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The Hanch Tunnel

posted 20 Dec 2014, 05:34 by Andre Hefer   [ updated 20 Dec 2014, 05:54 ]
Hanch tunnel, Angel Croft Hotel
Have you ever wondered why there is a patch of grass in the Angel Croft car park, which is surrounded by green metal railings? It turns out that this land is owned by South Staffordshire Water and is the site of one of the 32 inspection shafts that enter into the Hanch Tunnel. This Victorian, partially brick-lined tunnel is the property of South Staffordshire Water and was built between 1856 and 1886. It connected Seedy Mill (Bourne Brook) with Sandfields pumping station and allowed clean drinking water to be pumped into the Black Country (where cholera outbreaks were a common occurence). An incredible 4 million gallons of water, a day, flowed through this tunnel, which sounds to me like a lot of water! This, and many other fascinating facts were revealed to me when I joined the local (and very worthwhile) history group, Lichfield Discovered, on a walk following the route of the Hanch tunnel. A group of 30 people congregated in late June, at the top of Grange Lane/Eastern Avenue at the site of shaft 13 of the tunnel. We then spent the next three hours walking towards Sandfields pumping station learning about the importance of the Hanch tunnel, understanding how it was built and even having a peep down an inspection shaft see what lay beneath! Not only did I learn that the tunnel is 5.6 km long, 1.5m high and 1m wide but part of its route lies right under Beacon Street! The tunnel enters Beacon St near the old Tuke and Bell factory (having come down Grange Lane and into Wheel Lane) and runs along Beacon Street as far as the Angel Croft Hotel. Two of the 32 inspection shafts are in Beacon Street; one on the pavement opposite the old post office and the other in the middle of the road near the Cathedral Lodge Hotel, which has unfortunately being tarmacked over. From the Angel Croft, the tunnel crosses Beacon Park and on to its final destination at Sandfields Pumping station. A detailed map of the tunnel, with all the inspection shafts can be viewed on the Friends of Sandfields Pumping station website. This map also highlights the fact that the tunnel was built in two stages; the first stage connected Stowe Pool to Sandfields pumping station and this was completed by 1858. The second stage involved building the tunnel directly to Sandfields pumping station and this was completed by 1867.
Cross section of the Hanch tunnel, Beacon Street
In recent years, the tunnel has been extensively surveyed in order to check the fabric and general condition of the tunnel. A fascinating article by the engineering company that carried out the survey (on behalf of South Staffs Water) is attached at the bottom of the page (Shoreline.pdf 511Kb) and it highlights some of the problems and safety issues that had to be overcome. Photographs taken on these surveys, show that the tunnel overall is still in a good condition and is still full of water. This can clearly be seen in one of the photographs taken on the survey. This is in fact the tunnel as it passes under Beacon Street - between shafts 18 and 19. So next time you walk along Beacon Street, think what is right underneath your feet!

Another fascinating detail that I learnt is that the tunnel was built in the same horizontal plane i.e. is at the same horizontal level, all the way from Seedy Mill to Sandfields pumping station. What does change is the depth of the shafts that were sunk, depending on the topography of the land. So, for example, shaft 13, at Grange Lane/Eastern Avenue, is just over 100 ft deep, whilst the shaft at the Angel Croft is only about 30 ft deep. This can clearly be seen on a cross section view of the tunnel in attached document (Shoreline.pdf 511Kb) . I also learnt that as the tunnel lies below the water table and is only partially lined, water is still able to enter into it through the sandstone rock. Because the tunnel is now blocked at Sandfields pumping station, the water now flows in the opposite direction and can even be seen entering the brook by the Seedy Mill waterworks!

The walk ended at Sandfields Pumping Station. Unfortunately, the fabric of the building has deteriorated in recent years, but an enthusiastic and dedicated group of volunteers are now trying to improve the future of this iconic building. For more information visit the Friends of Sandfields Pumping Station

There were two things that I learnt from this walk; firstly there are a number of knowledgeable, enthusiastic and friendly people interested in the history of Lichfield and surrounding area. In particular, Lichfield Discovered offers a wide range of interesting walks and talks on a variety of topics and is well worth supporting. More details can be seen on their website or on facebook. Secondly, I learnt that there is more to Lichfield than meets the eye and some of its most fascinating history lies below the ground!

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Andre Hefer,
20 Dec 2014, 05:35