Jim’s tales from the tunnel

Jim Devaney, one of the last Haweswater tunnel men
Jim Devaney, one of the last Haweswater tunnel men

Jim Devaney worked on one of the country’s biggest-ever civil engineering projects, but it’s a hidden masterpiece.

For Jim worked on the Bowland Tunnel, more than 10 miles long and eight feet wide, which is part of the Haweswater Aqueduct, the massive pipeline built to carry water more than 80 miles to Manchester from Haweswater Reservoir in Cumbria.

Sixty years after the project was completed, little can be seen on the surface, apart from a few pipe bridges, inspection covers and remains of site buildings.

Looking through his old photographs, 89-year-old Jim now wonders if he is the last man in the Ribble Valley to have worked on the project.

“Most of the time I was more than 300 feet underground,” says Jim, of Castle View, Clitheroe.

“It was hard work, filthy and wet, and it could be dangerous, but I’m still here.”

Manchester Corporation began the Haweswater project back in the 1930s, and in 1948 the second phase began, tunnelling deep under the moors between High Bentham and Newton in Bowland.

Jim was a chargehand for the Cementation Company Ltd, putting hefty timber shuttering and concrete linings into the rough tube that was blasted through solid rock.

Every day he descended an 80-metre shaft on Croasdale Fell, where there was a major site. Stone was dug from Croasdale Quarry, crushed and mixed into concrete on site, lowered down the shaft and loaded into wagons on rail lines on the tunnel floor.

“There was drilling and blasting seven days a week. It never stopped,” he recalls.

“It was like Bedlam down there. The noise was horrendous, with the compressed air, the machinery and the locomotives.

“There would be breakdowns, accidents and the lighting would fail. There were some nasty accidents, with men getting fingers and toes cut off.

“There were about 1,000 men working on it, and a lot of them would come into Clitheroe at weekends for a drink. There were Scots, Irish and Poles, tough lads, and there would be a bit of fighting.

“Some of the men were here for six or seven years and moved on after it was finished, but some married local lasses and stayed on. I used to see one or two of them around, but now I may be the last one.”

Jim moved on from the Bowland Tunnel to various other civil engineering projects around Britain, including the 300-foot Padiham B power station chimney. His last tunnel was at Accrington and Church, a huge rainwater sewer, in the 1970s, and he worked for Hyndburn Council engineer’s department until he retired.

Now Jim’s main interest is above ground, growing the flowers and vegetables that win him prizes at garden shows.

caption:

With a map and old photographs, Jim Devaney recalls his civil engineering days

by Eric Beardsworth

eric.beardsworth@jpress.co.uk

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