Category Archives: Yarwell tunnel

A Cat and a Tunnel

In 1845 the London & Birmingham Railway company was given parliamentary assent to construct a line from Blisworth in Northants to Peterborough – it was complete by late 1847. Its importance increased and, in 1884, the line received a royal visit when the royal family travelled from Peterborough to Barnwell to visit Barnwell Manor, the home of the then Duke of Gloucester. Between 1900 and the 1960s the line provided an important connection from Norwich, via Cambridge to Northampton and the Midlands. It could not last under the Beeching cuts and by late 1966 it was closed to passengers. It carried on moving freight until 1972 when it all finally ended. However, local supporters re-opened this part of the line in 1974 and the Nene Valley Railway was born.

Alive again with steam and diesel engines working alongside each other and many other attractions as well it has proved a success. However there are one or two things happening that may not be classed as attractions. The tunnel – the Yarwell Tunnel – was built by Irish navvies during the mid 1840s. The tunnel is still there, and is still in use – and there are still echoes of the past. It is known that at least ten men died during the construction and that fights were commonplace. Now there are no-one there to fight but many people have reported hearing bangs and crashes from inside the dark hole – plus the unmistakable sounds of men fighting.

Maintaining the whole site is a challenge of course – and this has not been helped sometimes by tools being left out during the work – and going missing! Back in the 1970s some workmen came close to disaster. They were working on the line with a colleague on ‘watch-out’ duty for a train. Without warning a train appeared – but the men got out of the way in time. The ‘lookout’ was found lying unconscious by the track – he said that he had been knocked out by ‘someone he could not see’!
During the 1920s the Station Master had a very distinctive white cat called Snowy that tended to wander off at times. One such wander led to the station master going on a hunt for it. He saw Snowy sitting amongst sleepers and the rails but as he went to catch the cat it went off leaving Station Master standing between the rails. He must have been deaf because he didn’t hear a train coming out of the tunnel and died on the spot.

The Station Master has not been seen since but Snowy the cat has been seen wandering around the end of the tunnel ‘mewing piteously’.

No doubt many things will happen in the future – but as long as you take care, and beware, the Nene Valley Railway is still something that’s well worth a visit.