Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Tunnel Leads to All Manner of Experiences

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Tunnel Leads to All Manner of Experiences

Article excerpt

Byline: TONY HENDERSON @Hendrover

IT was a case of tunnel vision for the Victorians who embarked on an engineering feat under the streets of Newcastle.

When the Victoria Tunnel opened in 1842, the one aim was to transport coal quickly and efficiently for 2.5 miles from Leazes Main colliery at Spital Tongues to the mouth of the Ouseburn for shipping from the Tyne.

Coal wagons descended by gravity down the incline to the riverside and were hauled back up by a stationary steam engine.

"The tunnel was never meant for people at the time it was built," said tunnel co-ordinator Clive Goodwin.

But today, it's not pits but people as the tunnel caters for 15,000 visitors a year who roll up for tours led by volunteer guides, with Trip Advisor listing it as Newcastle's top attraction.

Last year 60 school groups - totalling 2,200 youngsters - also visited, and the tunnel took a step further than tours when it staged an art exhibition.

"It led us to think that we could other things, and it's gone from strength to strength," said Clive.

Activities have ranged from the Cobweb Orchestra from the Sage Gateshead performing in the tunnel to the staging of a drama based on the ordeal of 33 Chilean miners who were trapped underground for 69 days in 2010.

The school workshops feature Second World War or Victorian themes, the tunnel having served as an air raid shelter during the war.

Youngsters spend half their time in the tunnel with air raid sound effects and the other half in the tunnel visitor centre at Lime Street in the Ouseburn, where an 87-year-old veteran of the war recounts his experiences of sheltering in the tunnel.

The quality of the school workshops was recognised in July, when the Victoria Tunnel education programme won a Sandford Award for heritage education. The judges said: "The tunnel has been transformed into a learning experience based on academic research and the enthusiasm of the staff and guides responsible for its success. …

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