A lost tunnel that runs beneath Totnes has been rediscovered. And it could end up being reused as a unique pedestrian link with a developed Dairy Crest site.
The old tunnel was built by Brunel 166 years ago as a railway bridge over the town leat which was then used as a mini canal bringing small craft into the heart of Totnes.
As the railways grew, the tunnel got longer and is now more than 27 yards long – running from one side of the tracks to the other and emerging into the long-closed dairy site.
When the leat ceased to be used, the tunnel – which included a towpath – became forgotten by most people in the town.
Now it has been rediscovered by Totnes historian James Bellchambers who spotted it on maps on display as part of the Atmos Project consultation exercise to draw up a development masterplan for the eight acre dairy site.
And he is hoping that it could be reopened as a direct pedestrian link from Borough Park and the town’s cycle path to the redeveloped dairy site on the other side of the railway line.
One section of the tunnel is still so wide you could drive a car through it.
Other sections are much narrower and it has clearly been extended over the years to match the expanding rail lines – with the last section built in 1929 and the date marked on a stone used in the construction, said Mr Bellchambers.
He has now unveiled details of the old tunnel to both the Atmos team and the local traffic and transport group.
“They are quite excited about it”, he said. “It’s definitely there and while it would quite a big engineering project to clean it out and sort it out, in my opinion it’s well worth doing”.
The original tunnel was built as a bridge by Brunel so he could get his 19th century railway to Totnes without impeding the 17th and 18th century waterway.
It is 10ft wide and despite some silting up it is possible to walk upright through it, said Mr Bellchambers.
Part of it was been formed into a corrugated iron tube.
It was also obviously rediscovered a bit earlier by graffiti adventurers out to access the closed Dairy Crest site, said Mr Bellchambers.
“The Atmos site has been a bit of a playground for graffiti artists over the years and they have obviously been getting in through the tunnel because there is graffiti up the tunnel as well” he added.
He pointed out that if the tunnel could be reused it would provide a pedestrian link from the Totnes lower town to the Atmos site which could accommodate wheelchairs and bicycles, avoiding them having to use the busy main road.
Could this actually be used as a pedestrian walkway from Platform 1 to Platform 2? At present those with prams and pushchairs have to walk all the way down to the ticket office/machine on platform 1, walk all the way back up to the road and cross the road bridge, then walk down the other side to platform 2. Possibly a cheaper and easier option, though, could be to install a ticket machine on platform 2.