The mystery of Draycott’s old railway tunnel

From time to time, one of the ‘discussion threads’ on this website seems to really take off.
It seems that a number of people are clearly fascinated by the old disused tunnel that lies buried under the high ridge at Draycott Cross – so much so, they have been having a long discussion about it on this website,  using the ‘Comments’ facility on our History page.

So – we thought it was time to transfer all those comments to a new page – and start a Draycott Railway Tunnel page…!

The Cheadle Railway

The Draycott Tunnel was half-a-mile long, passing under the Draycott Cross ridge, and was part of the old Cheadle to Cresswell railway line, which is now long closed.

In fact the line, which opened in 1901, has changed its position at least once, as Mathew Pointon told us…:
The railway started at Cresswell, swung round to Totmonslow and then swung back to Draycott Cross (near where the Severn Trent water place is).  Then it went through a tunnel and came out near to the old New Haden Colliery (which it also served) before entering Cheadle.
In fact, a lot of the trackbed can still be seen today (see our report).
Its terminus was near to where Cheadle High School now is.
However, due to problems with the tunnel, which had collapsed in its middle, in the 1930s a diversion was built, which went the other side of the Huntley Wood hill instead, and the tunnel was never re-built.

A few writers were helpful too about how one can find out the full details.  The best account is in Allan C. Baker’s book ‘The Cheadle Railway’, but there are some little-known details (and some maps) on Huntley Wood’s History page.

Mick Bettaney added: “As far as I can recall, the tunnel was in use until after the pits (New Haden and other pit, which was across the road towards Boundary) both became uneconomic to run.  There were at least three collieries near Draycott Cross.  Many redundant workers went on to Florence Colliery.
After the tunnel collapsed it was not reopened, and just collapsed even more.
The Cheadle-Cresswell line was thus split just north of Totmonslow Bridge, with one small branch line still going to New Haden, but the other, re-routed, main branch going to Cheadle and the mineral quarries.”

A number of people wrote to ask where the colliery head itself actually was.
Matt Pointon had the answer:  “Easy. When the colliery was closed in the 1940s, (it was never productive really, although others in the area were), it was bought by the Staffordshire Potteries Water Board, who flooded the shafts and galleries and used it as a water storage facility.
And so the location of the head stacks is exactly where the Severn Trent structure at Draycott Cross now stands.”
The main complex was sold, and is now owned by New Haden Pumps.

Tunnel entry

Railway Tunnel - Draycott End

Railway tunnel – Draycott end

However, many people are fascinated by the fact that, hidden away, this tunnel still exists – and they want to see what’s left of it.

A recent exhibition at The Cheadle Discovery Centre featured photos of it – and the picture on the right is from their collection.  It dates to the 1890s, when the tunnel was beign finished.

Nick Catford was even able to take photos of the tunnel, inside and out, in the early 1990s before the whole tunnel was closed off forever.
On his website, Subterranea Britannica, you can still see what the tunnel-way looked like.
The front of the tunnel acted in fact as part of the Draycott Cross Colliery drift-mine that briefly reopened the site in the 1980s.

Mick Bettany commented:  “My father was an electrician at New Haden and showed me the collapsed/bricked entrance at New Haden side. As kids we went into the tunnel as a dare!   It was bricked up with a cage door, but was never locked.
One end of the tunnel is still visible but the other now buried.”

If you would like a clearer idea of how the old colliery looked, and how the tunnel ran into it, a model-railway society recently built a scale-version of the whole thing, as it would have been in the 1920s; and they put photos of their amazing creation up on the internet – see the New Haden model.

Finding the tunnel

Paul Barnes wanted to know more about the situation of the tunnel entrance as it is these days:  “Hi there. I’ve looked on Google maps and followed Harplow Lane but cannot see the colliery tunnel entrance.  Are you sure you can clearly see the tunnel entrance?”

Of course, there are actually two entrances – the Cheadle side, of which there is less evidence, and the Draycott side, which can be clearly seen.

About the Cheadle side, Mick B explained:  “Paul, There is no sign of the tunnel entrance, but if you go down Harplow Lane from Cheadle Road, and go 50 yds from the junction, you can still see ‘bomb’ holes in the bank on the right hand side – which is where the tunnel collapsed.. ”
Matt agreed:  “These ‘bomb’ holes can be seen as hollows in the banking on the right. A walk in the wooded area will reveal these: just look for the hollows in the ground.  Remember this happened 80yrs ago, so it is grassed over and blends in with the natural landscape.”

As for the Draycott-side entrance…

“The tunnel entrance location is as follows.  From Draycott, head towards Draycott Cross; 100yds before the cross roads, on the right is an entrance with a gate parallel to the road which leads to the pumping station 100yds down the drive. The old rail route is at the side of the pump-station yard, over the fence. Go down the slight embankment on to the old track route and turn left and walk a few yards to find tunnel entrance.”

Others agreed.  “This end of the tunnel is bricked up with a locked gate. This is still easily seen if you follow the old course of the rail-line – which can be got to along the lane to the pumping station yard, then, with the pumping station on your left, go over the fence in front of you, and down the embankment onto the railway route. Turn left and walk.”

Walking the route

So – there you have it.  Down under Draycott Cross, mostly buried now, is the old railway tunnel, some of it quite intact – but all inaccessible now.

As for the blocked-up entry, it’s on private land, so you may want to seek permission to go on to the site before you walk over there.

But, let’s hope, say on one Heritage Weekend, the site may be opened up – and we locals can get a glimpse of our history, even if it’s just the blocked-up entry.

Want to comment?
Just use the comments box – near the bottom of this page.

(The comments form will ask if you wish to put in your email address.  You don’t have to, and it is always kept private anyway and never published, but, if you don’t add your email, that means you might miss any responses to your comment).

4 responses to “The mystery of Draycott’s old railway tunnel

  1. Draycott tunnel

    Remember the tunnel well …
    As kids we used to go there all the time . Walked all the way to the cave-in.. even tried get through it ! Climbed up into the air shaft that was halfway up the wall.. My mum would have had a fit if she’d had known !!
    A James


  2. The Wonder Pit

    Hi, I was wondering if anyone reading this thread has knowledge of where “The Wonder Pit” mineshaft was located? I believe it may have been close to the railway, possibly Commonside.
    I’m not local to the area, so please excuse me if I’m off-topic geographically!

    Roger Basford


  3. Sad rail tunnel

    My Name is Tina Hackney. I am trying to find out more about the Draycott railway.
    The reason for this is quite sad really. My father was found deceased in the tunnel, having taken his own life back in 1967.
    I remember as a child walking around the tunnel and in it. So I have memories.
    Please can you help? I would like to know more about the place my father chose to make his last resting place.
    Tina Hackney


    • I can understand your sad interest in the original railway route by Draycott Cross.
      If you go to Cheadle Library there are a number of books covering the history of the building and operating of the Cresswell to Cheadle Railway line. I found the way that it was constructed really fascinating; and would recommend it.



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