The York and North Midland Railway opened in 1839, connecting York with the Leeds and Selby Railway and in 1840 with the North Midland Railway at Normanton near Leeds. The line was largely financed by George Hudson who invested a substantial inheritance in the North Midland, becoming a director. He then took an active part in the promotion of the route and commissioned George Stephenson to construct the line.
Having completed the York line, George Hudson turned his attention to Harrogate, proposing a branch to the town from a junction with the Y & NM at Normanton with stations at Stutton, Tadcaster, Newton Kyme, Thorpe Arch, Wetherby and Spofforth and a terminus at Harrogate. Local people and businesses initially opposed the railway fearing an influx of people from Leeds and Bradford would lower the tone of the area but this opposition was overcome and the line opened to a temporary terminus at Spofforth
10th August 1847 and was extended into Harrogate Brunswick on 20th July 1848. The terminus was sited on Trinity Road, adjacent to the Methodist church opposite The Stray and was constructed entirely of timber. The main engineering features were at the north west end of the route between Spofforth and Harrogate with the line passing first through the 825-yard Prospect tunnel then across the 31 arch Crimple viaduct and then through the 400-yard Brunswick tunnel before entering the terminus at Harrogate Brunswick. (This was the official name of the station although in timetables it was only shown as Harrogate).
On 1st September 1848, the Leeds and Thirsk Railway (renamed Leeds Northern Railway in 1849) opened their line to Harrogate with a station to the east of the town at Starbeck. In 1849 George Hudson was forced to resign as chairman of the York & North Midland Railway following his involvement in dubious business activities.
In 1851 the Thirsk line was joined by the East and West Yorkshire Junction Railway from York at Knaresborough east of Harrogate. In 1854 the York & North Midland Railway amalgamated with the Leeds Northern Railway to form the North Eastern Railway who built a new line from a junction with their Normanton line immediately east of Brunswick tunnel; this allowed trains to run into Starbeck station.
A new central station was opened at Harrogate on 1st August 1862 and Brunswick Station was closed. Initially the terminus was retained for goods traffic but this was short lived. The exact date of final closure is not known but the 1893 Ordnance Survey map shows the track in the eastern approach cutting to the tunnel had been lifted and the cutting to the west of the tunnel has been infilled.
Brunswick tunnel found a new use during WW2 when an air raid shelter was built just inside the west portal; it was the only large public shelter in that part of Harrogate. Harrogate was only bombed once in 1941 and that was in error when one German plane strayed over the town. The shelter was abandoned by 1943 and sealed. In c1954 the tunnel was surveyed for possible use by the Ministry of Supply as an engineering works but it was never used for this purpose. All evidence of the shelter entrance was finally removed in the 1960’s during road alterations. At this time workmen accidentally dug into the tunnel roof unaware of its existence!
Today the only evidence of Brunswick station is a metal commemorative plaque mounted on a stone at the site. No photographs of the station are known.
DESCRIPTION OF BRUNSWICK TUNNEL TODAY
There is no evidence of the west portal of the tunnel which is lost beneath the Leeds Road and Langcliffe Avenue roundabout but the east portal is still in good condition although the short cutting between the tunnel and the existing line into Harrogate is heavily overgrown with no public access. The portal has two fixed metal grills to allow bats to use the tunnel.
During the summer of 2008, Harrogate Borough Council granted Subterranea Britannica permission to visit the tunnel and prior to the visit cleared all the undergrowth on the approach to the portal. There was originally a route to the cutting from Langcliffe Avenue but this has now been incorporated into one of the gardens although the council still retain right of access and having entered the garden we were able to climb over a low wall at one side of the tunnel portal and climb down into the cutting. One of the metal grills had been removed for our visit. A new, more secure, gate has now been fitted to protect the tunnel from unlawful access.
The twin track tunnel which follows the line of Langcliffe Avenue has stone built walls with a brick lined roof arch. There are no refuges or air shafts in its 400 yard length. Generally the tunnel is in surprisingly good condition considering its age and lack of maintenance. There are long stalactites hanging from the roof for much of its length with corresponding stalagmites now forming on the floor. The first section is wet but once out of the water the tunnel is dry throughout. There is still ballast on the floor and the indentations left by the sleepers can be clearly seen.
The air raid shelter is located at the west end of the tunnel where a ‘room’ has been created by building two brick walls across the tunnel. These walls are approximately 8-feet high but do not extend into the tunnel arch. There is a doorway in the centre of the wall giving access to the shelter. Inside the shelter, the tunnel walls have been lined with brick to a height of 6-feet. Within the walled area a concrete floor has been laid and brick supports for wooden benches can be seen along both tunnel walls. At each corner, the remains of two brick built chemical toilet cubicles can still be seen although these are now in poor condition.
At the far end of the shelter beyond the second brick wall the north tunnel portal has been backfilled. Another doorway leads to a flight of concrete steps up one side of the backfill exiting the tunnel at roof level where the stonework of the north portal can still be seen. At the top of the stairs, a narrow brick lined tunnel turns to the right where further steps lead up to the now backfilled entrance on Leeds Road round a further corner to the left. An old handrail can be seen protruding from the rubble.
There is surprisingly little graffiti throughout the tunnel; what there is appears to date from the 1970s/80s when the tunnel was more easily accessible.