Victoria Tunnel


Useful Information

Location: Victoria Tunnel Entrance, Ouse St, Byker, Valley, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 2PF.
(54.972403, -1.590342)
Open: All year Mon, Wed, Fri, Sat 10:30, 12:15, Sun 11.
Long Tour: All year Mon, Wed, Fri 13:30, Thu 18:30, Sat 10, 13, Sun 13.
[2022]
Fee: Adults GBP 10, Children (7-15) GBP 5.
Long Tour: Adults GBP 12, Children (7-15) GBP 5.
[2022]
Classification: MineCoal Mine SubterraneaWorld War II Bunker
Light: LightLED Lighting
Dimension: L=3,218 m.
Guided tours: D=75 min, MinAge=7.
Long Tour: D=2 h, MinAge=7.
V=15,000/a [2019].
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: D.J. Rowe (n.d.): The Victoria Tunnel, The Journal of the History of Industry and Technology.
Address: Ouseburn Trust, 53-55 Lime St, Ouseburn Rd, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 2PQ, Tel: +44-191-230-4210. E-mail:
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

JUN-1838 permission granted for the construction of a tunnel to Porter & Latimer, the owners of the Leazes Main Colliery.
27-JUN-1839 construction of tunnel started.
08-JAN-1842 tunnel completed.
07-APR-1842 officially opened by the Mayor of Newcastle with a cannon salute.
1857 colliery business ceased.
JAN-1860 colliery and tunnel closed.
1878 southern end of the tunnel lost when the Glass House Bridge was built.
1920s bottom end used as a mushroom farm by Gateshead entrepreneur Thomas Moore.
1939 converted for use as an air raid shelter.
1945 most of the air raid shelter fittings removed and all the entrances, except Ouse Street, bricked up.
1978 a portion of the tunnel reinforced with concrete, beneath the new metro line from Manors to Byker.
1990 shortly used as an art gallery by the Lebanese-born artist Mona Hatoum.
2006 Heritage Lottery Fund gives GBP 200,000 to the city council for its renovation.
2009 opened to the public.
2010 operated by the Ouseburn Trust.

Description

Victoria Tunnel was built around 1840 as an subterranean wagon-way, to carry coal from Spital Tongues Colliery to boats at the mouth of the Ouseburn on the Tyne, the Newcastle Quay. It was named after the popular, young Queen Victoria. Messrs. Porter and Latimer, the owners of Spital Tongues Colliery, originally transported their coal on carts through Newcastle. This was unpopular with the Town Council and the inhabitants, and also it was expensive. So they decided to build a wagon-way, a sort of railroad.

The wagon-way was planned by William E. Gilhespie, a local engineer and colliery viewer. Newcastle's Georgian bridge, opened in 1781, was a low stone bridge. Large sea-going colliers could not cross it, so it was necessary to transport the coal to the downstream side of the bridge. Gilhespie first planned a surface wagon-way across the Town Moor, but he did not get the permission of the owners, and the lease would also have been too expensive. So he finally decided to build a tunnel.

The tunnel was constructed by John Cherry, a lead miner from Yorkshire. He was employed as a pitman at the Spital Tongues Colliery. The tunnel was cut through clay, which is not very stable. So the whole tunnel was walled with base courses of stone and a double brick arch. The stone and brickwork was made by David Nixon, a local builder.

The tunnel is 3,218 m long and has a decline of 67.66 m. This is very fortunate, as no horses or steam engines were needed. The full wagons were pulled downwards by gravity, hold by a rope attached to a stationary 40hp steam engine which was used to brake. At the lower end the coal was unloaded and the empty wagons were pulled back up to the colliery. The tunnel was originally 2.26 m high and 1.90 m wide, the wagons were built to utilise the full width of the tunnel. Up to 32 wagons could be handled in a train, with three trips per hour, and a Newcastle chaldron (2,693kg) of coal per wagon. This means the tunnel was able to transport almost 260 tons of coal per hour.

The tunnel was used for 18 years, until 1860. The colliery had been bought by the Northumberland & Durham District Banking Co., which got into financial difficulties and had to cease all business. The mine could not be sold, so it was closed and the equipment sold on a public auction.

During World War II the tunnel was reactivated as an air raid shelter. Seven entrances to the tunnel were constructed leading steep down into the tunnel from all along its course across the city. Even the original entrance at Ouse Street was used, but this one was nearly horizontal and the ceiling very thin in the entrance area. Because of this a series of five sets of blast walls were constructed. The long tunnel provided seating for up to 9,000 people and bunks for at least 500 occupants.

The tunnel was used for various short-lived uses, like a mushroom farm and an art gallery. During the early 2000s the Ouseburn Heritage Group, a subcommittee of the Ouseburn Trust, occasional took a small number of people into the tunnel via its entrance on Ouse Street. Because of damage at the tunnel this became too dangerous and was suspended, and the tunnel was closed. But in 2006 the city council received a grant of GBP 200,000 for its renovation from the Heritage Lottery Fund. With this money the tunnel was repaired and opened to the public in 2009. The Victoria Tunnel Education Project developed a number of resources about the tunnel and organised public tours and school workshops. Since 2010 it is operated by the non-profit Ouseburn Trust. They offer regular tours, and also offer surface walks and brewery tours.

Since Corona they have no regular open hours anymore, tours are booked online and the possible dates can be checked on their website in the online booking section. And the newest addition is a virtual tour, but it's not what you probably think, not a 3D representation you may explore on your own. Actually it's a real tour which is transferred live via video conference software, and it costs an entrance fee. However, it seems it was offered only during lockdown.