The other day I found myself on a train from Sheffield to Grindleford in the Peak District to meet a work colleague for a site visit. The journey is only short, however, after leaving Totley and Dore station the journey is in complete darkness due to passing through the Totley tunnel, 3 miles and 950 yards long. You emerge from the tunnel at Grindleford station.
The tunnel opened officially on 10 August 1893 and it is believed that when it was constructed the two ends of workers were only 4½ inches apart laterally with only 2¼ inches difference in level!
The geological make up of the ground under the route of the tunnel made the boring extremely difficult indeed. A the worst point, 2,250,000 gallons of water A DAY were seeping into the tunnel from the bedrock, forcing the workings to be inspected by boat.
Many labourers were brought in to help with the work. They arrived with their wives and families. Accommodation was provided in huts built around the shafts and many lodged in houses in the area. It was quite common for dozens of people to share a house and living conditions were generally disgusting. Many homes were without water, and raw sewage ran into the gardens.
At Totley the incomers actually outnumbered the local residents. The navvies’ fondness for drink, poaching and gambling - prize-fights and horse races were laid on at Owler Bar - boosted the local crime rate alarmingly, keeping the police and courts very busy. In their defence, it was acknowledged that working conditions were appalling, accidents were a common occurrence and it was difficult to keep enough labourers on the payroll. A working day was one of three 8- hour shifts and in mid-1889 the pay was 3s 2d per week.
Searching the internet there are stories of a large chamber in the tunnel, the purpose of which is unknown. You can tell when you pass it on the train due to the pressure change, it makes you believe you are leaving the tunnel but you are not. It may have been for storage during the construction, although there are more fanciful stories of wartime storage and it even housing a signal box (although that would have been no use whatsoever).