The secrets of one of the oldest railway tunnels in the world – which runs between Crich and Bullbridge – are set to be revealed as part of a two-year project.
The Derbyshire Archeological Society has been given Heritage Lottery Fund support to dig at points along the one-and-a-half mile route known as the Butterley Gangroad and gather information from inside the structure, built in 1793.
Project leader Trevor Griffin said the £17,900 in funding will help reveal the history of a fascinating local relic, engineered by Ripley’s Butterley Company founder Benjamin Outram,
Mr Griffin said: “It’s got a claim to being the oldest railway tunnel in the world, but it could have been reconstructed at some stage. There’s a lot of these railways in the Ripley area and a lot in the countryside that no-one has done anything with – hopefully this will inspire others to do similar projects.”
The railway originally saw carriages pulled by horses carrying limestone from quarries at Crich to the Cromford Canal at Bullbridge. The materials were taken by boat to the Butterley Works in Ripley via the tunnel, where it was used to make iron.
The Butterley Company went on to supply many more similar railways, including the first public railway – the Surrey Iron Railway.
The Butterley gangroad was also the location of one of the first ever successful trials of a steam locomotive - Brunton’s Mechanical Horse – which was developed by the Butterley Company - in 1813.
Mr Griffin, a retired railway engineer from The Fleet, Belper, said work was due to begin on the project this month and would run until 2014 with several schools set to be invited to the area on educational trips. Firm Wessex Archeology has been hired to dig at points along the route, which is currently blocked by soil at both ends after it closed in the 1930s.
The team will drop in caving cameras and laser scanning equipment to hollow parts of the tunnel in order to create accurate images of the inside of the structure.
A full archeological survey of the land will also be carried out during the project.