"W
Midpoint 53°20’6"N, 1°16’11"W
Western 53°19’57"N, 1°17’21"W



  1. "Chesterfield Canal Trust History". 
  2. "British Waterways Archives". 
  3. Cresswell & Burbages Nottingham Journal, 15 July 1775, p1. Nottingham University, Hallward Library, Department of Manuscripts and Special Collections.
  4. Lincolnshire Archives, Lindsey Dep Plans 1/35
  5. Richardson, Christine (2009). Norwood Tunnel: Four Centuries of Challenge. Richlow Histories. ISBN 978-0-9552609-6-4
  6. Report by Wm. Armstrong & Sons, Consulting Mining Engineers to the former London & North Eastern Railway Company.


  • De Salis, Henry Rodolph (1969). Bradshaw's Canals and Navigable Rivers. David & Charles. ISBN 0-7153-4689-X. 
  • Farey, John (1811). General View of the Agriculture and Minerals of Derbyshire. 
  • Richardson, Christine (2009). Norwood Tunnel: Four Centuries of Challenge. Richlow Histories. ISBN 978-0-9552609-6-4.
  • Richardson, Christine (1992). The Waterways Revolution: From the Peaks to the Trent 1768-1778. ISBN 1-85421-161-7.
  • Richardson, Christine (2004). James Brindley: Canal Pioneer. ISBN 1-870002-95-4.
  • Richardson, Christine (ed) (1996). Minutes of the Chesterfield Canal Company 1771-80. ISBN 0-946324-20-4.
  • Richardson, Christine (2001). Brindley's Norwood Tunnel (1771-1775) - Twin of Harecastle. Transactions of the Newcomen Society, Vol.72, 163-178.

Outside links