CaCaPoMo: The Standedge Admiral

Marsden Moor, above the Standedge Tunnel – the kind of view Thomas Bourne saw day after day after day… (image from

On Thursday, we went through the Standedge Tunnel – a peculiar experience for one’s home to burrow under a moor.

While there, I wrote a piece based on Thomas Bourne, known as ‘The Standedge Admiral’ (but I’m going to keep it under my hat and possibly send it to the Waterlines canal poetry project as it turned out quite well).

Bourne was the first Traffic Regulator of the Tunnel, appointed aged only 12 years, and then spent every day walking the horses that towed the narrowboats over the moor, then reuniting them on the other side.

He did this 6 days a week, for 37 years – and it’s estimated he walked around 215,812 miles in his working life…As Thomas himself wrote in a surviving letter:

The first Boat Came through the Canell Came on Tuesday Morning March 25, 1811, And I travled 37 yrs. Withen 8 dayes, Backwards and Forwards 4 Times a Day Sundays an All unless the Canall Was Stopt and Carid Many Thousands of Money over and Never Was a Penny Short Nor Longer in my hands than is help.”



  1. interesting read. Next time, take thhe journey from Bewdley following the canals north to Standedge. That’s the way that the Bourne family travelled whilst working on the canal. John Bourne, the father of the Standage Admiral learnt his trade at a young age from James Watt. John Bourne came from Bewdley and ended his life working the beam engine at ‘the red’ at the top of Standedge. He and is wife lived there. Thomas Bourne was born at Godley in Tameside. and was buried in the old ground at Marsden — now under a car park! The remainder of the Bournes are scattered about with one of the twins killed during the construction of the Woodhead rail tunnel. Some of the Bournes are buried in the churchyard of Christ Church, Freizeland. The letter which you mentioned was found in an old desk belonging to one of Thomas Bourne’s sons. It was found by my father and was part of a log-book. Sadly, the remainder was lost. My great, great grandfather was The Standedge Admiral and in my younger days I did much research on my family tree I am now too old to do more.


    1. Hi Lin,

      How interesting that your great great grandfather was the Standedge Admiral, ive always been interested in the history of Standedge Tunnel, and worked as a Tunnel Guide at Standedge Tunnel from 2002 – 2004, i have done some research into Thomas Bourne inc Alphia Longden his wife, also John Bourne his Father, and was lucky enough to visit a Lady, back in 2003 who was a relative, and still had the pocket Watch that Thomas was given by the Canal Company on his retirement, she kindly gave me permision to photograph the watch, which i still treasure.
      I have heard stories about this letter found in a desk, but until now thought this only to be a story/myth
      I wonder – Do you possibly still have the letter your father found.
      I would love to hear from you, if you would like to contact me at.


    2. Hello Lin,
      Thomas Bourne was my 4th great grandfather and my daughter and I are doing our family tree. I have a newspaper article entitled “Delving into the life of the Standedge Admiral” it has a picture of Harold Bourne (Thomas’s gt gt grandfather) with the watch presented to Thomas to mark his retirement in 1848. I am fascinated with the history of the canal as I used to live in Marsden, and doing the family tree has sparked even more enthusiasm and interest in finding out as much as I can about my ancestors. Any information you have would be very much appreciated.
      Stephanie (nee Clark) Lawton – my grandfather was James Clark who married Ada Bourne.

      I look forward to hearing from you.


  2. Dear Lin, This is fascinating information about the source of Thomas Bourne’s famous ‘letter’. I work as the Administrator here at the Huddersfield Canal Society and we have a particular interest in the history of the Huddersfield Canal and, naturally, Thomas Bourne. The letter is frequently quoted, but usually with the introduction of “…a letter, which still exists ..” without any idea of it’s location. Do you still have the original/copy or know where it is, please? I am particularly interested to see the calligraphy as it would help clarify a point of research. You can contact me via our website and I’d be delighted to hear from you.

    Dr Bob Gough


      1. Ah, forgot I’d taken down the original poem (submitted it elsewhere) – am happy to send it to you if you’d like to read what the info at the Tunnel visitor centre inspired 🙂

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