Here is a little history behind the tunnel, written by Sophia Moseley for the Western Gazzette back in 2009.
Two hundred years ago Crewkerne and Beaminster were hives of Georgian industrial activity and with the improved Bridport Harbour, (now West Bay) there was an increase in trade, both importing materials to the area as well as exporting finished articles. Sail and cloth making was the mainstay of the local economy in both Beaminster and Crewkerne. But the journey to and from Bridport to Crewkerne meant negotiating a route that was a very long haul up the 500 ft steep Horn Hill with horse and wagon along a road that ran west to east.
Back in the 1800’s there was very little in the way of infrastructure and whilst the parish based road system of the previous century had been replaced with the innovative turnpike system, (the term turnpike relates to the hinged gate, set across the road that was opened when a toll was paid. Toll houses were setup along the route as were milestones guiding the traveller as to his progress), there was nothing remotely like the road network we have today.
It was during the 1820’s that a solicitor by the name of Giles Russell of Beaminster suggested an alternative to the arduous trek across Horn Hill – rather than go over, why not go through the hill? The proposed turnpike road that included the tunnel would reduce the climb by 100 ft.
The plans were drawn up in 1827 and two years later an application was made to Parliament for a tunnel that was going to stretch 115 yards and would be 20 ft wide. The construction was to be the longest road tunnel of its time. It was on 12 April 1830 that the First Sod Ceremony was carried out on behalf of the Bridport Second Division Turnpike Trust (originally part of the Great Western Turnpike).
The construction used local tradesmen, one of whom was a partner in Bishop & Waygood, maltsters of Beaminster. He and his son were ‘prominently involved in construction and opening of Horn Hill Tunnel’. Lasting two years, the project must have been of great benefit to the local community.
The construction of the tunnel was overseen by engineer Michael Lane who was a pupil of Sir Marc Brunel.
The tunnel is made of a series of brick archways; the walls 3 ft 6” thick and the arches 2 ft 9” thick and the length of the tunnel 345 ft. The new route reduced the gradient from 1 in 6 to 1 in 10 and the distance people had to travel was also reduced by a mile.
The opening ceremony 29 June 1832 was a very grand affair reportedly attended by over 9,000 people. The regional papers reported that ‘about 12 o’clock a great number of gentlemen and most respectable tradesmen met near the market house... with banners flying and a band of music; the first flag having the word ‘Emulation’ on it was carried by Mr Waygood, whose zeal in the cause has always been conspicuous... Commissioners of the Trust... forming a line of upwards of one hundred... Gentlemen on horseback, about two hundred... workmen of different trades employed on the Tunnel each bearing some instrument emblematic of his calling.
There were three 21 gun salutes and a fair was held... a song specially composed to celebrate the event... The day’s events concluded with a fireworks display from the Church tower and the ascent of a large Montgolfeir (hot air) balloon...’
As part of the arrangement, the toll gate was erected on 27 July 1832 and the toll house stood on the triangular piece of land as you approach the tunnel from the north side. The toll keeper not only collected the toll but was also in charge of lighting the gas lamps that would have afforded some light as people travelled through to Beaminster or Crewkerne. The method of thinking behind the toll gates was quite sound, but completely unsuccessful and on 1 January 1881 the toll gate was removed and sadly the toll house demolished in 1963.