|Location:||Byker, Newcastle upon Tyne, Ouse Street. (54°58'20.65"N, 1°35'25.23"W)|
|Classification:||Coal Mine World War II Bunker|
|Bibliography:||D.J. Rowe (n.d.): The Victoria Tunnel, The Journal of the History of Industry and Technology.|
Victoria Tunnel, The Ouseburn Resource Centre, 53 Lime Street, Ouseburn, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 2PA, Tel: +44-191-2616596.
Victoria Tunnel Education Project, Free Post NT623, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 1BR. 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.
|JUN-1838||permission granted for the construction of a tunnel.|
|27-JUN-1839||construction of tunnel started.|
|07-APR-1842||officially opened by the Mayor of Newcastle.|
|1857||colliery business ceased.|
|JAN-1860||colliery and tunnel closed.|
|1870s||southern end of the tunnel lost when the Glass House Bridge was built.|
|1920s||bottom end used as a mushroom farm.|
|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.|
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 3,218m long and has an decline of 67.66m. 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 2.26m high and 1.90m 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 last years the Ouseburn Heritage Group, a sub-committee 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. The tunnel is closed at the moment. But the newest development is the grant of GBP 200,000 to the city council for its renovation by the Heritage Lottery Fund. With this money the tunnel will be repaired and reopened to the public, probably in mid 2009.