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SHROPSHIRE CANALS 

  

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Further Information

 

Underground Canals

 

 

Several underground canals were constructed in the Telford area in the late 18th Century.  Some of these were totally underground, whereas others came to surface. The idea probably came from the Duke of Bridgwater’s canal at Worsley, where coal was loaded into boats in the mine itself and then transported outside to the markets.  Information about some of them is a bit sparse.

 

Tar Tunnel

In 1786, William Reynolds proposed the idea of an underground canal to link Blists Hill Mine to the River Severn.  Work started in June 1787 as the Coalbrookdale Navigation but, 300 yards, in the workmen struck a spring of natural bitumen oozing out of the rock.  . Reynolds realised the commercial potential of this discovery and about 4,500 gallons of bitumen were initially collected per week, although this soon reduced to 1,000 gallons for several years.  The tunnel was continued to underneath Blists Hill but does not appear to have ever performed its original function, although it did provide additional ventilation for the mine.  By 1792, the surface Shropshire Canal passed by Blists Hill Mine so this tunnel was no longer needed.

 

The bitumen was collected in wells and, in 1796, a 1,000 yard long plateway was built along the tunnel to transport it out in wagons.  Outside the mouth of the tunnel, it was boiled in large cauldrons to convert it into pitch.  It was used for the preservation of timber and rope, caulking ships, lamp fuel and varnish.  Some was even made into “Betton’s British Oil”, a medicinal preparation for the treatment of rheumatic and skin complaints such as scurvy.  By the 1820s, only 10 barrels per year were being obtained and by 1843 it had dried up altogether.

By 1847, a house had been built over the entrance, which afterwards could only be reached through the cellar.  It was still used for mine ventilation until the 1930s.  It was re-discovered in 1965 by members of Shropshire Caving & Mining Club and subsequently became an underground tourist attraction as part of Ironbridge Gorge Museum. 

Navigable Level

 

A plan of Donnington Wood Colliery, dated 1788, is supposed to show two underground canal systems (at the Cockshutt and Donnington Wood) onto which coal would have been loaded directly into barges.  A shaft on the south side of the Wrockwardine Wood inclined plane was specially built with a bell shaped bottom, down which boats were lowered on end and then floated on the canal. The extent of this system is not known but several local pits were linked by the canal, which ultimately emerged into the area now occupied by the Donnington Ordnance Depot. The boats must have been quite small and operated between the bottom of the mine shafts.

 

 

Derbyshire Level

 

This was driven for William Reynolds and was said to run 1½ miles underground from mines at Old Rock to Ketley.  It apparently got its name as the rock was very hard basalt and Reynolds had to bring in miners from Derbyshire who were used to working with it.  The distance fits with a shaft where William Reynolds was operating the “Bank Water Engine” (SJ692110) at Ketley Bank in the 1780s. A water engine was a mine pumping engine so the Derbyshire Level would drain the Old Park mines and the water could be pumped up the shaft.

 

Donnington Wood Level

 

A plan of Donnington Wood Colliery, dated 1788, is supposed to show two underground canal systems (at the Cockshutt and Donnington Wood) onto which coal would have been loaded directly into barges.  The Cockshutt one was probably the above Navigable Level but there is no other evidence for the second.

 

Table of Features

 

Click on links for Google map (significant remains highlighted)

Location

Feature

SJ695025

Tar Tunnel entrance – Ironbridge Museum

SJ694033

Blists Hill Mine – Ironbridge Museum

 

 

???

Navigable Level entrance

SJ699118

Shaft to Navigable Level

 

 

SJ692110

Bank Water Engine Shaft

SJ6909

Old Park mines

 

 

???

Donnington Wood Level entrance

SJ7112

Donnington Wood mines