Tunnels by the Midland Railway embankment west of the Ocean railway bridge

What are these?

We have enquired several times about the origin of these “tunnels”. Several theories have been put forward.


Comment from Darrell Webb
Interestingly, for your information, I used to play in these structures back in the early 1960s.
My mates and I often climbed down the steel steps in these manholes (they were open with no cover) and walked through the concrete tunnels which came out at the river.
I can only say that as I remember they seemed like drainage tunnels for the overflow of the canal into the river Frome.

Railway connection

The tunnels are on land which belonged to the railway (before the green metal fence was erected) Could they have been drainage connected with the embankment?

New evidence has come to light about a brick built drain put in at the time of the building of the railway embankment to take water away from the main road and down to the River Frome. The following information is in the canal archives from 1842 when the railway embankment was being built.

They also found that a brick-lined drain had already been driven under the canal about 20ft westward of the site of the intended bridge, but canal water had escaped into the drain and work had been suspended. The drain was needed to take the water from the main road to the north – as the road was being lowered in a cutting where it passed under the railway, the water could no longer drain into the canal. 

We need to look at the canal company records as soon as we can access them to find out more.

World War Two connection

Several people wondered if they were some sort of air raid shelter connected with Sperry’s and Hoffmann’s. 

The tunnels or manholes have step-irons marked ‘Norcon’.  Norcon Ltd was a small company in the 1930s who manufactured concrete drainage pipes. In 1938 they won a government contract to build some prefabricated pillboxes.

Close up of one of the steps showing the Norcon trade name

There was a pillbox on the other side of the embankment – the remains of which can now be seen. Perhaps the brick structures were constructed at the same time as the pillboxes?

Path down to the River Frome showing the entrance to one of the tunnels.

Brick tunnel by the railway embankment

Concrete entrance to tunnel by the embankment

Sewage pipe tunnels?

Some time ago, Stonehouse History Group asked for information about the “tunnels” to the left of the canal towpath – just beyond the embankment on the Bond’s Mill side. A local man, Mr Davies, recalled that his father told him they were built to carry sewage pipes on their way to the sewage works (to the south of Beard’s Mill). The pipes were to have passed under the embankment. We wondered if the 1914 landslip stopped the sewage company from digging under the embankment near the river culvert, in case it caused another landslip. As far as we know, the tunnels were never used, although lots of people remember playing in them when they were children.

The Stanley Downton sewage works were built in the 1950s but the tunnels or manholes were probably put in before then. However the landslip may have influenced the decision not to put the pipes under the embankment near the river culverts. 

We have been unable to find any proof that the tunnels were connected to the sewage works but we don’t know for definite that they were not.

The sewerage pipes were put above ground, down the other side of the railway and under the embankment beyond the viaduct. These large black pipes were visible until a few years ago, when they were buried under the adjacent field.  

Photo by Richard White shows the sewerage pipe alongside Midland railway embankment


Photo by Jim Dickson showing the old bed of the River Frome in the field opposite the viaduct, also shows the old sewerage pipe running along the embankment.