THE building of the Leeds Liverpool canal had a major effect on the towns and villages of East Lancashire.

When work started in Foulridge in the late 1780s, an army of navvies descended on the area to cut the navigation lines and build the locks, bridges, tunnel and reservoirs – using only the simplest of tools.

The work continued over many years and shanty towns sprang up along the banks to accommodate the men.

Foulridge tunnel is one of the most impressive engineering feats of the time.

It was designed by engineer Robert Whitworth and his declaration that it would be only a small affair was somewhat misplaced.

For the tunnel took five years to complete and cost £40,000 – the most expensive single item in the whole canal project.

It also cost many lives. Many of the stones lining it weigh over a hundredweight and were manhandled into place, with scores of workers perishing in their task.

The eight mile Burnley to Foulridge stretch of the canal, which included the tunnel and wharf, was completed in 1796 and the celebrations for its opening lasted four days.

A fleet of boats sailed along the waterway, accompanied by a military band – while a grand ball was later held at the Cloth Hall in Colne.

With no towpath in the tunnel, the boats were ‘legged’ through the 1,640 yards, by professional leggers who waited in small buildings at either end to provide their services.

It was said they could get a fully loaded boat through in an hour and an unloaded barge in 30 minutes.

The occupation came to an end in the 1880s after one of the men died of suffocation and the tunnel steam tug was introduced.

This tug was operated until 1937 when boats with diesel engines were used, controlled by tunnel keepers using a telephone, and from 1957 until 1963 by traffic lights, which ran on a time switch.

The arrival of the canal also saw the opening of beerhouses and at either end of the tunnel were the Grinning Rat and Slip Inns.

The Grinning Rat was the place 500 navvies quenched their thirst in 1824 when they came to repair the tunnel because the floor had begun to rise, the work taking seven months.