Victorian Waggonway

Path of Victoria Tunnel
Path of Victoria Tunnel

Many people will have walked the streets of Newcastle without ever knowing what lies a few feet beneath them.  The Victoria Tunnel runs beneath Newcastle from the Town Moor down to the Tyne. It was built in 1842 to transport coal from Leazes Main Colliery to riverside staithes ready for loading onto ships.

When it opened in 1835, the Leazes Main or Spital Tongues Colliery was one of the many coal mines around Newcastle. The industrial revolution was in full steam; demand for coal was high and the competition was great.

Initially, the coal was carried on carts from the colliery through the streets of Newcastle to the river, ready for shipping.  This was slow and because of the annual charges involved expensive.  Porter and Latimer, the colliery owners, therefore employed a local engineer, William E. Gilhespie, to construct an underground waggonway.

Permission to build the Tunnel was granted in 1838 and work started the following year.  The Tunnel was probably dug in sections.  The engineers would have excavated a shaft down to the right level, then tunnelled out to link up with the next section.  The walls of the Tunnel were lined in stone and a double brick arch supported the roof.  It is approximately 7ft 5in (2.3m) high and 1.9m wide.  This was just large enough to accommodate custom built chaldron waggons.