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Milford Tunnel North Portal (SPC 8 21)

A Grade II* Listed Building in Belper, Derbyshire

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Latitude: 53.0053 / 53°0'19"N

Longitude: -1.4858 / 1°29'8"W

OS Eastings: 434604

OS Northings: 345455

OS Grid: SK346454

Mapcode National: GBR 6CW.P5H

Mapcode Global: WHDGF.4QRF

Plus Code: 9C5W2G47+4M

Entry Name: Milford Tunnel North Portal (SPC 8 21)

Listing Date: 13 December 1979

Last Amended: 18 November 2014

Grade: II*

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1366268

English Heritage Legacy ID: 78455

Location: Belper, Amber Valley, Derbyshire, DE56

County: Derbyshire

Civil Parish: Belper

Traditional County: Derbyshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Derbyshire

Church of England Parish: Milford Holy Trinity

Church of England Diocese: Derby

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A tunnel portal, built c.1838–40, on the North Midland Railway by George and Robert Stephenson with their Assistant Engineer Frederick Swanwick.


A tunnel portal, built c.1838–40, on the North Midland Railway by George and Robert Stephenson with their Assistant Engineer Frederick Swanwick.

MATERIALS: Derbyshire Gritstone: ashlar portal surrounded by rubble-work walling.

DESCRIPTION: The tunnel portal is situated in a cutting. It has a true horseshoe arch consisting of seven ashlar rings, described here from the centre outwards. The first is a concave ring around the arch, with a flat return to the outside edge. The remaining arch rings are semi-circular. They spring from outwardly-angled plinths with simple impost mouldings. The middle five rings step out along the imposts in a sequence as follows: convex, convex, concave, convex, flat. The final outer ring is concave, with a flat return to the outside edge. Surrounding the portal is a rubble stone retaining wall.


The Midland Main Line is the outcome of a number of historic construction phases undertaken by different railway companies. The first two phases were carried out simultaneously between 1836 and 1840 by the North Midland Railway and the Midland Counties Railway. The North Midland Railway, which operated between Derby and Chesterfield and onwards to Rotherham and Leeds, was pre-eminently the work of George (1781-1848) and Robert Stephenson (1803-1859) who, along with Isambard Kingdom Brunel, are the most renowned engineers of this pioneering phase of railway development. They worked closely with the Assistant Engineer, Frederick Swanwick (1810-1885). The railway’s architect Francis Thompson (1808-1895) designed stations and other railway buildings along the line. The less demanding route for the Midland Counties Railway, which ran between Derby and Nottingham to Leicester and on to Rugby, was surveyed by Charles Blacker Vignoles (1793-1875) who was engineer to a large number of railway projects. These two companies (along with the Birmingham & Derby Junction Railway) did not yield the expected profits, partly because of the fierce competition between them. This led to the three companies merging into the Midland Railway in 1844 which constituted the first large scale railway amalgamation. The next part of the line from Leicester to Bedford and on to Hitchin was constructed between 1853 and 1857 by the engineer Charles Liddell (c.1813-1894) and specialist railway architect Charles Henry Driver (1832-1900). In 1862 the decision was made to extend the line from Bedford to London which was again the responsibility of Liddell, except for the final fourteen miles into London and the design of the terminus at St Pancras (listed at Grade I) which was undertaken by William Barlow (1812-1902). Additional routes were then added from Chesterfield to Sheffield in 1870, and from Kettering to Corby in 1879. The most important changes to the infrastructure of the Midland Railway were the rebuilding of its principal stations and the increasing of the line’s capacity, involving the quadrupling of some stretches of the route south of the Trent from the early 1870s to the 1890s.

Milford Tunnel North Portal was built between about 1838 and 1840 as part of the North Midland Railway. The route from Derby to Chesterfield and onwards to Rotherham and Leeds was surveyed by George Stephenson in 1835, and the Act of Parliament for the construction of the 72 mile line was obtained in 1836. Linked at Derby to the Birmingham & Derby Junction Railway and the Midland Counties Railway, it was to form part of a route from London to Yorkshire and the North East. George Stephenson was joined by his son Robert as joint Chief Engineer on the project in 1837. In order to concentrate on his mineral and mining interests, George relinquished his railway projects in 1839 so it was his son who saw the North Midland through to its completion in 1840. Part of Robert Stephenson’s skill in handling railway projects was his ability to select and manage an able team, and he entrusted much of the engineering design of the North Midland to Frederick Swanwick whose name appears on the surviving contract drawings. The Stephensons, supported by Swanwick, designed the line north from Derby to have gradients no greater than 1 in 250 to suit the low power of contemporary steam locomotives, which meant relegating Sheffield to a link line. To achieve such gradients the line followed the River Derwent as far as Ambergate and then ran through more difficult territory up the valley of the River Amber via Wingfield and Clay Cross to Chesterfield, then over to Rotherham and via Wakefield to Leeds. The notable sequence of picturesque stations along the line was designed by Francis Thompson who was therefore also influential in setting his stamp on the character of the line.

Milford Tunnel North Portal was built for the North Midland Railway under the Milford Contract, let in about October 1837 and completed in time for the opening of the line on 30 June 1840. The route was engineered by George and Robert Stephenson with their Assistant Engineer Frederick Swanwick, and the Milford Contract was won by the contractor David McIntosh with a tender of £93,122. Francis Thompson may have been involved in the design of the tunnel portal but this is uncertain. It is likely to have been given special architectural treatment because it faced land owned by the Strutt Family, who were in negotiations with the railway. The portal could be readily appreciated by standing on the adjacent railway bridge; Chevin Road Bridge.

No contract drawings of Milford Tunnel North Portal have been found. Milford Tunnel is included in the drawings for the Milford contract, but this doesn’t show the North Portal as executed. Instead it shows the standard North Midland Railway design for tunnel portals, without specifying the north or south portal. This design was executed at Milford Tunnel South Portal (listed Grade II), suggesting that at the time the contract was let Milford Tunnel North Portal was intended to be the same, and that the structure as built was a late addition to the contract.

Milford Tunnel North Portal is shown in two anonymous sketches in the National Railway Museum: one is the design as executed; the other is a slight variation, with a different treatment of the arch ring and an unfinished section of chevron moulding. Two illustrations of the portal were commissioned from the lithographic artist Samuel Russell. One shows it under construction, depicting the laying of the surrounding rubble-work walling, now largely obscured by vegetation. The portal is described in the North Midland Railway Guide (1842) as “a rich Saxon arch”.

At 856 yards (783 metres) Milford Tunnel was the second-longest tunnel on the North Midland Railway. The bore runs through the steep gritstone hillside of The Chevin. Above the tunnel on top of The Chevin there is a sighting tower (listed Grade II) and a circular brick ventilation shaft.

Reasons for Listing

Milford Tunnel North Portal, built c.1838–40 on the North Midland Railway, by George and Robert Stephenson with their Assistant Engineer Frederick Swanwick, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: as a portal formed of a monumental Romanesque arch set into a naturalistic rubble-stone retaining wall, which is of an ambition, elegance and quality unparalleled by those on the rest of the line;
* Date: as an early example of a railway structure dating from the pioneering phase in national railway development;
* Historic interest: as a tunnel portal that forms part of the North Midland Railway, which was designed by George and Robert Stephenson, among the greatest and most influential of all railway engineers, with their assistant Frederick Swanwick;
* Intactness: as an unaltered tunnel portal that is well preserved;
* Group value: as a tunnel portal that possesses group value with the contemporary Chevin Road Bridge, 65m to the north, and more widely with the South Portal and the sighting tower, all listed at Grade II.

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